These plants have been with me for years. This bamboo was given to two of my students Tyler and Austin when they did an internship at Georgia Tech Wesley. Steve Fazenbaker, the campus minister there, gave it to them as a welcome gift as they had started attending that summer and he gave one to them for me. It was the summer of my second brain surgery and it’s a great reminder for me of how good our Savior is. The other plant, I got at the Walmart in Mt. Pleasant. I used to say it had a face on it – see! It has the plastic rock that says, “Hope.” I’ve always loved the South Carolina motto – Dum Spiro Spero – While I breathe, I hope and it was that hope that we carried with us as we moved back to South Carolina. They’re both still alive – against all odds – my brown thumb, the tightness of the original containers, everything. What does Jeff Goldblum say in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” Well life certainly found a way on Easter morning.
I watched Rogue One on Good Friday morning. I believe it’s one of the best, or the best Star Wars movie. It’s a precursor to A New Hope and in it three different characters, “Rebellions are built on hope.” Oh, Jesus, sparked the greatest rebellion the world had ever seen and they crucified him for it. He took a ragtag group of tax collectors, fisherman, prostitutes, misfits and prodigals and armed them not with weapons, but with the word of truth, that they even they were children of the most high God. That they, even they, were loved by their Beloved God. Their Yahweh. That they, even they, were worthy and enough.
He had told them several, several times that this would happen like this – betrayed, beaten, crucified, buried, then resurrected. But when the Romans pair up with the Religious Elites, all bets are off in their human understanding. Some of them were denying, some were hiding, and some witnessed the crucifixion. Hoping beyond hope that this was all a bad dream. They were all grieving. As Bob Goff so adequately put it, “Darkness fell. His friends scattered. All hope seemed lost. But heaven just started counting to three.”
John 20:1-18 NRSV
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.
For Mary, Easter morning begins not with Easter eggs and “He is Risen!”, but with exhaustion, weariness and grief. And yet, she went for help, she heard his voice, and she was the first to bear witness to the Gospel – “I have seen the Lord” and spread it.
First, she went for help. The text doesn’t record her thoughts and questions that I’m sure are rolling around her head. Were they grave robbers? How many people did it take to move that heavy stone? Are the Chief Priests involved? Did the Romans desecrate the tomb? It all comes out a jumbled rush, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Simon Peter and the other disciple took off running!
Two gas company servicemen, a senior training supervisor and a young trainee were out checking meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their truck at the end of the street and worked their way to the other end. At the last house a woman looking out her kitchen window watched the two men as they checked her gas meter. Finishing the meter check, the senior supervisor challenged his younger coworker to a foot race down the street back to the truck, to prove that an older guy could outrun a younger one.
As they came running up to the truck, they realized that the lady from the last house was huffing and puffing right behind them. They stopped and asked her what was wrong.
Gasping for breath, she answered, “When I see two gas men running full speed away from my house, I figure I had better run, too.”
Mary was not huffing and puffing behind them. I imagine they all were running fast. They saw for themselves, one of them believed, but they didn’t understand the scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead. They saw, confirmed what Mary had seen and alerted them to, and returned to their homes. Leaving Mary in her grief. The text says, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” Grief is most commonly defined as “deep sorrow.” Grief takes your breath away. More than that you don’t know if you’ll ever breathe again and you’re not sure you want to. It’s like there’s hole of air passing through you and you won’t ever be whole again.
Looking into the tomb, she sees two angels in white and tells them she is weeping because someone has taken away her Lord. A moment later, she turns, sees a man that she assumes is the gardener, and says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She’s doing what she must, on autopilot. On autopilot you make the next decision and the next.
Secondly, Jesus called her name. His voice broke into her thoughts. I’ve never noticed the explanation mark included with her name, “Mary!” It’s like he’s breaking through the fog of her grief. Mary! Have you ever had your kids or spouse ignore you calling out their names? And you get louder and angrier at each shout? And I don’t think the tone was like stopping a kid from touching a hot stove or demanding that he get out of the road when a car is coming? I imagine it being firm but gentle, unwavering yet tender.
She turns and says, “Rabbouni!” which means “teacher.” His voice pierced through the layers of her grief. She had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. The hours of excruciating pain that she was helpless in the face of. His voice pierced through her guilt and pain and numbness.
We’ve been studying the book of John in the SALT Sunday School class and last week was this text and the last couple of texts of John. As we talked about the video and the video questions, Maggie shared an insight into the text. She was at her great aunt’s funeral, and she heard her grandfather’s voice right behind her. She never thought she would hear it again because he had passed away years before. Of course Mary Magdalene never, ever thought she would hear Jesus’ voice again. When Maggie turned around it was not her grandfather that she saw, it was her grandfather’s brother that she saw. Ironically she went to his funeral yesterday. When I texted her if I could share her story, she said about his death, “It’s a blessing and a burden to be the last so I know they are all back together now!” He didn’t just die for each of our sins. Jesus promised in John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” He defeated sin and death, so if we believe in him, we have a new and abundant life here on earth and we can enjoy eternal life with Jesus. “They’re all back together now!” Indeed, they are, Maggie. They answered the Voice that called them home. And we can too. Jesus sees you as Jesus sees me. He celebrates what he sees because God made us and loves us, no matter what, we’re enough. We don’t have to keep all God’s love to ourselves like it’s a limited supply. God doesn’t play favorites – we are each a favorite child of God. We have to share God’s love with the world because we may be the Gospel – the Good News of God’s grace and love – the absolute hope of the world, we can share. Jesus’ resurrection hope keeps bubbling up – under the surface in our pain and grief and unspeakable joy when we realize that evil nor death has the last word.
Finally, Jesus sends Mary as he sends us. “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” He is saying to her: Run, Mary, run, take my message and run! She goes and announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she tells them what Jesus has said to her.
Mary crosses the finish line as the very first apostle, a word which literally means “one who is sent off.” Women are the last people standing at the foot of the cross and God chooses a woman as the first witness to the resurrection. God chooses Mary Magdalene to preach the very first Easter sermon. I think God in God’s way was redeeming Eve. Women have always been blamed for Adam’s fall because Eve tempted him, even though he too, ate the fruit. God grants us each unique gifts and graces, but loves each equally. God has no favorites. Romans says we have all fallen short of the glory of God and we are all equally lovable in God’s eyes through Jesus the Christ. Galatians 3:26-29 says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Herbert McCabe, writing in God Still Matters, says: “We do not gather at Easter to celebrate a doctrine, the doctrine of the resurrection. We come here to rejoice in the presence of one we love; in Jesus who was lost to us and has been found.” And to whom we were lost and have been found.
Oh, Mary Magdalene had quite a shock that Easter morning! She went for help, heard a Voice that she thought she would never again, and she was the first to bear witness to the Gospel and spread it. Jesus is calling us to spread his message of his resurrection hope to the world. He wants us to tune into His Voice so he can show us the little things that he puts in our paths to give us encouragement we need at the time and the people he places in our path, he wants us to share his Gospel message of love and hope to! Just like these plants, they’ve survived moves and my brown thumb – in his resurrection power Jesus doesn’t want us to merely survive, but he wants us to thrive and bask in his love and grace for even sinners like us, to grow where he plants us. And to that we say, “Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!