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Easter Sunday - April 4, 2021

John 20:2-18Last week, I mentioned that John had sort of a sparse account of the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. Well, that’s not been true of the rest of the Holy Week accounts. Indeed, he has the most detailed stories from the last supper in the Upper Room and then this magnificent account of the morning of the third day. We’re just reading John today. I know many of us to have bits and pieces from the other gospels in our memories too, but today, we’re just listening to John.

I’ve heard and studied these stories countless times. I sort of take the particulars for granted, but this week, I slowed down to hear John’s version—just John’s and it struck me from the very beginning. “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb.” That’s all it says—

until she gets there and the stone was missing. Mary went to the tomb. While it was still dark. Why? Why did she go while it was still dark? This version says she went by herself. And it doesn’t say she took oils and spices for the body. It doesn’t state her purpose, only that she went by herself while it was still dark. Why would she go to the tomb in the darkness?

I don’t think it was to avoid being seen. My guess is that she couldn’t sleep. That grief had her tossing and turning. That she wasn’t sure what they would do without Jesus leading them and while she wished she could have another conversation or ask more questions, she knew she couldn’t. So many things she’d never be able to do again. She was disquieted. And with all the things she couldn’t do, couldn’t control there was one thing she could do. She could go to him—not in the ways she had before, nor in the ways, she wished she could, but at least she could go to him and sit near him. She could be in the place where he was. So, when she couldn’t sleep, while it was still dark, she went to be near him. To sit with her grief. To sit with her rabbi and her friend.

And then, when she gets there, needing to be satisfied with only sitting by the rock that holds his body, he’s not there. She couldn’t take solace in much, but the nearness was her hope and then it was gone. He was gone.

So she ran for help. She ran to tell the others, hoping they could fix it—that they could find him—that they could make it right. She tells them he’s missing—his body is gone! And they run out to see for themselves—probably doubting, right? After all, that’s the kind of thing you really have to see for yourself. Mary must be mistaken. He can’t be gone. She did go out in the dark. Maybe she went to the wrong tomb. But when they got there, she was right. The stone had been rolled away and the body was gone. Jesus was gone. Not just moved—the linens were still there. Did they strip him to move him? To shame him? Roll him in other burial clothes? Were they even thinking to ask such questions? Or did they simply see he was gone?

The Gospel of John tells us the beloved disciple “saw and believed” which means he trusted in his heart more than he thought with his mind. And, I have to say, I’m kind of a skeptic about this part—I mean, if he really “saw and believed” if he actually trusted that things were ok, that Jesus was alive, then why didn’t he say so? Why didn’t he offer reassurance to Peter or Mary? Why didn’t he help them believe? Instead, he and Peter just walked home, and Mary stayed—lost and confused and sad—weeping that she couldn’t be near Jesus, couldn’t even find him.

She went back to the tomb, maybe hoping against hope? Maybe caught up in that mindless fog of grief where you just keep going back to the thing that might help? Or the thing that’s stuck in your head, but it’s not helping but your mind is so foggy you can’t do anything different. You’re just stuck in this loop of intent and inability. So, she goes back to the tomb—after all, where else would she go? Where else could he be? But this time she looks in and 2 angels are. They ask her why she’s crying and she tells them—"they’ve taken my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” They offer no reply. No comfort. No insight. No truth. Only presence.

And then she turned around and saw a man. And he also asked why she was crying and then asked who she was looking for. She assumed he was the gardener. Why the gardener? Well because Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus asked Pilate’s permission, took Jesus’ body and anointed it, wrapped it in linens, and laid it in a new tomb in a garden near Golgatha. And so, as Mary stood in that place, she asked the man she thought might reasonably be there—the gardener, if he had taken Jesus’ body. She was serious. Where was Jesus? Did you take him? Tell me! I need to find him!

And then he speaks her name, “Mary” and she sees him for who he is—Jesus!

And she cries out, “Rabboni”! Teacher! And she grabs him. She clings to him. She had lost him on the cross, and then lost him again from the tomb—now that she has him back, she was not going to lose him again. She held him. And he tells her, “do not hold onto me”. And honestly, after all that, I can’t imagine she just let go. I can hear her pleading with him—don’t go! I can’t let you go! I can’t bear to lose you again. And then Jesus gently reiterates: “you don’t need to hold onto me. It’s ok. I’m going to return to my Father.”

No! You can’t go!

It’s important that I go. And it’s important that the others know. So I need you to tell them. (Do you see how he redirects her?) He needs a favor, needs her help, he gives her a mission—something she can do, which has to be a relief after days of not being able to do anything but stand by and watch, so she was glad for a task.

“Go tell them I’m returning to my Father and your Father. My God and your God.”

(Pause) My God and Your God. My Father and your Father. Why did he make that distinction? What did it communicate to Mary? To the disciples, she told? My God and your God. Was there some question about that? My Father and your Father. Why both? God and Father? His and ours?

Obviously, Jesus knew that God is both his God and ours, and seemingly his disciples (and that includes us) needed to know too. It’s like he was saying: God who is God, God who is MY God and did these great things, God who conquered death, God who raised me from the dead is YOUR God too. God who can do these things for me can do these things for you.

My Father and your Father. I think this points to the kin-dom of G0d—where we’re all kin—we’re family. By saying “my father and your father” Jesus is redrawing the family lines. Just like when he told Mary “go tell my brothers”. He didn’t say “go tell my disciples”. He said brothers and she knew to go to the disciples. Jesus is laying claim to these relationships as valued like family and he wants them to know it too.

And then Mary leaves Jesus. She leaves the garden and the tomb and goes to the disciples to tell them, “I have seen the Lord!” And then she tells them what he said, “that he’s returning to his Father and our Father, his God, and our God.

So…that’s the story, but what’s the message? What’s the good news? That should be a question we always ask of the scriptures—what is the good news? And if the good news isn’t relevant and good for all people we should take another look because the Good News of Jesus—the big picture good news is that it’s for everyone, not just a select group of people. And the good news of the resurrection is found in lots of people in a myriad of ways. It’s not singular. It’s not rigid. It’s multifaceted. It’s dynamic. So the good news for us this morning might vary. Some of us listening to the story might hear it in one place, others of us might hear it in another.

One word of good news might be that seeing the resurrected Jesus and knowing the resurrected Jesus is not always the same thing. Just like Mary saw Jesus but didn’t know him—she didn’t recognize him, sometimes we see the resurrected Jesus but don’t recognize him. We can be blinded by fear or confusion. We can be surprised by his presence, not expecting him to be there at all, or we might not know him because he doesn’t meet our expectations. We’re looking for the familiar Jesus of the past—the one we used to know, the one we knew before he was transformed by the overwhelming power of God, and so we might not see the signs in his resurrected face. Which is good news because sometimes we simply don’t see Jesus. That’s not because we aren’t faithful. It’s not because we don’t love him. It’s not even because we’re not looking for him. Mary was doing all of those things. She simply couldn’t see him and sometimes we can’t either.

Or maybe the good news we need to hear is Jesus’ claim “My God and your God”—maybe we need to know that the great things God did in and through and for Jesus weren’t just about Jesus—they’re for all of us—Jesus’ great God is our great God.

Or maybe we need to hear the good news in Jesus’ claim that we are family—we are all part of one family—God’s family—where God is a loving father (not an abusive, power-hungry one—let’s be clear about the type of father we claim God to be). Where God is a father who is compassionate, loving, selfless, and who pulls us all in. Maybe we need to know that we belong, that we are loved, that we are valued. Maybe that’s the good news you need to hear this morning.

Or maybe we find the good news in an altogether different part of the story. Remember the good news is dynamic, not stagnant. The good news keeps speaking. It attends to us where we are—each day, each year, each Easter. Not always in the same ways, but in new ways, and sometimes in the most treasured ways—you always never know.

In every instance, I pray you’re listening. I pray you to keep listening—to the story, to the details, and to the gift of the grace of God that we find in the resurrection.

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