Here we are; it’s finally Easter, about as late in the year as it can be – after such a long, cold winter, and a chilly and rainy spring. One benefit to Easter being so late has been that so many of the bulbs and flowering trees are in full bloom. Our gardens are glorious and bursting with new life, a very welcome sight.
There are lots of places in the Bible where we here about gardens, especially in the beginning - the Garden of Eden, where God is pictured as the gardener.
In our Gospel reading this morning we’re in the midst of a garden – the garden containing the tomb where Jesus’ crucified body was buried. His friend and follower Mary – from the village of Magdala – has gone to the tomb to grieve, to mourn at the place of Jesus’ burial. When she arrives at the tomb she sees that the large stone which had sealed up the entrance to the tomb has been removed.
On seeing that, Mary runs off to tell some of the other disciples who come at once to see what has happened. They look around, they see the linen wrappings that had been Jesus’ shroud, and then they leave, but Mary remains behind, still crying, still grieving.
She encounters angels who ask her why she’s crying and she answers in a direct way, she doesn’t pull any punches: “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” As far as Mary knows grave robbers, or soldiers or some other authorities, or even the ubiquitous “they” (on whom we’d like to blame all tragedy and wrong-doing) – they have taken away the body of the person on whom she had staked her life and her hopes and dreams, and now she can’t even mourn him in peace; how much more wrong can things get?
So when someone else says to her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” it is almost too much to bear; can’t these people just leave her alone? Why is this gardener interfering and bothering her? And so Mary speaks boldly out of her pain and frustration: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
We all know what that is like – when life has come crashing down around us and we are doing the best we can to cope, but eventually someone says or does something that pushes us over the edge, and we speak what’s on our minds without a filter or a veneer of good manners - the other person’s reaction be damned. It’s at this point that we reach a level of reality and truth about ourselves and our situation that we might not have been able to see otherwise, even if it isn’t always a pretty sight.
This is where Mary is – and then come that voice she knows so well: “Mary.” And she recognizes Jesus, all in a flash; she knows him – her teacher, her rabbi, her friend and mentor, the one who has taught her so much about God, the one who has taught her to hope for God’s glory and blessing and new order in life. Mary recognizes Jesus not by seeing him, but by hearing his voice, by hearing him call her by name.
Jesus’ physicality has been raised and transformed into a new reality, one that is as strange to Mary as it is to us, but the love and care that Mary experienced in her relationship with Jesus is still there. In fact, it is even deeper than it was, because now Jesus has gone though death and the grave and has risen victorious over those destructive forces.
If Mary hadn’t stayed behind in the garden after Peter and the other disciple had left, if Mary hadn’t been willing to sit with her grief and sorrow, she might have missed seeing Jesus, but instead, she is the first to see and speak to the risen Christ, and she then takes the message of this new resurrection life back to the rest of Jesus’ friends and followers.
We need to be like Mary; we need to be willing to sit in the rough and painful places, we need to be open to our own sorrow and grief and the sadness of the world, if we are going to be able to meet and talk with Jesus. It is so easy to go from one event to the next, from one difficulty to the next, from one disappointment to another – telling ourselves that we need to be brave and practical and calm – without ever taking the time to admit our sorrow, our brokenness, our neediness. So often we think we have to come to God with only the best we can offer, that we have to have our lives all neatened up and squared away before God will deign to listen to us or work with us.
But that is not true – as Mary’s experience tells us.
God wants us whether we are good or not, whether we are needy or not, whether or not we’ve got life, the universe and everything all figured out. Jesus calls us – just as he called Mary – to look beyond our grief and sorrow and disappointment and death. Jesus calls us to discover and accept the new life that God is offering us.
That doesn’t mean that life with Jesus will be perfect or pain-free; human nature and free will and an evolving world will continue to create upheaval and difficulty and even death. But with Jesus we know that we are on a path where death is not the end, where what we can see and touch and taste and hear are only the beginnings of life and entry-places into God’s reality.
The resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning tells us that God is greater than death, greater than sin, greater than anything that binds us or weighs us down. God wants to give us life – abundant, joyous life – life in the here and now that is filled with God’s purpose and glory, and life with God eternally whenever our time on earth has ended.
This is all possible because in the person of Jesus God has taken on all of our human experience, including sin and death and failure – and God has triumphed over all of that in Christ’s resurrection. That is what we celebrate this day. That is why we can respond with joy when we hear Jesus speak our name – intimately, tenderly, with affection and care – just as he spoke Mary’s name that first Easter morning.
Jesus has bridged the gap between heaven and earth, between God and us; and so God is in our midst, in our hearts, in this world God has made and for which Christ died and rose again. And for this we say thank you, and offer God our praise and love and loyalty and faithfulness.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, you took on our darkest hour in your death, and now you give to us all the glory of heaven and new life; open our ears to hear your voice speaking our name and let us respond with joy and gladness as we walk the path of faith and resurrection life with you. In your name, Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer and Friend, we pray. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
April 24, 2011