The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Homily for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

Based on John 20: 1-18 The empty tomb

Opening Prayer:  Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and all that we bring to this time reflection on your holy Word for us, may all of it be acceptable in your sight this day, amen.

What if Easter was not so much about the facts of resurrection but the truth of resurrection?

What if the story of Mary Magdalene’s transformation in the garden is as important to consider as the story of the empty tomb?

What if, indeed!

This idea has been on my mind since our Lenten Lecture Luncheon speaker joined us a couple of weeks back. 

When he was asked if he believed in the resurrection, he said this:

We, in the United Church, we spend a lot of time in our heads questioning the facts of the gospel story. 

What if, instead, we focussed more on own stories? Stories of how our experiences of the risen Christ changes and shapes our lives?

What if, we spent more time accessing these stories through the discipline of spiritual practices like, for example, divine reading of the texts?

What if, indeed!

This thought came to mind again for me this week as I set aside time for prayerful conversation with the good news for today found in the 20th chapter of the gospel according to John. 

Here is where that prayerful conversation took me: 

Mary of Magdala, woman whose home community sat on the westerly side of the Sea of Galilea, that Mary had been a follower of Jesus for some considerable time.

Who knows exactly how long that relationship existed? 

Who knows exactly what shape their relationship took?

Who knows anything much about Mary Magdalene’s reality up to this point in the story? 

It is true she is described differently in Luke’s gospel; she is described as a person having something of an unsavoury past.

But this Mary of Magdala, here, in this morning’s story, is described as one who comes to the task of preparing Jesus’ body for its proper burial. 

She is clear and intentional in her purpose, even in spite of her grief. 

We can assume that she is one and the same as the Mary Magadelene named as being present among others at the foot of the cross at Golgotha.

We can assume that this Mary also heard Jesus’ last words “I am thirsty” and “It is finished” as described in the Chapter 19th of Jesus’ passion in John’s gospel.

But here, this morning, we encounter Mary seemingly alone as she comes to her task at the tomb. 

We can assume that she is alone when she discovers that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away.

Certainly she seems alone or we might say ‘isolated in her grief’.

While we can’t assume much, we can stay with the facts of the story which tell us: 

As soon as Mary sees the stone is rolled away, she assumes that Jesus’ body has been removed and she runs in great haste to share that news with the others.

The first ‘others’ she encounters are Simon Peter and the unnamed disciple.  

Upon hearing Mary’s words: “they have taken the Lord away and we don’t know where they have laid him’, they too, run to the garden to see for themselves.

We could assume all sorts of things about them but for our purposes for today, let’s stay with the facts of the story.

In their haste to see for themselves, they, too, run as fast as their individual legs will carry them back to the garden.

Once there, as the dark of night gives ways to the dawn’s early light I can see them each inspecting the tomb in their own individual ways. 

I can also hear the breathlessness of their fear-filled whispers giving way to excited shouts of joy as they discover that, indeed, the tomb is empty and something inexplicably amazingly true has happened. 

Somehow their beloved Jesus, so recently tortured on the cross like a common criminal is not bound up in a tomb sealed by a large stone!

No more harm can come to his beloved body! 

Somehow he is not lost to them but rather has escaped and is, indeed, alive and on the loose in some new and wonder-filled way.

And the story tells us that they run back to share that strange and wonderful news with the others.

Once again we find ourselves standing with the grief stricken Mary of Magdala in the garden.

Gazing into the depths of the empty tomb, Mary finds herself staring into the faces of two angels, each one sitting where the head and feet of the body of Jesus had been lying. 

To my listening ear, there’s nothing gentle about the two angels.

Quick to stop Mary’s weeping they pointedly ask her: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

No sooner does Mary respond to them her need to find and prepare her Lord’s body for a proper burial than she senses another presence behind her.   

Turning to see, she mistakes the Presence for the gardener who also pointedly asks her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” 

And then, just as pointedly: “Whom are you looking for?”

“Whom are you looking for?” is a prominent question in John’s gospel we have heard several times during the Lenten season this year.   

It was one of the underpinnings to the story of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and it’s his acknowledgement of the same that has him arrested in another garden at the Mount of Olives.

The same question “Whom are you looking for?” posed here in this lonely place triggers something in both Mary and the One she mistakes for the gardener.

Drawn together in this most poignant moment of mutual recognition we, too, find ourselves breathless as ‘Teacher’, and ‘Disciple” recognize one another. 

New purpose is born as Mary of Magdala becomes the first one in John’s gospel to experience the Risen Christ.

Taking up the mantle of discipleship on her own shoulders, she too, runs to share yet more good news: Shouting with joy as she goes she proclaims for the world:  

“I have seen the Lord”!

Would the others believe her when she arrives where they are gathered?

Ah, that remains to be seen.

But for today it is enough to rest in this first encounter story between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ.

Come then,  let us pray: Holy, gracious and amazing God, we gives thanks for our stories from John’s gospel that help us to know this-despite most days in our world looking more like Good Friday than like Easter, we can rest in the hope to be found in these truth-filled stories. 

We can trust in that God is doing a new thing, here and now.

We can rest in the sure knowledge that resurrection is but an initiation into a new and decidedly different future that the God of Jeremiah and of Jesus long to bring to our attention.

We can rest in the sure knowledge that God calls us together to a new and different way of being in relationship through the risen Christ. 

Our task? 

To risk paying attention. 

To gaze into the empty tombs of our own lives that hold our focus.

To risk putting aside our own agendas to make space for that which God would have us be about alone and together.

To risk listening deeply and responding to God’s call to us through the risen Christ.

For all of this and more, my fondest prayer is that this may be so!

In the name of the risen Christ we celebrate this day, hallelujah, and amen!