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. 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.’
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look 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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’
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, ‘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.
This story is the great miracle of Easter. Jesus had died publicly; he had been arrested, tried, flogged, marched to Golgotha, and crucified. There was no doubt that he had died: the soldiers made sure of this before they took the empty body down from the cross. The body had been laid quickly in a tomb, since there wasn’t enough time for a full preparation before sundown marked the beginning of the Sabbath. But somehow, in some way we don’t (can’t?) understand, Jesus stood up again, walked around in a physical body, ate bread and fish, and taught his friends. Thomas felt the wounds in the hands and the side of Jesus. Jesus had died. Jesus was alive again.
Can you imagine Mary‘s fear and anger, when she came to the tomb to begin preparing the body for its rest, and the body was missing? And the confusion of all three of them, Mary and Peter and John, when they saw the wrappings on the floor, as though they had been discarded by a careless kid? (“Jesus, pick up your clothes! Were you born in a barn?”)
Then Mary encounters the two angels, and speaks her fear and confusion and bitterness. Events of great power are taking place around her, and she doesn’t know what they mean (yet!), and nobody will explain them to her. The body of the man who healed her has gone missing; she points this out to the men, and they run away! Why do they run? Are their fears renewed, that since the body of Jesus has gone missing, they will be similarly arrested and executed? Or were they just not able to handle a weeping woman? Yeah, I’d be a little bitter myself, in that situation. But then she sees Jesus, even though she does not recognize him at first. He speaks her name, and she recognizes him. Her beloved teacher is right there, standing there and speaking to her! This is amazing! This is a miracle!
Now I wonder, how often am I Peter or John? How often do I miss what is right in front of me, the miracles that happen around me when I’m not paying attention? How often does a Magdalene need to point out to me that something amazing and special is happening? How often do I forget what is real and lasting, instead allowing myself to be ruled by my fear and confusion?
I’d really rather be Mary in this story, faithful and loving, the very first to see the risen savior. I’d get to carry word back to those blind cowards, the ones huddled together in the upper room, just waiting for their executioners to arrive. I’d be able to say, “Look what we missed, everybody! He is alive! I have seen him, and he wants to see you, too!” What a joy that would be!
Sometimes, I do get to be Mary. I’m probably not very good at it, though. I confess that I’m probably pretty smug that I got to be the first; that’s something special that nobody could take away from me. I’m sure I’m impatient when the others don’t believe me; not that I’d necessarily believe, were I in their shoes, but of course they should believe me without question!
Even better, one day, I will get to be Jesus in this story. Each of us will — that’s the Good News that Jesus gives us. Death does not mean oblivion, and it does not mean eternal torment. Instead, death is just a doorway we pass through, and on the other side of it stand Jesus and Mary and Peter and John, and all of those who have passed into God’s kingdom before us. When we get there, Jesus won’t have to say don’t hold on to me; we will be welcomed into his arms, into his kingdom, into the eternal life of the communion of saints.
Thanks be to God!