A Homily from Easter Sunday, 2017.
John 20:1, 11-18
Early 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. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; and 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. They 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary wept in the throws of grief. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary dragged herself out of bed after a sleepless night and walked to the tomb in a kind of trance. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary cried—scared, confused, alone. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary thought that the powers of death had the last Word. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary heard a voice in the darkness calling her name—Mary.
Throughout this Lenten season, we’ve examined the ways that the powers and principalities hold us captive—how they push us towards securing our own survival, dominating others, using God for our own agenda. We’ve seen how in Jesus’ ministry, he’s constantly in resistance mode—exposing the powers for what they really are and envisioning an alternative way of living in the world. He describes this way as “the kingdom of God,” the living water we drink so we never thirst again, the light of the world. Jesus invites those who follow him into similar acts of resistance—to free us from the power money has on us by giving it away, to choose to see ourselves as Jesus sees us, resisting the shame that says I’m not enough, to practice Sabbath that contradicts productivity, to untie the grave clothes of someone who’s hands and feet are still tied in the trappings of death.
But all Jesus’ acts of resistance had a cost. All of the times he just wouldn’t shut up, all of the crowds he attracted because he actually noticed those who were normally ignored, the powers finally said enough is enough and put an end to his resistance the only way they could guarantee silence and division—by nailing him to a tree.
As Mary cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. There, she saw what the others had seen—the grave clothes sat neatly folded. Discarded. Set aside. No longer concealing the life that had been. This symbol of death, this marker of a breathless body, removed like the stone that had sealed his fate. And next to the graveclothes, on either side of the piles, sat two angels, dressed in white—and they asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken away my Lord. I don’t know where they’ve put him.” Mary said. They’ve taken away my hope and I don’t know where to turn.”
Just then, she turned and saw a man the shadow of a man behind her; a man she assumed was the gardener, his face unfamiliar in the darkness. He repeated the question—“Woman, why are you crying?” Thinking that perhaps he knew what happened or worse, that he was a culprit, she begged, “Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” But Jesus interrupted her pleading, interrupted her desperation, and called her by name from the darkness, Mary.
Mary. He calls her name. Her name. The name that captures the particularity of her life. To the gardener, she would just be the crying woman. At other points in her life, she was the possessed woman, the woman who wasn’t enough, the woman on the outside of the group. Never nameless—but still unnamed. Never not Mary, but still, not known.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, God defeated the powers and principalities in the ultimate act of resistance—resurrection. The grave could not contain the Lord. Even death wasn’t enough.
In the resurrection, God defeats the powers of death and shows that it’s God who has the final Word. Nothing, not even death, can keep us from being fully known by God. The powers try to have the final say on our names, our identities, the markers by which we measure ourselves, the systems that hold people captive or keep people in oppression. But Jesus calls us out of the darkness by name.
The powers say, “Guilty.” Jesus says, “Forgiven.”
The powers say, “Not enough.” Jesus says, “Enough.”
The powers say, “Slave.” Jesus says, “Free.”
The powers say, “criminal.” Jesus says, “Man.”
The powers say, “Poor.” Jesus says, “Rich.”
The powers say, “Dead.” Jesus says, “Alive.”
The powers say, “Stranger.” Jesus says, “Mary.”
On this Easter Sunday, we hear our Risen Lord calling our names from the darkness—Jesus, the resurrected one, the name above all names, the great I am, the Prince of Peace, the alpha and omega, the light of the world. The risen Lord has spoken.
This is the name unto which you were baptized. As you come forward and mark the sign of the cross on your forehead today, hear Jesus speaking your name from the darkness and drawing you into the light.
“Why are you crying?” I have called you by name, Mary, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you.”