I Have Seen the Lord

John 20:1-18; Isaiah 25:6-9

I think it's marvellous that we hear the good news of this day from Mary Magdalene.  John knows full-well when he's writing his witness to Jesus, that women were not generally considered a reliable source of information.  They couldn't give testimony in court, they weren't trusted to convey important details.  Even in St. Paul's first letter to Timothy, there's a disconcerting bit about women not being allowed to teach in churches--a notion over which much ink has been spilled, and which is still embraced today, in certain, more cramped parts of the Body of Christ.  But, as theologian Jürgen Moltmann puts it, if it weren't for women preachers, we wouldn't know about the resurrection.

It's marvellous that Jesus sends Mary with the good news, as if to underline how wonderfully unbelievable it all is.  We sometimes imagine that it's only modern science and rationalism that challenged the Church's embarrassing commitment to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  But it's always been a challenge, right from the get-go.  It's not as though dead people becoming not dead was any less unusual 2000 years ago than it is now.  It's always buckled the intellect.  In fact, for those of us who know the wildly creative God witnessed to in the pages of Scripture, and by countless generations, the more we know about the universe, the easier it should be to think that the whole thing might actually be possible.  I mean, consider the things we know scientifically speaking--like for instance that each ink dot on the lower case is in your bulletin can hold somewhere around 500,000,000 protons (give or take), or that we think we've identified a star that is 55 billion light years away from us (a number of miles so big that I wasn't sure I was saying it properly, so I'm not going to try).  If we really believe that the God we're dealing with has to do with those numbers, with that kind of scale, then as my preaching professor once said, "The resurrection should be no big deal."

But it is.  And perhaps receiving the wonder of it on the lips of someone we're hard-pressed to believe, is a good reminder that the point of her witness is not to satisfy our intellectual objections, but to draw us into a truth that woos and overwhelms them.  As Mary bursts breathlessly through the door, she's not here to tell us that everything is as it was, but that everything is new.

Let us pray:  You Lord make all things new.  On this day may we be ready for your newness, ready for life where we never imagined, or dared hope.  Open our hearts to you this morning.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight, true to who you are.  Through Jesus Christ Alive: Amen!

I want to stick with Mary, this morning.  The first half of our gospel lesson is full of interesting things.  There's the silent confusion at the giant stone that's been moved out of the way, which it seems can only be bad news.  There's the frantic energy, as the disciples race each other to the tomb like a couple of schoolboys.  There's the linens, which no grave robbers would have left behind.  There's the disciples' breathlessness, as they look around and believe, even though they don't understand.

But then there's a kind of reset, as Mary is left alone again, in the early morning silence, her sobs the only noise.  As she cries, she looks into the tomb, like Peter and the beloved disciple did, maybe hoping that whatever satisfied them would satisfy her, that somehow her broken heart would be as quickly healed, and she too could go home, in something like peace.  She's so distraught that when she looks in and sees two men who weren't there suddenly there, where Jesus' body should have been, she hardly reacts.  She's totally beside herself with grief.  She can't deal with anything except what she knows to be true in the wake of Friday's disaster. 

From inside the tomb comes a question that must have seemed totally ridiculous.  Why are you weeping?  Don't they know where they are?  Don't they know what's happened?  Are they the only ones who haven't heard that the man who was paraded into Jerusalem, sung as a saviour, the One who would usher in God's reign of justice, love and peace, the king after God's own heart only a week ago, was torn apart on Friday morning by the powers that be?  Hadn't they heard the crowds who sang hosannas, so quickly chanting "Crucify!"  Why is she crying?  Why aren't they?  Who can pay any attention to the world as it is and not be brought to tears? 

Why is she crying?  She's crying because hope has been crushed for the sake of the status quo--it was less dangerous to kill Jesus than trust him.  She's crying because she had known joy and love: she'd seen it in the faces of children gathered on his knee, in blind eyes that saw again; she'd seen it in the hungry fed, in funeral processions that became birthday celebrations, in lepers touched, and outcasts embraced, and broken bodies healed.  She'd felt it, known it, in her own healing and release.  She had hoped.  She'd been a frontline witness to God Alive in the world, to a new possibility, the beginnings of that kingdom the prophets promised in which love reigned, not power; mercy, not judgment; hope, not resignation to the brokenness of the way things are.  She'd seen the truth that the poor can actually be raised up, that the God of Life really does meet folks in the ash heap of despair; that those forced to the outside of God's goodness might, by grace, find their way in. 

She's crying because in the shadow of Friday, "the way things are" is just the way things are.  Power wins.  Violence wins.  Self-concern has its way with humility.  Greed and self-righteousness overwhelm love and grace, again and again.  Creation continues to groan, waiting for humanity to grow up.  She cries because Jesus' battered body wasn't just a punishment for him, but a warning about what happens to folks who suggest that perhaps "the way things are" is not really all it's cracked up to be.  Mary cries because she can't even mourn in peace--there's always one more indignity.  Someone's gone out of their way to steal the body of her beloved, and God knows what's happened to it. 

When the angels, sitting in the tomb, ask Why are you weeping? I can't help but wonder if--for all its foolishness--it's a sincere question.  When we hear it, we're confronted with the reality of Mary's situation, and it's hard not to imagine how she's feeling.  Maybe when the question rattles from inside the tomb, that place of death that echoes with Mary's sobs, if we'll stand alongside her, we're meant to give voice to the brokenness we know.  Imagine hearing this story for the first time, not knowing how it ends, how easy it would be to understand her tears.

Maybe this isn't just a set up for the big surprise, but a genuine question.  What makes us weep?  What breaks our hearts?  What keeps us bound to the way things are?  What makes us stay at the tomb; what makes us look in with desperation?  Chrsitians claim heaven cares about broken hearts; maybe the angels want to know the places where ours are broken--the ways in which, like Mary we can't imagine another world than what she witnessed on Friday, the ways in which we understand the loneliness and loss, the helplessness and hopelessness that she suffered through on Saturday. 

They have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they've laid him.

And then there's a noise.  An unexpected stirring draws her attention from the tomb.  And through her tears, in the dim early light, she sees someone else who might be able to provide her with the small comfort of telling her where her dead hope is.  It's a startling thing that she doesn't recognize Jesus.  Other accounts suggests that he looked more or less as he always had, plus some extra scars.  Was it still too dark to tell?  Were her eyes so full of tears that she couldn't see properly? 

Or was it just too impossible?  Is she so bound by the way things are, that she simply can't imagine another possibility, other than that Jesus is dead, and with him everything she longed for?  All she wants is to deal with her grief and carry on, because nothing has changed.  Caesar still reigns.  Herod is still the face of her peoples' servitude.  Caiaphas and the other religious leaders are still loading up heavy burdens and dropping them on those least able to carry them; still insisting that it's better for one man to have died, than for the whole system to be turned on its head or worse.  I think we shouldn't rush through Mary's realism and honesty about the way of things.  The other disciples may have gone home in quiet satisfaction and confused belief.  But she's having none of it.  She, after all, had stayed at the cross, while Peter ran and hid.  She's seen the worst the world has to offer, up close and personal.  She can't believe anything else.  She won't.

Except that the exact same question comes from outside the tomb.  Why are you weeping?  The same question that has her staring, bleary-eyed into the tomb, now draws her away from it.  And we get what might be the most beautiful moment in Scripture.  While she's going on to this stranger about how she'll go get the body and carry it back by herself if he knows where it is, while she clings to a last shred of dignity in this world gone sideways, he says her name.  Mary.  He doesn't question her faith, he doesn't remind her that he'd told them all, over and over again, that this was going to happen--and why didn't any of them believe hard enough? 

He says her name, with all the tenderness and joy of heaven.  The hope of this day will not be an abstract idea; it will be personal, intimate.  It will be love--close enough to touch--that overcomes the world, love that shatters the way things are.  Love that knows her name.  

It's the voice of the One who knows her name that finally captures her attention from the tomb.  It's the voice of the One her soul longs for that cuts through her perfectly reasonable unbelief.  It's the voice of the One who healed her and called her and now calls her again that gathers up her tears and trades them in for a joy that she would never have dared hope for, that nothing could have prepared her for.  The voice of the One who knows her name pierces the tomb's deafening silence, and shatters the way things are. 

Because the voice of the One who knows her name echoes with promises of God.  It sounds a reminder of the kind of God she's found herself caught up with: the One who creates with a word, who sets captives free, who overcomes sin and brokenness with mercy and tenderness; the God who promises that the story ends not in hopelessness, but with every tear wiped away, every soul satisfied.  The God who is relentlessly faithful.

When he says her name the world is flooded with the sure and certain promise that in and through him, God's choice is to swallow up death, in all its forms, forever-- just like Isaiah promised.  The new day dawns with the wonder that the world's violence and injustice are futile--they couldn't stop him.  Its selfishness and greed are worthless, in the face of the God of Life Abundant.  The keepers of the way things are have no authority, no capacity to challenge the ways and means of God in the world--the cross made a mockery of that stuff; the resurrection destroys their power.  Love and justice, mercy and righteousness win.  When Jesus Alive says her name, you can hear the chains of the way things are--the ways of sin and brokenness, of irreconciliation and shame--fall to the ground. 

When he speaks, not dead but alive, in that moment, his way and truth and life are confirmed: not Caesar's or Herod's or Caiaphas'.  He will ascend to heaven's throne, to the Father's side; his reign of love that overcomes the world is established here and now and forever!

That's not exactly what she says, as she bursts through the door, this morning.  She gets right to the heart of the matter for now: I have seen the Lord!  And the full weight and wonder of that impossible, beautiful truth will take time to work its way into the hearts of his disciples and friends, those who love him.  But it will capture their imaginations and begin to shape their lives, as they come to know him alive.  They will begin to live and move and have their being not according to the way things are, but in the pattern of the way they will be when death is swallowed up for good: they'll live with a hope that makes the world wonder what's gotten into them; they'll live lives of radical generosity, and reckless love, and an unflinching commitment to peace.  They will become signs and symbols of what they've come to know; they will give shape wherever and whenever they are, to the death conquering faithfulness of the God who has called and claimed them.  They will live in the world not in the shadow of death, but in the light of the One who knows their name--who knows our names, who loves us beyond measure--whose light can never be quenched. 

They will live in the world as though nothing--nothing in heaven, earth, or hell--not even death--can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus, for them or for this broken and beloved world.  May it be said of us.

And so, to God, who by the same power that raised Christ from the dead, is able to do abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, in us and through us--to God be the glory, in Christ Jesus and in the Church, now and forever.