Easter message: Who is it you are looking for?

April 06, 2023

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Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.

Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”  As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means “teacher”).

Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

John. 20:1-18, CEB

She showed up very early in the morning while it was still dark, the trauma of the events from Friday still fresh, her grief still raw.

In this account by John, she was alone. What was she doing there? What had drawn her to the burial garden in the gloom of a barely emerging dawn?

It is in the darkness of this pre-dawn morning, this first day of the week, that John tells us Mary Magdalene sets out on her own in her need to be near Jesus.

She faces the shadows in the fading darkness of the early morning and heads to the tomb. Why is she heading there? The text does not say for certain, but I assume she has come to grieve. Graveside grieving, it's not for everyone. But some find comfort in being near the burial site of a lost loved one. I believe Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. He was crucial to her life her faith, her sense of well-being. He was her community. His death for her is devastating and she could not stay away.

John gives the account of how Mary, in deep grief, arrives to the burial site only to find the open empty tomb. Eyes red and swollen, and vision blurred from the shedding of tears, Mary was not expecting anyone else, least of all Jesus. She makes a logical assumption. She sees a stranger and assumes him to be the gardener, and asks the question, “Do you know where they have taken him?”

The truth does not dawn on her until he gently calls her by name– “Mary,” that she gets it. Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed!

That day in the garden, Mary is prepared to grieve, to spend her time mourning what is lost. She is heartbroken and alone in her grief. Neither she nor the rest of the disciples are prepared for resurrection. “What have you done with the body? Where have you taken him?”

It doesn't matter that Jesus had told them more than once that he would die and rise again. It is a claim that does not compute–  has not registered in their reality. Isn't this Mary's truth in the early morning Shadows? She couldn't imagine anything else. She was there because Jesus had been crucified, died, and was buried.

So, early that morning she assumed she was talking to the gardener because, perhaps, the worst thing about death in all its forms is that it robs us of the energy to imagine anything else.

Isn't this our truth, too? And our expectation, that in our deepest grief and despair, Jesus will meet us there. Perhaps this is why one of the most requested hymns for a funeral service is “In the Garden.” We want Mary’s story to be our story, the story where we:

“Come to the garden alone,
when the dew is still fresh on the Roses,
and the voice we hear falling on our ear.
the Son of God discloses.”

It's resurrection.

“And he walks with me and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.”
(United Methodist Hymnal 314)

During the Easter season many of us may color eggs and prepare for an Easter egg hunt. We do this to engage in the seeking and finding of this story, the resurrection story, the egg reminding us of the empty tomb.

Did you know the reason we do this traces back to a legend about Mary Magdalene who held audience with Caesar following the trial, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus? She wanted to bring to light the dealings of Pontius Pilate that resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. She went to share the resurrection story.

As she took audience with Caesar, Caesar said to her that Jesus coming back from the dead was as likely to happen as an egg-changing its color.

The legend goes on to say that Mary then reached out and took into her hand an egg that was on the meal table and as she held that egg in the palm of her hand, it turned red. I do believe legend does have an element of truth in it.

But friends, here's the resurrection reality. Mary Magdalene and the other disciples experienced a living Christ. We can speculate all we want on what exactly that meant for them and what it means for us, but whatever happened in the early morning darkness of that first Easter changed Mary's life. That experience transformed the lives of Jesus' first disciples and ushered in the new creation, God's beloved community here on Earth as it is in heaven, and Mary Magdalene was no longer the same.

Christ has risen. He has risen indeed! You and I are no longer the same, either. The Easter Story, it changes us, it teaches us that our life does not end here, that death does not have the final word, that death does not have victory.

The resurrection story is not only the Jesus' story. It is our story and we can claim every day, and proclaim every day, that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Happy Easter! Alleluia! Amen.

Bishop Lanette Plambeck is resident bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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