April 4, 2021 – Easter Day, Year B
© 2021 Evan D. Garner
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, a woman slipped quietly, unnoticed to the tomb. Filled with overflowing grief—more than her body and soul could contain—she went to the place where she could weep—where she could pour out her broken heart and be as close to the body of Jesus as she could get. She loved Jesus in a way that was different from that of his mother or his disciples—with a love that was unsurpassed on the earth. That love drew Mary to the tomb even while others slept.
“Mary.” Oh, to know that Mary! To know her love and devotion! To experience her transformation from fullest grief into fullest joy! Who is Mary? Who is the Magdalene? Across the centuries, people have invented stories and caricatures to express their devotion or to influence the devotions of others. She has, at times, become an embodiment of sin and shame and repentant love. To others she has been the apostle to the apostles, a feminist icon of leadership in a patriarchal church. Perhaps so many stories have been told about her because the gospel text actually says so little. Except for a brief mention by Luke, Mary Magdalene only appears at the very end of the four gospel accounts—always at the cross and at the tomb, where her devotion captures our admiration and our imagination.
Each of the four gospel accounts tells the Easter story a little differently, but all of them include the faithful love of Mary. We know, therefore, that we cannot tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection without telling of Mary’s love. Her love and faith, her tears and joy, are our own path to discover that the stone is rolled away, to see the angels dressed in white, and to hear Jesus speak our name.
I don’t know the particular challenges that you bring with you to the tomb this morning. I don’t know what brokenness, what struggle, what disappointment, what anxiety you’re carrying, but I know that collectively we’re carrying a lot. We’re tired of sickness. We’re tired of death. We’re tired of being cut off from the people we love. We’re tired of being alone. We’ve had enough rancor and racism. We’re exhausted from doing our part—from doing our best—and seeing that it hardly makes a difference. We’re so sick and tired of being sick and tired that we’re not sure things will ever be any different. We’ve started to lose hope. It feels like one more setback, one more disappointment, and we’ll have nothing left to do but fall down in a heap and cry. Kind of like Mary did.
And that’s when Jesus came and found her. That’s when the good news of salvation—of being rescued from all that is broken in our lives—appeared to her and spoke her name. “Mary,” Jesus said to her. “Rabbouni,” she said back. She didn’t find him; he found her. She didn’t make the miracle of Easter happen. She didn’t create hope out of hopelessness or faith out of despair. Instead, faith came and found her. Hope itself appeared when she needed it most, and, when it did, all her brokenness fell away. In an instant, all her burdens were lifted. She was remade.
God is not waiting on us to figure it out. God is not asking us to get our act together. God has not built a fence around the empty tomb so that only those who have studied the scriptures can see it. There are no admission requirements. There is no entrance exam. The risen Jesus is not hiding from us, waiting for us to reach a certain level of holiness before revealing himself to us. He is here, standing outside the tomb, looking for us.
God does not bestow blessings and love on the people who deserve it—the people who always say nice things even when they’re angry, whose children always behave in public places, who always look perfectly calm even when the world is falling apart. No, the good news of Easter is that God blows right past all of those people (whoever they are) to come and find you and me and all the other folk who are struggling just to make it through another day. We are the ones Christ seeks out this morning. We are the ones he comes to find. We are the ones whose name he speaks. And all we are asked to do is have faith enough to listen.
Sometimes the thing that most stands in the way of us receiving the good news of Easter—of hearing Christ speak our name—is the church itself. By that, I don’t mean the church that is the crucified and resurrected body of Christ. I mean the church that makes us feel like we had better get our act together if we want to get a seat at the table. On this Sunday of all Sundays, we pretend that what it takes to see the risen Christ is our very best—perfect outfit, perfect hair, perfect family, perfect faith. That version of ourselves belongs on Instagram, not in church. Here, it’s okay for you to leave it behind. Easter isn’t about presenting our best selves so that we might find Jesus. It’s about bringing our real selves and allowing Jesus to find us. It’s about showing up at the tomb just like Mary did.
And you’re already here. Whether you’re here in person or watching online, you’ve come to the tomb. I don’t know what you expected to find when you got here, but the good news of Easter that we proclaim this day is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, and it doesn’t matter what state you’re in. You’re here, and so is the risen Christ. On this Easter Day, he was raised from the dead in order to find you. And, simply because you’re here, he already has.