20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary Magdalene arrives at Jesus’ tomb early on the first Easter morning and notices that the front door of the tomb was left wide open. Being a frugal person and knowing the cost of heating and cooling, Mary starts asking everyone she can find who left the front door of the tomb open. Finally she comes to Jesus and he admits that he is the one who left the tomb ajar. Out of frustration Mary Magdalene asks him, “What, were you born in a barn?”
This is not likely to be the first time you have heard this scripture. Every Easter we read the account(s) of Jesus’ resurrection, and every year I find something new and exciting in the text. Every year I find God using these words penned over 1,900 years ago to move us and to call us into action. And this year is no exception to that.
John’s Gospel tells us that on the day that we know as Good Friday, Jesus was beaten, bruised, mocked, stripped naked, and nailed to a cross between two thieves. He was hung there to die, and die he did. And all of this was done in plain site of his friends, his followers, people like Mary Magdalene, and his own mother. This was the Roman’s way of sending out a warning to other people. Hurt someone, make it visible, and you will deter others from doing whatever those who are being crucified did.
At sundown that day the Jews would begin to observe their Sabbath. So with the permission of Pilate, they gathered Jesus’ body and took it a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. They sealed the tomb and there the body of Jesus was left, with only minimal preparation, for about 36 hours. No Jew could visit the tomb on the Sabbath; no Jew could roll away the stone on the Sabbath. So they waited until the first day of the week, the day we call Sunday.
This brings us to our scripture for today. And one of the things that I noticed as I read through the text for today is that in verse one, John tells us that Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb while it was still dark. I believe that John is referring to the time of day, saying that the sun had not yet risen and therefore it was difficult to see. But I think that this is symbolic of how Mary must have felt at the time as well. Dark, cold, and alone. This man that had done so much for her was now gone. Jesus had healed her and given her a second chance at life. This man that she had put her hope and trust in was no longer with her. She had seen him crucified and buried.
But when she arrived at the tomb that dark, cold morning, Mary found the tomb to be empty. Someone had rolled away the stone and taken Jesus. That is what she told the disciples. So Peter and John run to the tomb and they look inside and verse 8 tells us that they saw and they believed. What did they believe? I interpret this as they saw that the tomb was empty and they believed Mary that Jesus’ body had been taken. It says later that they did not yet understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead. And they go home. And Mary is left alone again.
But Mary isn’t alone for long. As she sits there crying, two angels appear to her and ask her what is troubling her. Evidently seeing two angels wasn’t startling to Mary, she seems to take this all in stride, because she simply answers the question, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.”
Then Jesus shows up and asks a similar question, “Why are you weeping?” But Mary does not recognize him. Not until he speaks her name does she recognize him. She calls him teacher, and she grabs a hold of Jesus, in a scene that reminds me of the embrace given to the Prodigal Son by the father. She seems to be saying, You once were lost, but now I have found you again. Mary saw him tortured, beaten, and crucified. She saw him laid in the tomb…dead. But now by some miracle she was holding her friend in her arms once again.
Mary must have clutched on to Jesus with so much love and endearment. She must have grabbed a hold of his garments with both hands and held on tight as she said to herself, “I lost you once and I’m not going to lose you again.” But Jesus looks her in the eye and he says to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
He doesn’t say don’t hold on to me because you are going to make a scene. He doesn’t say, “Hey, you are hurting my arm.” He needs Mary to let go of his arm because he needs to ascend to the Father. He needs to go to heaven and prepare a place for them. He needs to sit at the right hand of the Father for a period of time before he comes back to this place to rule the heavens and the earth as king. Then, Mary, you can hold on to Jesus and give him that physical embrace.
It must have been great for Mary to see her Lord again after thinking that she had lost him forever. It must have been great to feel his skin and to hear his voice. But as great as all of this was, Jesus told Mary that this was just a taste of what is yet to come. Don’t hold on to me, not now. I’ve got things to do first. And it will be better.
I heard an excellent illustration this week that probably won’t resonate with anyone under twenty years old. Today most cameras that you buy are digital. When you snap a picture the image is collected on a tiny memory card that can be inserted in your computer for long-term storage, or you can print off on your home computer, made a CD, email them to your family and friends, there are many options for a digital camera. But if you are at least twenty-years-old, you will remember back in the old days when you had to go somewhere to buy what was known as “film”.
So I heard this fellow telling about how a few years back he was planning on taking his children to “The Happiest Place on Earth” which is of course, Disney World. So they were in Orlando, and his kids were like five and six years old. And on their way to Disney World, they stopped by at a Drugstore to buy some of this “film” stuff that cameras used to require. So he left the two kids with his wife at the entrance to the drugstore while he went inside to buy the film. But when he got back outside, the children didn’t want to get back into the car to go to Disney World.
The kids had been given a quarter each and they were riding those little mechanical horses that you sometimes see outside of a store. And all his kids wanted to do was to ride these silly little horses. The children began to whine and complain when the father made them get back into the car. They couldn’t understand that what they were heading for was so much better than what they were currently experiencing. They were so content with those little mechanical horses that they would have gladly missed out on Disney World to be able to continue to ride the little horses. Space Mountain with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, or these little mechanical horses which are only a shadow of what is yet to come…tough choice.
Mary was quite happy to cling to Jesus on that morning of the resurrection. She was so happy to see Jesus again that she went from crying tears of sorrow to crying tears of joy. But the joy that she was experiencing was like the children riding the mechanical horses outside of the drugstore. Yes, Jesus has risen and that is something to be celebrated. But that isn’t the end of all things. Because he is preparing a place much better than Disney World.
So Jesus tells Mary, don’t cling to me, I’ve still got work to do. But he doesn’t just leave to do work himself. No, he gives Mary something to do. Here he is alive for only a few hours at the most and he is giving out work to do. Jesus tells Mary that she is to be a messenger, to go and tell the disciples what she has seen and heard. And Mary does just that.
Well later that evening Jesus finds the disciples locked in a house because they feared that they too might be tortured and killed like Jesus was. So Jesus shows up and he says to them (20:21b), “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Earlier in his ministry Jesus told his disciples “If I go prepare a place for you, I will come back again.” So when Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him because he needs to ascend to the Father, I believe that his ascension is to prepare a place. So Jesus says, “I am ascending to the Father, but I will come back again. And in my absence, I am sending you.”
On January 16, 2010, my life changed forever. My son Paxton was born on that cold winter evening and for the next 10 weeks, I failed to sleep longer than about five hours at any one time. I have changed more diapers in the last couple months than I had all of my 30 years before (which isn’t a big surprise seeing how I had never changed a diaper before). We do laundry all of the time. We spend about half and hour trying to get the baby to eat, and then we spend another 15 minutes cleaning up every time he spits up.
Last Friday, March the 26th, I put Sonya and Paxton on an airplane bound for Omaha, Nebraska. I have slept better in the last week than I had for the previous 10 weeks. I have not changed a single diaper in over a week nor have I had to do laundry. And already, I miss it. In fact, I missed it immediately.
I was driving home through West Virginia after dropping them off, and I do something some of you might think is a little weird. I have certain songs and musical genre that I like to listen to as I travel. For instance, as we cross over the Ohio River, I like to listen to the Ohio State Marching Band play the Ohio State Fight Song (I think that is okay for a pacifist). So while I am driving through West Virginia, I like to listen to John Denver, especially “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
So I’m driving through West Virginia on the turnpike, listening to John Denver, I’ve just sent my young family off half-way across the country for over a week. And the next John Denver song to come on the radio is “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (written by John, but popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary). I won’t sing it, but imagine the words if you know the song. As I am singing along, I drive past the city of Pax, West Virginia.
When you love and care for someone, it is difficult to be away from them, even if you know that it is only for a period of time, even if being away from them might make life a little easier. I am sure that things were difficult for Mary Magdalene when Jesus ascended to the Father. And that is not to say that life was simple when Jesus was around. I’m sure Mary was always scratching her head, trying to figure out what Jesus was talking about in his parables. Am I the kernel of wheat, or a mustard seed, or yeast? I don’t remember. Mary probably felt threatened by other people who were always giving Jesus a hard time. Surely she felt pressured by the scribes and the Pharisees. She may have even felt that her life was threatened by being a follower of Jesus. She could have felt a relief when Jesus died because now things could go back to how they were, back when life was easy, back when things made sense. But no, Mary loved Jesus and she wanted to have him around as much as possible.
So Mary lost Jesus, not once, but twice. His disciples lost him at least twice as well. They lost their friend, their teacher, and their Lord. And I would think that they would have two options. One, they could forget about this Jesus guy and go right back to what they were doing before and try to regain some kind of life similar to the one that they had lived before, or they could do what Jesus had told them and taught them and would want them to do.
Before Sonya left for Nebraska, she began framing three separate wall hangings for our bedroom. They are all simple fabrics that she liked (and I didn’t). She cut and ironed and prepared these fabrics to be framed. Sonya left me with the job of finishing up the hardware, hanging wire, and actually hanging these three items.
While she has been away, she has no way of knowing if I am actually doing what she wanted me to do. But I did. I finished these wall hangings for her. Not out of fear of punishment or out of fear of her anger if she was to return and find that I was not doing what she wanted me to do. I did these things out of love.
Before Jesus leaves, he gives Mary a job to do. She is told to go to the disciples and deliver a message. And she does it. As Jesus meets with his disciples, he sends them out into the world to continue the ministry that he has begun. They are sent to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and to teach reconciliation with God and your fellow human beings. My friends, I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the grave, ascended into heaven, and that one day he will come back to establish his kingdom forever. That is something to look forward to. But we don’t just sit around and wait for Jesus to come back, no matter how much we miss him. We have been given work to do.
Mary Magdalene had a strong desire to physically cling to Jesus. I hope that we all do. And I believe that one day we will meet him face to face. One day we will be united and he will give us a big bear hug and tell us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I long for that, and I am sure that you do as well. But now we have work to do. We cannot physically cling to Jesus, but we cling to him by doing the things that he has called us to do.