Amazing Grace  Easter Sunday:  Mary Magdalene

P          When last we saw the disciples together, they were sleeping while Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were startled from their slumbers by those who came to arrest Jesus. They were gripped with fear, and most fled the scene. Peter would stick around for a while in the courtyard while Jesus was on trial. But for fear of having his identity discovered, he denied Jesus, and in tears would also flee. The remainder who stayed with Jesus, at least until Friday afternoon, were mostly women, who witnessed his crucifixion and burial.

And so, there is a mood of somberness—and fear. Indeed, even on Easter evening, we would still find the disciples hiding from the authorities in a locked room. Hardly the story of great excitement when Easter morning dawned. It was still a time of mourning and lament for the followers of Jesus. But the light of Easter had not dawned upon them. That would change.     Alleluia! Christ is risen!   C  He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

P          Among those who witnessed the death of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Even in this time of lament and weeping, she was there for a reason. She was one among many who had experienced the amazing grace of Jesus in her lifetime. While we are not told the details of that grace, what we are told is that she was set free from seven demons that possessed her. Seven demons might suggest that she had a recurring problem that needed a graceful solution.                   Of course, many of us struggle with our own demons in life. We may speak of them only to our closest friends or relatives. And if, or when, such demons ever become revealed to others, it is usually with whispers in private.

Sometimes, though, we see these demons come boldly presenting themselves in the major news stories of violence, where strong and angry words and actions lead to great tragedy. Then we realize that it’s not just us. There’s a lot of evil happening in the world. And humanity is possessed by it. And when we see it, we are immediately stunned into silence. If there is any thought we have, any words we say, any song we sing in these dark moments, it is only a thought, word, or song of lament. That is always the first song in the face of tragedy.

Yet the light of God’s grace may break through even these dark walls and barriers in which these tragic evils hide. Even in our own lives, the light of Easter breaks through—maybe at least for a moment as it does this morning—with a thought, a word, or a song of joy; such joy is enough to think, say and sing, “Alleluia!”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!                               C         He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

P          On Easter morn, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, freed indeed of her many past demons. But now she is dealing with the darkness of lament. On this morning, she is mourning. Her own lament is part of the darkness that shrouds this scene as she comes to the tomb of Jesus. Let’s be clear, though. She did not expect to be moved beyond that dark lament. She did expect that the tomb to which she was going would be closed tightly, keeping Jesus in the strong bands of death.

To her surprise, however, she witnessed that the stone that covered the tomb had been rolled away! With some excitement and haste, she ran to Simon Peter and the disciples to tell them what she saw. But her message was the not the joyous good news of Easter. It was even more dark and ominous, news of dark tragedy.

R          They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.

P          As if the darkness could not get deeper, now there is the added anguish of those who believe that the grave of Jesus had been robbed! Indeed, fear compounded with more fear, and the song of lament became stronger. Such fear and lament, it seems, is so deeply rooted in us all; for whenever bad news raises its ugly head, we fear the worst.   Where was Jesus’ body? They did not know. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved ran to the tomb. This other disciple ran with more haste and reached the tomb before Peter. Peering into the tomb, he saw the linen wrappings. But there was no body of Jesus there.

When Peter arrived, he ran straight into the tomb, He saw what the other disciple had seen, but, curiously, also saw that the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was now all rolled up—as if someone had purposely done so. Why would grave robbers take the time to do so? There is, of course, another explanation—that the body that was once here in death’s strong bands is no longer so confined. Like when in the morning our time of sleeping has come to an end, and we are no longer sleeping but awake, we still leave behind clues that this is so in the bedroom. Peter may not have discerned that at first. The other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, did sense that something new was in the air. He believed what Jesus had told him about the resurrection from the dead.  Alleluia! Christ is risen!                                             C            He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

P          But while the other disciples returned to their homes, Mary stayed at the tomb—still weeping, still lamenting. And through her tears, as she looked into the tomb for herself, she saw two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. These messengers speak to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Why are you yet lamenting? To which she frames her lament more personally, much more personally than she did to the disciples. Jesus, whom she cherished as Lord because he had in life cleansed her of all her demons in his amazing grace, was not here.

R          They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.

P          No sooner had she given this expression of her lament than she would turn around and encounter another stranger who was standing near her. She did not recognize him. Was it because she was still in the darkness of her lamenting? Her first thought is that he is just a person there to tend to the garden where this tomb was located, a stranger with no recognizable features or aspects that would make us think differently about him. Even as we, in our own lamenting and fears, may pass many strangers who are there with us in dark moments, with little recognition from us. This stranger also asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” But then adds a second question, “For whom are you looking?”

Does Mary sense that this second question has some knowledge about the One for whom she really is looking, in all her anguish and lament? Maybe. At least, she replies as though he might.

R          Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

P          Lament has not yet left her. But now she may sense some clue, some hope, that she may find some answers about the body of Jesus. And indeed, she will, but she is in for an even greater surprise.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!                                 C         He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

P          When this stranger speaks to her once again, he speaks, as we say, her language. He speaks in quite personal terms, using only one word, her name. And in the speaking, she notices something she did not notice before. “Mary!” he says to her. The mere mention of her name is already a life-changing grace, even as it is for us all when we are baptized and our names are prominently mentioned to the community gathered there. Our own names are mentioned in connection with Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection. His voice speaks to us with good news falls that falls upon our lamenting spirits and our often-deaf ears. His voice graces Mary in her state of lamenting and changes this moment into something new, something truly good. Recognizing this voice as One she has certainly known for some time, who has called her name many times before in grace and promise, she responds with excitement and joy for the first time.

R          Rabboni! Teacher!

P          When friends or family get together after being apart for a while, greeting one another by name, they are compelled to hug one another. It’s a new moment, a good moment, even a grace-filled moment! No one could fault Mary for wanting to do the same as she does in this moment with Jesus. And Jesus, the bearer of all grace, would certainly not want to deprive her of that moment. Now, in their encounter, death no longer keeps them apart. Now, tears of lament give way to tears of inexpressible joy!

So when Jesus says to her, “Do not cling to me,” she obviously was. But Jesus tells her the reason why she needs now to let go. It is not to let go of the joy but to let go because the joy needs to be extended to many others who live in lament and fear. Jesus says let go “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.’” Ascending means more than ascending to the cross, as he did. It means ascending to a place where all can be seen and cared for by him—indeed, where he can see the whole world, the whole populace of peoples and nations, so many still struggling with demons or caught in the shadows of lament and fear. But such ascension does not mean distance from them. It means being in a place where he can see and call out the names of all, with his voice and his good news and the grace that raises us—that the joy of his resurrection is a joy for everyone.

We already have some occasions for expressing this Easter moment that overcomes lament and brings joy to the hearts of others. When we share the peace of the Lord with one another, we go up to others, maybe even strangers to us. We speak to them, often by name, and even add their names as a preface to the words we now share: “The peace of the Lord be with you.” We are no longer strangers, through the reconciling peace of Jesus our Lord. For these words of peace are his own, the words of our risen Lord Jesus the Christ. His victorious voice triumphs over death and the grave, giving us a new way to the light of heaven that casts all darkness aside. And this new way shows in our thoughts, words and songs as we declare that because of Easter, joy in Christ’s amazing grace will always be with us, for all ages to come!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!                                                       C         He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!