I preached this Sunday, April 3, at First Reformed Church in Chatham, New York. And this is, more or less, what I preached.
Second Sunday of Easter (Year C)
- Acts 5:27–32
- Psalm 118:14–29
- Revelation 1:4–8
- John 20:11–31
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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 Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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 that he had said these things to her.
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:11–23 ESV)
The tomb of Jesus is empty.
This was unexpected. Because the dead, thankfully, usually stay where we, the living, put them. The dead are generally well-behaved and they don’t cause problems. At least on their own. Not all by themselves.
This week, an interesting problem happened where I work. A long-time and very loyal client in her late 80s, who had been getter her taxes done for years where I work, came in to her tax return done. Here husband died last year, and she was filing a tax return for the two of them — because even the dead are liable for taxes.
Everything went smoothly until it came time to electronically file the return. The IRS rejected the tax return and gave us a strange error message — the social security number in question was locked because it belongs to someone who is deceased. We all scratched our heads at this. Of course it belongs to someone who is deceased, they tax preparer said so on the tax return! No matter how we tried to alter the return — switch the primary and the spouse — it still came back with the same error message: the social security number has been locked because it belongs to someone who is deceased.
This dead man was proving to be a problem.
Except he wasn’t. It turns out he’d been listed as deceased on the 2014 tax return as well. And we all know a person cannot die twice. An error had been made. His wife had likely come in to get their taxes done just after he died in 2015, and his death accidentally and erroneously attributed to 2014.
And now there was a mess, a mess that would take a lot of patience and persistent with the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration to clean up. “You see, he didn’t die in 2014, he died in 2015…”
This dead man was trouble, not because he up and died twice, but because someone living didn’t quite pay attention.
And so we have Mary Magdalene. When Mary hears that the tomb of Jesus is empty, she’s on her way to do a duty, an act of love and devotion — taking spices to prepare his body. A dead body, a body that can trouble no one any longer, that cannot meaningfully receive or give love anymore. It’s a thing now, and we can care for things — indeed, we put great stock in how we treat our dead — but caring for even the dead is not the same as the love and devotion we can give to the living.
And I suspect she is saddened and frustrated when she doesn’t find a body — because this act of love, of care, of devotion, she cannot do. She was focused, and I know what frequently happens when I am so focused on one particular act, something that has become important to me, that I’m derailed, knocked off kilter, when events conspire to prevent from following through. I don’t handle it well, don’t think clearly — all I can see is disappointment, frustration, and failure.
I suspect that’s where Mary is in our reading this morning. This dead man is proving troublesome. He is not where he was put, and that suddenly makes her job — duty duty — impossible. The dead, well, they are supposed to stay put. Just like they aren’t supposed to die twice.
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!” Mary concludes the obvious — his body has been taken. (Listen to me — body. Because we all know I’m no longer talked about a man, but a thing.) By some unnamed they — thieves or soldiers or mischief makers or whoerver might take bodies. It’s a natural conclusion. The dead, all on their lonesome, do not cause this kind of trouble.
Except in this Easter season we remember that Jesus is no ordinary dead man. Because you don’t normally turn around to see a dead man standing in front of you, repeating the same question two angels asked you moments before.
Again, it makes sense she thinks he’s the gardener. The dead don’t stand around asking why you’re crying and whom you are seeking.
It isn’t until he speaks her name that she knows who he is.
This happens a lot in the New Testament, this failure to recognize Jesus on our own. In Luke’s gospel, we have the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus who meet Jesus, and he teaches them, so much so that their hearts burn within, but they don’t recognized this Jesus until he sits with them and breaks bread with them. And then later in John’s gospel, Jesus again appears unrecognized to the disciples on the shore. He commands they cast their nets, and only when they catch so much fish they risk losing their boat that they recognize who is standing at the shore.
“I have seen the Lord!” Mary says. But she didn’t just see him, she met him — and he met her. He spoke her name, and only then did she know, did she know who he was.
And maybe even who she was.
This morning, we celebrate he Lord’s supper. Now, I come from a church with a very high understanding of what happens at this table. Jesus is present here, not just symbolically, but in, with, and under the bread and the wine we east and drink. He’s here, and he meets us, and we meet him, in this meal. I don’t try to explain it — I don’t think much is accomplished by trying to elaborate exactly what or how. But I believe it, and I confess it. Christ is here, with us, calling our names, speaking and teaching us, in the bread we break we together at this table.
But note well, Christ’s risen body is a broken body. He bears the wounds we gave him, in his hands and his side, and he shows those wounds to his disciples, so that we may know who he is. So that we can be certain. This body we break today, this body we share, this body that we are, is a broken, wounded body. This brokenness that we see in him, and in each other, is how we know, how we truly know, that we have met Jesus.
He calls our name, he breaks bread with us, and he bears his wounds to us. This is what it means to meet Jesus.
To meet this troublesome dead man who simply would not stay dead. Who arose and left his burial garments folded in a tomb. Who left us to find nothing — truly, nothing — where a newly dead and slowly decaying corpse should have been. Who walks through walls and locked doors, meets us in cowering in fear, and bids us “peace.” Who promises to be with us in bread and wine, or whenever two or more of us gather. Who promises be with us until the end of the age.
So, sisters and brothers, please, come to this table, take the bread and wine, and exclaim with Mary: “I have seen the Lord!”