Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Easter – Year C

Do you know the old story about the lawyer, the doctor, and the priest who are all standing around one day talking about what they would like their funerals to look like? They ask each other: “When you’re in your casket, and friends and family are mourning over you, what would you like to hear them say?” The lawyer says, “I’d like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband, a man who pursued justice, and a great father.” The doctor says, “I’d like to hear that I was a wonderful healer and a physician who made a difference in people’s lives.” Turning to the priest, they expect him to say something spiritual and wise. But after a long pause the priest looks at them with a big grin and says, “To be honest, when I die and everyone is standing around looking at me, I’d like to hear them say, ‘LOOK, HE’S MOVING!’”
Happy Easter everyone! This is the day we celebrate the empty tomb and the fact that the resurrected Jesus was indeed seen moving around on Easter morning. It’s the day when we celebrate God’s promise that all of us will one-day rise from the dead.
Our gospel for this morning centers on Mary Magdalene as the main character. Jesus may be the star, but Mary gets the majority of the stage time. Today’s reading is in no small measure a story about what happened to Mary on Easter morning. And I think it is through Mary’s eyes that we can most readily find our own way into the narrative.
Mary gets up and goes to the tomb before the sun rises. Jesus is dead but Mary wants to honor his life by making sure his crucified body is cared for. It is only because of the efforts of Joseph of Arimathea there is a body to care for at all. Most people condemned by the Romans to die on the cross aren’t ever buried. The soldiers simply take the bodies down and haul them away never to be seen by their families again. But somehow Joseph has convinced the authorities to let him have Jesus’ body. Maybe he bribed them. Now it lay in Joseph’s family tomb and Mary wanted to make sure it was wrapped and spiced in the tradition of her people. She wanted Jesus among the honored dead.
Even in the darkness she can tell that something is wrong. The stone kept in front of the tomb is missing. Fearing vandals or grave robbers, Mary doesn’t go in, rather she runs as quickly as she can and wakes up Peter and John. Telling them what she has discovered, they follow her back to the tomb. Crawling on their hands and knees through the small opening John and Peter go inside. As Mary feared, the tomb is empty. Only the linens shrouds remain.
I can only imagine their surprise and confusion as they stood there in the gray light shortly before dawn. Not only had their teacher been killed, but to add insult to injury his body had been stolen, taken by unknown people to an unknown place. Perhaps Peter and John were already so exhausted and sad after the events of Friday that they had little energy left. Perhaps they thought the authorities had come and taken the body back, double-crossing Joseph in spite of his bribe. Whatever the case, they were too confused and dejected to do anything but go home, where they could grieve in private.
But not Mary Magdalene. As Peter and John walk away, I can see Mary slowly slumping to the ground, her hands buried in her face, tears running down her cheeks, overwhelmed by her own sense of loss. How could everything have turned out this badly, she wonders? They had all had so much hope. Jesus had awakened in Mary and the others a deep desire to serve God, to make a difference, to make the world a better place. A desire they never knew they could feel so strongly. Jesus was special, he seemed to embody all that was right and good and beautiful in the world. He was different from any of the preachers who proclaimed themselves prophets of God. He hadn’t taken on this 3-year ministry for his own gain or his own ego. It was obvious to all of them that Jesus genuinely loved the crowds of needy, lost people who constantly tagged along behind him. He really wanted to make a difference, to heal body and soul, to bring people back to God. Mary was so sure that Jesus was the one, the one who could change everything, the one who could bring back hope and justice to her poor and oppressed people. But now he was dead and gone, and even his body had been desecrated.
As she sat there crying, she heard a voice from inside the tomb, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Looking in she saw the figures of two people sitting where Jesus’ body should have been. Terrified, she none-the-less manages to respond, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Almost instantly she senses someone behind her and wheels around to see a man standing there in the dawning light. As if he had been listening to the conversation, he asks her again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Her mind racing, she thinks this must be the cemetery caretaker arriving at dawn for his day’s work. Supposing that perhaps he has moved Jesus’ body she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” At this point, I imagine there must have been a long pause, a deep silence that followed her question before Jesus said, “Maryam!” (Mareeyaam). That’s how her name is pronounced in their Aramaic language. It’s just one word, “Maryam,” but instantly Mary knows its Jesus. He looks different, even his voice is different. But in the way he speaks her name she knows it’s Jesus and she knows he’s alive. He has risen. Death could not hold him. All has not been lost. God has raised him from the dead and with him the whole world. “Rabbouni” (teacher) she shouts in Aramaic and rushes to embrace Jesus, just as the sun rises on Jerusalem.
How dark it must have been for Mary Magdalene during those moments before she encountered Jesus and all seemed lost. How joyful she must have felt when she realized the darkness could not destroy the light. How wonderful when she understood that God would not allow such goodness to be destroyed by human evil. Maybe that’s the message you need to hear this day. Perhaps for whatever reason you are in darkness right now. Family concerns. Problems at work. Anxiety about your health or your future. The loss of someone you love. Easter promises us that in the midst of our deepest darkness the Son of God rises to overwhelm that darkness. Easter makes possible the dream that life can be different than it is, that good matters and that evil does not have the last word. Easter proclaims that the same power that took Jesus through death and beyond is given to all of us. It is the power to survive loss and loneliness. The power to withstand sickness and failure. Ultimately, it is the power behind the promise that we too will rise one day, free from the tyranny of death.
I believe that today Jesus calls out to each of us by name. It isn’t only Mary Magdalene he speaks to. He calls to each of us individually and says – Randy, John, Betty, David, Sally, Mark, I know you have experienced suffering and pain. I know you have seen loss and witnessed the evil that is so present in our world. But I tell you, turn away from the tomb, lift up your eyes and look to the rising Son. Because I was dead but now I live. I love you. I live for you. And through me you also will live forever.
The tomb is empty. Thanks be to God!