2014-04-20 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
GodStory, Act IV: Jesus
Key Event #33 of 40
Reading: John 20:1-18
Title: “Mary Lets Go”
Today’s Jesus story feels more like a track meet. Lots and lots of running!
It doesn’t start that way…see Mary Magdalene on a long, 30-minute walk from her friend Salome’s lodging place in Jerusalem. The saddest walk you could imagine. Shoulders slumped forward. Tears welling up in her eyes. Mourning the loss of her dear friend. The one who supported her. The one who believed in her. The one who healed her and gave her a second chance.
She comes to Jesus’ tomb in a garden area down from the hill of the skull. And to her shock and surprise, the stone had been pushed aside.
She peers into the 4 x 4 foot square opening…groping in the dusk-lit darkness. There is no body here. She feels the linens…but there is no body.
She screeches. She gasps. What should I do? She thinks of Peter and John. They’re staying in the city too…she runs.
The 30-minute walk becomes a 15-minute sprint.
She presses and pounds on the door of Bartholomew’s house:
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”
Peter and John look at Mary. “What?…who did this?”
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb…I do not know where they have laid him?”
Peter leaps to his feet and runs out the door.
John, the beloved disciple, pauses for a nano-second and runs after Peter.
There’s a poem called “The Beloved Disciple”, written by Ruth Gibbs, who puts into poetic wording, what that sprint might have felt like:
I run with Simon Peter to the tomb,
Feel, as a dream, the racing wind go by,
The muttered doubts, the chilling blight of gloom;
And still there rings within my ears a cry
Born of a whisper that the women made:
“The place is empty where our Lord was laid.”
Was not His death upon a cross enough?
The gaping crowds that waited on the crest,
The sneering, mocking soldiers and their rough
And hooting blasphemy . . . ? Can He not rest,
Can He not sleep, forget the world of men . . . ?
What mean these strange and idle tales, then?
…Oh, heart that labors, if I could but place
My head upon His bosom, see His face.
Even if the beloved disciple would have wanted to rest his head upon Jesus’ 3-day-dead bosom, it would have been impossible.
He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
Then Peter went into the tomb. He fumbles around in the darkness, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimly-lit space. He sees and touches the cloths that had covered Jesus’ body, neatly folded and put aside, the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head is also rolled up neatly and separate from the other coverings.
John is now with him in the cramped space and they are both are their hands and knees…confused, shocked, and frustrated.
“We’ve got to tell the others!” cries out Peter. Not really knowing what to say, and terrified…he crawls out from the tomb and begins sprinting back to the city. John looks at Mary with frightened, frantic eyes and runs after Peter.
Mary weeps. She’s exhausted. Alone. Heart-broken.
She falls to her knees and crawls toward the entrance of the tomb. Heaving sighs of grief she longs to hear the voice and feel the touch of her friend. She reminisces to that moment at the Pharisees house…Jesus tender voice saying: “She has bathed by feet with her tears and dried them with her hair…she has anointed my feet with ointment…she has shown great love.”
A flash of light shoots out from the darkness of the tomb…how could the sun shine so brightly, so quickly?
It’s not sunlight…it’s messengers in dazzling white…angels…are these the ones that Peter once talked of on “prayer mountain?”
One of the messengers speaks to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
It’s not time for shame or embarrassment…it’s time for truth.
She musters together all her energy and shouts out: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him!”
Again, another flash of light blazes…this time it’s behind her…
Mary turns and sees a man. For a second it seems like his face shines like the sun and like the messengers, his clothes seem dazzling white.
Are her tear-swollen eyes playing tricks on her?
Who could it be? A third angel? On closer inspection, she sees that there’s dust and dirt on his face…
He asks her: “Woman, why are you weeping? – – Who are you looking for?”
The feisty and frustrated part of her wants to say: “Are you men ignorant!!??”
But the man’s voice is so genuine and sincere that she figures he just a poor shmuck who got the early groundkeeping shift….she tries to keep her composure…
She takes a deep breath…
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
God only knows how she thought she might drag his body away…or what she was going to do with it…but it didn’t matter, for the next word from the groundkeeper’s mouth feels like it has a gust of wind behind it…Jesus breathes on her and says: “Mary.”
She jumps to her feet, leaps into his arms and cries out “Beloved Master!”
Mary clings to Jesus. Weeping, shaking, trying to slow her breathing. Her heart overflowing with joy and relief.
And then in a puzzling, but heartfelt manner, Jesus says to Mary:
“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.’”
Mary looks into Jesus’ eyes with shock and amazement…but she knows this is not the time to argue or resist the request of her dear TEACHER…Jesus has said “Go” and she will “go in peace.”
Mary lets go…
* * * * * * * * *
If we place ourselves alongside Mary in the midst of this track & field, roller-coaster-like emotional adventure/nail-biter…what would we do?
The great, heart-warming news of this resurrected Jesus story is that Jesus calls everyone of us by name…He names Mary in a moment of intimacy, devotion, & care…and for each of us who gathers for worship today to celebrate the “alive-ness” of Jesus, he too, calls us each by name:
Jane – Allan – Rose – Harvey – – [insert your name here]…
it’s a promise that we heard back 10 chapters ago in John 10: “I AM the good shepherd…I know my own and my own know me….just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…my sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me…
no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
But, then Jesus lobs out yet one more “cosmic Jesus” command. We shouldn’t be surprised…Jesus has been talking past, beyond and above his conversation partners for the past 19 chapters so why should we expect anything different now?
In his resurrected state, he talks past, beyond and above Mary and says
“Do not hold onto me.”
Remember, this is not a Disney Fairy-tale movie everyone!
This is the good news of Jesus, Christ, our living Lord!
On this Easter Sunday, Jesus calls us by name…yes, we are Jesus’ beloved friends.
But, the equally good news of today’s resurrection story is that it doesn’t end there…the lights don’t fade on the scene with Jesus and his friend Mary in a loving, heart-felt embrace…
Instead, the story lives on…we’re not urged to keep this good news to ourselves in a holy huddle…
Like Mary, we’re told to “let go.”
Mary WENT…Mary ANNOUNCED…Mary TOLD.
And when asked what the big deal was all about…it echoed what we have heard and seen throughout the gospel of John:
“Come and See”…specifically for Mary, she declares “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary becomes the first apostle. Imagine that! This unqualified, un-educated, un-spectacular woman…from whom 7 demons had been exorcized.
This ordinary woman becomes the first apostle and the first proclaimer and witness of the risen Lord.
There’s room for us!
So let’s run with Mary in this 50-day season of Easter…God is not waiting for us to get our act together…God’s not waiting for us to completely understand…God is not expecting us to have a neat and tidy testimony that proclaims air-tight arguments on Jesus’ risen-ness…
Instead, we’re challenged to love and believe.
The minister and writer Joyce Hollyday writes about Mary Magdalene as follows:
Mary Magdalene challenges us to love Jesus with a perfect love and to belive in the power of his Resurrection. Certainly she grieved and experience her hope flagging during the dark moments surrounding Jesus’ death. But she never lost her faith. It remained a small, steady flame that was fanned into brilliant, bold new life in the light of that (first) Easter dawn….With courage and joy let us claim that same spirit that dwelt within our sister, the first witness of the Resurrection.
Love and believe. This Jesus who is loving us to the end…invites us to love and believe. Last week, as we weaved the Jesus story into the poetry of Wendell Berry, and we learned that one way to do this loving and believing is to “practice resurrection.”
May our living Jesus, the gardener who was, and is and is to come, enable, inspire and empower us to declare “I have seen the Lord!”
[in silence, take time to pay attention, as see what Jesus is inviting you to see]
** see handout from “the Liturgists” re: resurrection **
[fyi, I won’t read the whole piece, only the bold part]
Resurrection says oh, no, no, no, no, no. Those glimpses, those are actually the real thing
They’re the thing that undergird the whole thing
Just that moment when that person said that kind word and it ignited a whole new world in your heart
That was just an aberration from how things are
That was a sign, a symbol, a glimpse, a glance of how it actually is
Resurrection says that this is our home and that our home is good
Resurrection says that not only is our home good
but everything about our home that is wrong, twisted, broken, destructive, flawed, and failed
everything about it
whether it may hurt and whether it may be something like cancer that is real
and however big the bruise is
and however much blood there is on the floor
whatever it is
however real it is
and however much it broke your heart
it is, in the end, in some really, really hard to describe way
That in fact, there is a new creation bursting forth
right here in the middle of this one
and there is a new heaven and a new earth coming together
and that this Jesus, in his resurrection insists that in the conquering of death
he has brought about something new
something you can trust
that whatever is holding you down
whatever feels like it’s drowning you
whatever feels like it’s a weight chained to your ankle
does not have the last word
That is resurrection
Now, a guy rising from the dead 2,000 years ago
can I prove that happened?
No, no one can
and be very suspicious of anybody who says they can prove that
and be especially suspicious of sermons where people spend 45 minutes proving to you that a man actually rose from the dead
[ PRACTICING RESURRECTION is a “we” movement… ]
What we know is there has been a community of people for several thousand years
who insist that something happened
that a tomb is empty
and that when you trust this story something will be unleashed
and unlocked in your heart
and in your life
So yes, it’s history
but it’s a bigger, better, wider, more expansive understanding of history
So for those who think “What? Come on. How far fetched is that?”
Try living in this story
Try trusting that all those little glimpses and glances
of hope and beauty and truth and light
That they weren’t aberrations
They weren’t mistakes
They weren’t some blip in the system
They were actually showing you what it’s really like
That this new life is as close as the breath you just took
and the breath you’re about to take
Friends of Jesus…
Breathe. Run. Love. Believe. Practice Resurrection.
On your marks, get set…let go!