“The Lord is Risen.” “He is Risen indeed.” Amen.
How many of us, I wonder, having listened to our Bible readings in the past, said our prayers and believed we had cracked it, this business of being a Christian. Then, out of the blue, wham, COVID happened, it knocked us so hard to the ground that we really needed Jesus and we needed him now.
So many bereavements, so many being made redundant at work, so many left with long lasting effects from the disease. Many have cried out “Oh God don’t let this be happening, I’ll do anything just don’t let me or my loved ones catch it”. Or “Oh God you know how much I need to work, my family depends on me, just let me get through this”. I am sure many of us will have an experience of our own to draw on. Yet sometimes when we are utterly desolate and we look for Jesus, the tomb is empty and we feel as empty and abandoned as did Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Day.
In John’s gospel we are told nothing of Mary’s former way of life, our prejudices are not aroused. We meet her with the other Marys at the foot of the cross. Where they witness together the end of all their hopes and dreams of freedom and all the promise of a renewed Israel.
Picture the scene, it had all been so rushed, taking him down from the cross, washing his body, wrapping him in linen and laying him in the borrowed tomb. When the Sabbath had ended, then it was possible to finish the women’s work of laying Jesus to rest. Eager to do for him in death what Jewish Law demanded, Mary came early to the tomb, and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.
Mary loved Jesus, as did all the disciples, not with the kind of love we might read about in Dan Brown’s book ‘The daVinci Code’, but the spiritual kind of love, the love of God that they knew from the old wisdom scriptures.
We can only guess at her confusion and disbelief. Mary was distraught, she ran back to where the disciples were in hiding to tell them Jesus’ body was gone. This woman loved Jesus with a passion and so she returned ‘hot foot’ to the tomb with Peter hoping to discover what had happened to the missing body. Crying and hanging back outside the tomb as Peter and the beloved disciple went in to find the grave clothes laid out and the body gone. Then as the disciples went home and left alone with her grief, Mary plucked up the courage to look into the tomb again.
Mary, her eyes wet with tears saw two angels. Now I find John’s gospel really captivating because of all the little, seemingly incidental, information. The detail of the grave clothes lying between these heavenly beings paints a vivid picture. The angels were sitting – not kneeling in an attitude of prayer, and they ask such a simple question “Why are you crying?”
Asking the angels where Jesus might be Mary turned around. Still searching she saw, who? The gardener! Why on earth would John stress that and not immediately the wonder of the risen Lord? Perhaps because he wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was different, a new kind of being, and the new first born of a new creation. Jewish tradition held that the first Adam had tended God’s garden and populated it with God’s people, the Jews. The risen Jesus, the new Adam, would tend the new people of God and that includes you and me and all his disciples to the end of time.
There was something very new and different about Jesus’ body, Mary had not recognised him until he spoke and John described Mary’s joy as Jesus revealed himself in simply saying her name.
The next part of John’s Easter story was also new, to the extent of being ground breaking and has led to Mary being called the apostles’ apostle. You may already know that one woman was not a competent witness in first century Palestine; three women were required in Jewish law to give witness in court. Yet Mary charged by God brought the Good News of Easter to the disciples. Jesus had risen from the dead, he was alive, the world had changed forever, and human life transformed.
Encouraging the church in Corinth Paul described our new life as Disciples of Christ in terms of a ‘new creation’. The past is over and gone; the old world order is transformed and hope of a resurrection life for us all is born.
Many joining us this morning will have heard several sermons about her, yet still Mary Magdalene has much to teach us about God’s love. We know so little about her, except that she is one of the most notorious of sinners, on whom God, knowing her penitent heart, lavished forgiveness. What comfort for us all knowing that we too have access to that all forgiving love when we mess up in our life.
Mary Magdalene in addition to forgiveness was first to receive the grace of the risen Jesus’ presence, and from the one who embodies God’s love. As we reflect on the love that Mary Magdalene had for her Lord and teacher, John’s message to us all is, that even in the most devastating of events there is hope. When we are at rock bottom and staring into an empty tomb all we need to do is turn around and remember we have the promise that we shall see Jesus too.
When life is tough and bad things have happened, and during this pandemic they have. Because being a Christian is not an inoculation against the frailties of human life. God is here, because through Jesus’ death and resurrection the message for us all today, and every day, is one of hope, love and joy. “The Lord is Risen” “He is risen indeed”
My prayer is for us all to live as if we know it.
The Rev’d Maureen Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 04/04/2021