Why Mary Why?

April 21, 2019 (Easter)

The Resurrection of the Lord

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Acts 10:34-43

Isaiah 65:17-25

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

John 20:1-18

Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine

20: 1 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:1-18, NRSV)

Let us pray: Almighty God, who through your Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the way of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

It’s Easter, and Mary goes to the tomb.  I think we can all agree on that but maybe not much else.  But I wonder why Mary went to the tomb.[1] 

If I went around the sanctuary and asked some of you to tell the story of Easter, we all might tell it a little differently.  Some of us would tell of Mary Magdalene and others of us would tell of the disciples running back and forth.  Some of us might remark of how the stone had been rolled away and others still would tell how the gardener appeared and called Mary’s name.  We would all have our way of telling the Easter story. Apparently, eyewitness accounts are often not the most trustworthy.

The Gospel writers all had their own eyewitness accounts.  There are basically four different accounts of the resurrection, all with their own nuances and details and focus.  Matthew says there was an earthquake.  Mark ends so abruptly that we must fill in the details and provide our own ending.  Luke has a group of women that see the angels in dazzling clothes.  John has the gardener who ends up being Jesus.  Some accounts have Mary alone, some with other women.  Some have one angel, some two. It gets a bit confusing with all the differences and discrepancies.

But if you think about it, isn’t that confusion all part of the Easter story, all part of the Christian faith, our faith.  There are lots of differences, lots of running back and forth, there is skepticism, there is doubt, there is fear and there is faith.

So, why, Mary?  Why did you go?   What did you hope to find?  What did you think you would see?  Did you go Mary as we do when we go to such places?  To remember?  You go, knowing there’s nothing to do.  Nothing can be done.  You have buried your loved one, along with your fondest hopes.  All you can do is mourn all that has been lost.

Yet, knowing this, you go.  You go to the sealed tomb to weep for your friend. You go to mourn and to remember— to remember when he was still alive and the shining dream of all you wanted from him, all you hoped he would be and do. He and all that still lived in your heart.  You go hoping to experience again the days when Jesus was something special.  You go to remember when it was possible to still believe that he was a gift of God, of grace, of mercy, and the hope of the future.

You go to remember the way he reached out his hand to touch the heads of children and bless them.  You go to remember the great pleasure he took at seeing people as their lives were changed, their hearts lifted, and as they realized they were part of something holy, something wondrous, something that would lift them beyond the burden of their daily drudgeries.  You go to remember the tear in his eyes and the catch in his throat on that day when the man fell at his feet and begged him to come and heal his dying child.   You go, Mary, to remember the fire in his eyes, his anger at the money changers, the Pharisees, the religious leaders and all the senseless suffering.  You go for that precious moment to remember the day he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus and wept.

Mary goes to look at the cold stone tomb and to imagine him lying there, still.  In many ways we are just like Mary on that first Easter morning.  Mary knew all about death, she knew that death was the end.  She knew that Jesus was gone, and life would never be the same.  With his death on the cross, her hope died too.  Mary had to face reality and reality told her:

Death is final

Some situations are hopeless

And now she is all alone

She went for a private time to let her tears flow and to mourn her loss. But, Mary, if that’s why you go, I understand that.  Yet what I don’t understand is what you actually find.  It turns out to be much more than a time to remember a time to cry because you miss him deeply.  You get something beyond my comprehension, you find something that changes everything. You get resurrection, you get life. 

Likewise, with us there is all kind of evidence that we are wrong about our belief in the Resurrection:  There are school shootings and drunk drivers killing innocent people, there is war and more war, there are divorces and depression and hopelessness.  There is all the evidence in the world that death is final, that some situations are hopeless and that we are all alone.

But here, we are gathered here at church on Easter Sunday because we believe otherwise, while we don’t understand it all and sometimes, we find ourselves running back and forth, but in the end, we say “life.” 

We stake our lives on the resurrection and that is enough to send us out into the world to live each day with hope, a hope that we don’t completely understand, but a hope, none the less a hope that we can trust, that we know that God is working, that life even comes out of death. 

William Slone Coffin, chaplain, social activist, preacher and prophet died in 2006.  He wrote a book before his death entitled “Credo” and the last chapter is “The End of Life.” Reflecting on his own impending death he wrote…

“As Job said, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  That does not mean that God is responsible for every death.  What that means is that before every birth and after every death there is still God.  The abyss of God’s love is deeper that the abyss of death.  Paul insists that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Even if we don’t know what is beyond the grave, we know who is beyond the grave.”[2]

Henri Nouwen wrote beautifully upon the occasion of his mother’s death:

“The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste.  What belongs to God will never get lost.  The resurrection doesn’t answer any of our common questions about life after death such as “How will it be?  How will it look?  But it does reveal to us that love is stronger than death.  God’s love for us, our love for each other, and our love for those who lived before and will live after us is not just a quickly passing experience, but a reality transcending all time and space.”[3] 

We all know the reality of this world.  Reality of pain and death and grief.  But now with Easter, with the empty tomb there is another reality.  There is reality that says this is not the end, death is not the final word, there is more, there is hope, there is the possibility for something new, there is hope for life and healing and wholeness.  With Easter eyes we know a reality that says you just never know what may happen, what the future may hold.

When we see these resurrections moments, when we see hope and life emerge from death, we may not completely understand it at the moment.  We may find ourselves confused just like those early followers.  We may find ourselves running back and forth not knowing whether to shout for joy or weep with grief.  We may find ourselves staring at the gardener and wondering if it might be Jesus.  And then we might find ourselves telling our version of the resurrection story.

We may find ourselves smiling and laughing and feeling hope again.  For Finally, ultimately, we are people of joy.  We are people of life.  We are people of faith.

The power of hope.  The power of life.  The power of resurrection.  It is enough to send us out from here to tell others that He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  On the other side of pain, on the other side of death there is always resurrection.  Across the darkness shadows of life, there shines a light that will never fail.  That is the truth of Easter.  Thanks be to God for it.  Alleluia. Christ is risen. Alleluia. He is risen, Indeed. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Revered Dr. David Miller, http://day1.org/634-sermon_for_easter

[2] Reverend William Slone Coffin (Credo, p.167-171)

[3] Henri Nouwen, (Our greatest Gift)