Today's Lectionary reading: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 ; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18
Selected passage for reflection: John 20:1-18 NIV
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
What God did, God still does
The resurrection is the event upon which I have built my hope because I believe what God did, God still does. This means that no matter how many “words” death speaks over our lives; words like finality, failure, frustration, sickness, sadness, struggle, loneliness, meaninglessness, hopelessness, divisions, criticisms or cynicism, that the deaths in this life will not get the last word. Because what God did, God still does.
But while death may not get the last word, it will still get in a word. And I don’t want to just run past this truth today. Because so often believers in the resurrection begin acting as if the resurrection inoculates us from death and that somehow our belief issues us a get out of death free card to that we miraculously get to pass over all the deaths, all the tomb-laying and the Holy Saturday not-knowing and move directly into a place called Hallelujah and Praise the Lord. I just want to remind us that death is in fact a prerequisite for resurrection and that our faith doesn’t promise a formula where everything always works out, but rather declares there is a promised resurrection on the other side of things that don’t seem to work out at all.
And so, on the Easter morning as we together seek to hold onto our hope that what God did, God still does, let me offer just a few footholds that I have found helpful for climbing up out of the grave. John 20 begins, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb.”
I have found it helpful to re-member that while it was still dark and while Mary was still making her way, the resurrection was already taking place and that resurrections in our lives often works in similar ways. In the dark of the spring soil, bulbs are breaking open and shoots are making their way to the surface even before evidence of life becomes visible. Can I encourage us to bring this kind of hope to every grave encounter? It doesn’t speed up the process, nor does it mean we won’t still have to make our way, but it does help us hold open the possibility that resurrection might be taking place even before we can see it.
Mary arrives at the tomb to find it empty. She alerts the disciples and they come to find it just as she said; the stone rolled away, Jesus’ body missing, and the grave clothes lying in place. After assessing the situation, the disciples returned home, but Mary remained outside the tomb. Mary doesn't run away from the place of her greatest loss, but instead looks in again and it is her second look that ultimately brings her face to face with a resurrected life. Can I invite you to be brave? To look again at what you’ve lost and consider that God might still do what God did then by allowing you to see what others have missed.
Mary first sees two angels and then comes face to face with the resurrected Christ, whom she does not recognize. And this brings me to another ponderable point. What if right now resurrection is standing right in front of us and we don’t even recognize it because we thought the seed that was buried in the ground would look like the resurrection that springs up out of it. Perhaps we placed childlessness in the tomb and we expected children to be raised or we placed singleness in the tomb and we expected marriage to be raised. Maybe we placed our failures in the tomb and we expected success to be raised or we placed our disappointment with the church in the tomb and we expected a perfect church with perfect people when it was raised from the dead. But what if instead of children God raises a mission? What if instead of marriage God gives you visions and dreams? What if instead of success God brings to life in you an incredible grace for other people's failures? What if instead of a perfect church God raises up an abundance of compassion for the broken and battered gathering of God’s people? You see, so often, we like Mary are looking for what was buried to rise again in the same form and because of this so many of us miss the resurrected life already standing right in front of us.
It is in this place of misunderstanding that Jesus speaks Mary’s name and because of this very personal exchange Mary comes to recognize the resurrected life in front of her and is able claim in a flesh and blood way that in spite of everything she has previously known, apparently death does not get the last word when God is involved.
I'm wondering if this very day you would consider boldly asking God to speak directly to you; to call you by name and to reveal to you the reality of a resurrected life? I can’t make this happen, but I know it still does and I’m hoping that through your tears and as you linger around your own losses that God would give you a clear vision of a previously unfathomable resurrection.
Resurrected and resurrecting God help me trust that what you have done, you can still do. Grant me the courage to hope that even while it’s still dark and even as I am still making my way, that even before I see evidence that things are being raised back to life. Help me bravely look again at the places of my greatest grief and recognize the resurrection even if it doesn’t look like what was placed in the grave. And increase my faith today so that I might believe that life will have the last word. Amen.
About the Author
Judy Peterson is a pastor-at-large, committed to the embodied work of the gospel of Jesus the Christ, pastoring people who are still making their way. Judy once walked across the United States, and knows the discipline of walking through grief. She believes we must learn to walk about our convictions. She loves walking alongside others who are seeking to put feet to their faith, and you can find her at @walkingpastor on IG