A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on April 8, 2012.
20:1 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. 2 So 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.'” 18 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.
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” John’s Gospel reports that when she said this, Mary Magdalene “turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.”
Two thousand years after Jesus was crucified his followers still proclaim “He is risen!” The trumped up charges of insurrection brought by his religious enemies, the political games played by politicians, the cowardice of his “loyal” disciples and the treachery of Judas, the abuse he suffered from the Roman soldiers assigned to crucifixion duty, and everything else doesn’t and won’t stop us from proclaiming “He is risen!”
But Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John struggled with the fact of the empty tomb. The idea of a risen Jesus was too much to grasp.
Yes, Jesus told them he would be arrested. He predicted his betrayal. He told them they would scatter and desert him after his arrest. Jesus told them he would be killed. And he told them that he would rise from the grave. But they struggled to comprehend what the empty grave meant on Resurrection Day.
Mary Magdalene even struggled after she saw Jesus and spoke with him. She didn’t recognize him. She thought he was cemetery attendant. Mary Magdalene was so convinced by her grief that someone had stolen the dead body of Jesus that she couldn’t recognize her risen Teacher.
But then Jesus called her name. “Mary!” The Lord she didn’t recognize knew her. The Teacher she thought dead spoke living words to her. Life and love broke past her sorrow and confusion when Jesus called her name. “Mary!”
Easter proclaims that Christ was resurrected from the grave by the will of God. The resurrection of Jesus proves that sin and death don’t control our destiny. God’s love is stronger than sin. God’s love is stronger than death. God’s love is stronger than scheming politicians, lying court witnesses, false friends, frightened comrades, and scorners who watch us endure undeserved suffering. God’s love is stronger than our disappointment. It is stronger than our pain and heartbreak. God’s love is stronger than death.
That’s what Mary Magdalene finally realized when she heard Jesus speak her name. “Mary!” God’s death-proof life was calling her. “Mary!” God’s undying love was calling her. “Mary!” God’s unstoppable truth was calling her. Somehow being called by name broke through her sorrow. Something about being known triggered her memory. When Jesus called her name he became alive again for Mary Magdalene. In that moment, his resurrection began defining her life.
Have you had a “Mary!” moment?
Have you been so focused on the trials and tragedies of life that all seemed pointless? Have you been so overwhelmed that even the thought of hope seemed painful, if not impossible? Has grief and heartbreak clouded life so much that you can’t recognize God’s love even as it confronts you?
Mary Magdalene’s experience with Jesus shows us that God understands. Patiently and lovingly, Jesus stood before his friend. Patiently and lovingly, Jesus listened to her sobbing frustration. Patiently and lovingly, Jesus endured being unrecognized. Patiently and lovingly, Jesus listened as Mary blamed him for not being where she was sure he should have been. Then the risen Jesus called her name. “Mary!”
Love waits to be recognized. Love watches, waits, and gently calls us. Love stands before us and speaks with us. Love calls us. In doing so, love breaks through everything else the world throws at us. That is what God’s love does, in Jesus Christ, to claim us as beloved of God. In Christ, God calls us by name. In Christ, God waits to be recognized in return.
But God’s love in Christ doesn’t do this merely for our private benefit. Jesus refused to allow Mary to limit his influence. He didn’t give her a false sense of personal privilege. Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Christ. Once she recognized the risen Christ, she had a duty to present herself as his resurrection agent in the world, beginning with the people she knew.
So Jesus ordained Mary Magdalene as the first resurrection preacher. No matter what people think who claim they don’t believe in women preachers, Jesus sent Mary Magdalene to proclaim the good news of his resurrection. Jesus ordained Mary Magdalene to tell the follows who were hiding about his resurrection.
Two thousand years later, people still need to be told that God’s love is stronger than sin and death. People facing death from illness need this assurance. People struggling under the weight of oppressive powers need it. People overcome by their own failings and frailty need to know that God’s love is stronger than our faults and shortcomings.
If we have heard that love call our names in the midst of our painful experiences, we can tell others to live in the strength of that love. The risen Jesus is proof of God’s life and God’s love. The risen Jesus is proof of God’s power. And the risen Jesus is the best evidence for hope despite the tomb-like circumstances and situations of life.
- Despite what appeared to be a hopeless situation, God brought Jesus back.
- Despite what Rome wanted, God brought Jesus back.
- Despite what his enemies wanted, God brought Jesus back.
- Despite betraying Judas and denying Peter, God brought Jesus back.
- Despite the cross, God brought Jesus back.
- Despite the tomb, God brought Jesus back.
- Despite the seal of Rome and standing guards, God brought Jesus back.
The risen Jesus is why we hope despite everything else we face in the world!
That hope is subversive, radical, and unstoppable. I have seen and heard that hope in the faces and voices of people at death’s threshold. I have seen that hope in the faces and voices of people who were disrespected because of their race, sex, poverty, sexual orientation, family status, and other reasons. I’ve seen them and heard them claim the resurrection of Jesus as the basis for steadfast hope as they stood up against bigotry, hate, greed, and power, as they refused to be broken by disappointments and heartbreaks, and as they continued to get up and try again.
Resurrection hope does that. When people realize that God’s love and power is stronger than anything else, they become the most powerful people in the world.
Today, Easter Sunday 2012, God’s love continues to call us by name. God’s love continues to wait for us. God’s love continues to send us to defy conventional thinking and acting. God’s love continues to inspire us to hope when others say things are hopeless, love when others are hateful, serve when others are ungrateful, and live with death-proof hope when the world is obsessed with fear and despair.
Beloved, God has raised Jesus. Hear the living voice of God’s love. Claim the living power of God’s love by faith in what God has done in raising Jesus. Then live in the power of God’s love as people of death-proof hope.
Christ is risen! Live! Christ is risen! Love! Christ is risen! Hope! Christ is risen! Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.