Over the next four weeks, we’ll be looking at the 4 Gospel accounts of the Resurrection and the women involved in them. It is interesting that the focus of each of them is a different aspect of transformation. Darkness to Light, Old to New, Seeing in a New Way, Experiencing a New Creation. I had not really noticed that myself until recently. On the surface the 4 Gospels tell the same story, with just some differences in details. The bottom line truth is that the faithful women (not the men who are too busy hiding away) discover that the Rabbi they saw die on Friday is ALIVE on Sunday!
We start with the account from John 20: 1-18. John says Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb “while it was still dark.” Think for a moment. It was physically dark because it was not yet dawn. She was in the dark mentally because she was in the midst of grieving her beloved teacher. Mary was in the spiritual darkness of not yet knowing that there was such a thing as Resurrection. Likely, she was also in the dark because she wasn’t sure how she would be able to get to the body to anoint Jesus.
The first thing she sees in the dimness of the pre-dawn is that the stone is not in place. Her first reaction is probably shock. “Surely,” she thinks, “the Roman leaders have taken the body somewhere so that we cannot even grieve properly. Who knows what further horrible thing they have done to him?”
She doesn’t linger. Instead she bolts back to “to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’”
Peter and John run to the grave. Brave Mary follows. We hear in the Gospel that although John arrives at the grave first, he doesn’t go inside the tomb. He just looks in and sees the linen wrappings lying there. Peter, on the other hand does go into the tomb-an act of courage for a Jewish man who will be defiled by contact with the dead. He sees not only the linen shroud but also the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
Perhaps they converse in hushed tones, “If the Romans moved the body the grave cloths wouldn’t be folded neatly. They would be dumped on the floor. If Joseph or Nicodemus took the body they would have left the shroud on. This is very strange.” Having looked the two men depart for ‘as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’ There is no [recorded] conversation recorded with Mary. The men simply come and look in the grave and leave, probably shaking their heads in complete confusion. They remain in the dark, despite the growing light of the dawn.
Mary lingers in the darkness, still too grief-stricken to leave the place where she saw her Lord laid to rest. In the vain hope that something was overlooked, she bends to look into the dark tomb. What she sees is astonishing. There are 2 figures ‘in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.’ They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’
It is perhaps no surprise that Mary responds to the angels without fear. The morning, though barely begun, has been stressful and agonizing already. To her it seems the cause of her tears would be obvious-an empty grave and a loved one gone. Perhaps it is with exasperation that she responds, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ and turns away. Mary is still so wrapped in the darkness of her grief and despair that she doesn’t really even pause to see if there could be a glimmer of light from these strange visitors.
Paradoxically when she turns from the darkness of the grave, she is met by Jesus. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t recognize him. How could she possibly expect to meet the man she saw crucified and buried standing in front of her? This person must be the gardener. ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Clearly Mary is willing to take the body of her dear Master at whatever cost to herself. She doesn’t stop to wonder how she will carry the body or where she will take it. Her love is desperate to reclaim Jesus’ body. In this image by Fra Bartolomeo from the 1500's you can see the angels int the background and the jar of anointing oil at his feet.
And Love responds to her love. Jesus speaks her name and the light dawns. Mary is no longer in darkness. She is ecstatic. What is wrong in her world has been transformed into something unimaginable and yet so wonderfully right that she cries out “Rabbouni”. In that word she acknowledges that He is a teacher, but more than that, he is great and beloved. He tells her to go to the men and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” In that simple sentence Jesus brings Mary and the disciples into unity with God the Father. Immediately she goes and ‘announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.’
Jesus speaks our name when we are lost in the darkness of our own doubts and fears and confusions. Jesus meets us when we are trapped in the graves of our own making when we let the wounds of the past trap us. Mary turned her back on the tomb and met the Risen Lord. When we turn our backs on the tombs of our past, we too will meet the Risen Lord.
When we hear Him speak our name we will find that the darkness vanishes and we see everything in a new light. John’s account of the Resurrection gives us hope when we are lost in the darkness of life’s trials and tribulations. Not even in the deepest darkest tomb could hold Jesus. We are drawn out of our tombs by the love that speaks our name.
Do you hear Jesus saying your name? Do you respond with love that cries ‘Rabbouni’?