Easter Sunday

It is one of the most despairing laments in scripture.

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” Mary Magdalene sobs.

The body of her beloved friend and teacher Jesus is missing from the tomb. It is the final, crushing blow to the woman who was one of his most devoted followers.

For the last three days Mary Magdalene has wondered what she will do without Jesus. She is haunted by the image of him hanging on the cross, blood running down his forehead, his face twisted in anguish from the pain.

Standing at the foot of the cross she was lonelier, sadder, and more frightened than she had ever been in her life. But she stayed until the end, hoping her presence was some small comfort to the one who had stood by her and given her so much.

Mary Magdalene has tried to forget about her life before Jesus. It was miserable, tormented by demons. All her life she was teased and ridiculed. She didn’t know what it was to have a friend.

She will never forget the first time she saw him. There was a crowd gathered outside the synagogue. Usually she avoided crowds, but this time she felt herself drawn to the assembly.

She heard him before she saw him. What a distinctive voice – so strong, and yet so tender. It drew her even closer, until she could see him.

She was transfixed. It has been a bad day, the demons especially loud and strong, but one look at Jesus and she was still.

Then he began healing. Person after person presented themselves to him. He touched them, spoke to them, and they were healed – they could see, they could hear, they could walk.

Did she dare try? Almost against her will she found herself moving closer and closer until she was right in front of him. Most of the crowd was gone now.

Jesus looked directly into her eyes, and amazingly she didn’t flinch or turn away, but looked back at him. She had spent a lifetime avoiding people’s stares, but this was different.

He didn’t ask her what was wrong. He simply put his hands firmly, but gently, on her head, and closed his eyes for a moment as if he were in deep prayer. When he opened them he looked different – somehow sterner and stronger.

Then in a commanding voice he shouted, “Be gone from this woman, you unclean spirits!”

Immediately she felt different – lighter, freer, whole.

Since that day she has traveled with him, soaking up everything he has to say, learning everything she could about him and his God.

Now he is gone. And apparently she will not be able to do this one last thing for him – prepare his body for burial.

When she got to the tomb before sunrise this morning the huge stone sealing it had been moved, and Jesus’ body was gone. She ran to tell some of the men and they came back to the tomb with her.

When they saw that Jesus’ body was indeed gone, they returned home.

But Mary can’t leave. Somehow leaving seems like giving up, abandoning hope, abandoning Jesus. And so she stands outside the tomb weeping.

Through her tears she looks inside one more time, as if to convince herself this is really happening. This time there is something different. Two angels are in the tomb, sitting where Jesus’ body once lay.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask.

“They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him,” she sobs. A part of her, perhaps the best part of her, has died with Jesus, and now a part of her has been carried away with his body. This double loss is more than she can bear.

She turns once more and sees a stranger. He repeats the angels’ question, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Assuming him to be the gardener, who perhaps knows what has happened, she weepingly begs him to tell her where Jesus’ body is.

And then it happens. The moment that changes everything.

“Mary!” the man says, and her whole body leaps forward in recognition.

That voice that cast out the demons from her, that called her into new life. That voice is calling her again by name.

“Teacher!” she cries, this time through tears of joy.

The risen Jesus calls her by her name, and instantly Mary’s life is changed.

Theologian Rowan Williams writes that twice going back to the tomb, then staying when others have left shows Mary’s refusal to accept that lostness is the final human truth.

“Like a growing thing beneath the earth, we protest at the darkness and push blindly up in search of light, truth, hope, the place, the relation where we are not lost, where we can live from deep roots in assurance,” he says.

“Mary goes blindly back to the tomb, returning to what seems a grave, a void, to the dim recollection of the possibility of love, and hears her name spoken out of the emptiness.”

The risen Christ brings Mary to new life, too.

The One who calls Mary by name calls each of us by name. The inexhaustible depth of God’s love calls to the depth of hope and potential and love in each of us, yearning for each of us to respond.

When Mary responds she is given a task to do  — not to touch or hold or cling to the risen Christ as she longs to do, but to go and tell her brothers and sisters that Jesus lives.

The resurrection stories, Williams notes, lead invariably to a commissioning: the word of hope, the good news of the resurrection, is to be passed on.

Mary announces the news to the apostles, and ultimately the news is passed to all of Jesus’ friends and followers, to the wider community, to the world, and ultimately to us.

That is the amazing news that we proclaim this day – that Christ is risen, that Jesus has stepped out of the grave.

We can’t explain how it happened. We can only proclaim as Paul says, “Death no longer has dominion over him.”

“Death, where is your victory?” Paul taunts. “Death, where is your sting?”

We live in a culture that proclaims the opposite. Death, and all of its various cousins – war and violence of all kinds, worship of weaponry, oppression and addiction, greed and grinding poverty – those are the predominant stories of our culture,

Those are the things that so often seem to have dominion over us, that beckon us by name.

But today we proclaim the opposite.

Today we proclaim that God has said a thunderous no to death and yes to life.

And the good news is that with Christ’s resurrection, death no longer has dominion over us, either. As Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we be,

That means we are free to live without fear in this life, to live fully as God intended, to say no to the peddlers of death that bombard us every day.

It means that when we, like Mary, feel that hope is lost, that love and life have died, that grief and despair are all that is left, the risen Christ is there, calling us by name, beckoning us to new life, to leave behind our terror and fear and despair and to rejoice as we proclaim:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

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