The resurrection and how Jesus wants to be known
Easter | John 20:1-18
Earlier this week
We have come to the end of a long, truly holy week. So much has happened in the story since we gathered last week (was it really only a week ago?) and many of us could benefit from a brief recap according to the writer of Mark.
On Sunday, Jesus, surrounded by a great crowd, arrives in Jerusalem. He makes it very clear that His God is GOD, not Caesar, when he enters riding a donkey in mockery of Rome.
On Monday, Jesus visits the Temple and drives out the money-changers and dove-sellers for their participation in a system of economic exploitation. He says that our job is to worship and live, not obsess about the rules.
On Tuesday, Jesus returns to the Temple to teach the people, but before He can, He is confronted by the Temple Authorities and harassed for His lack of credentials “By what authority do you do these things?” they ask Him. Jesus proceeds to school them and humiliate them in front of everybody. So the authorities hatch plans to get rid of Jesus. The rest of the people, however, are raving about His teachings and how he has revealed the hypocrisy of their leaders: in the Temple, their King, and their Roman occupiers.
On Wednesday, Jesus is anointed for burial with an expensive oil, called nard (which is still very expensive, by the way) and the disciples protest. Let’s sell it they argue. Jesus tells them that this anointing is the Good News.
On Thursday, Jesus has the last supper with his closest followers, teaching them that the most important attribute of the Christian community is intimacy and vulnerability. He is then betrayed, arrested, and brought before the authorities by one of his own. Sounds to me like he’s showing what vulnerable looks like.
On Friday, Jesus is tried and convicted of heresy by the Jewish leadership, then he is tried, convicted, and killed by Rome. Perhaps for sedition.
On Saturday, we have Sabbath. Nothing.
Which brings us to Sunday. The empty tomb. Mary Magdalene witnessing, proclaiming the Good News to the disciples.
First to see, first to really see
Here is the tomb, here is the destination, here is the moment that changes everything, right? We look in the tomb and Jesus is gone and we say “Alleluia!” But here’s the thing. These disciples don’t play it so straight as that. They’re all running to the tomb, like it’s some competition. Like they still haven’t gotten the point Jesus made on the way to Jerusalem.
One gets there first, the other goes in first. It says that they see the wrappings and the empty tomb and they “believe.” Apparently only believe so much since they simply go home. Obviously, Jesus’s followers have been petty and overly-competitive from the beginning.
After they’ve gone, Mary peeks in, she looks for herself, she makes herself see. And it is to Mary that Jesus comes, only making himself visible, recognizable after. She seeks, but she doesn’t find, Jesus makes himself found.
She is told to go to the others and tell them. The two disciples don’t get to do this, they don’t see him. Only Mary. Mary will deliver the good news, she will announce the resurrection. A concept the church has struggled to deal with for much of its history: that women were some of his closest and most devout followers, including Mary Magdalene who preached the first Easter sermon.
The Good News
When Jesus was anointed on Wednesday of His last week and the disciples were freaking out because the oil was super expensive and a bunch of them thought the better idea was to sell it and use the money to feed the poor, Jesus tells them that they’re on the wrong track. They are obsessed with money and action and doing the right thing, but they don’t have it quite right. Jesus argues that
wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.
Wherever the Good News is proclaimed, her story will be told. In remembrance of her, not Jesus. Her story is gospel. The Good News today isn’t just a risen Christ, but the rise of these women. The woman anointing Jesus; Mary the Mother at the cross; Mary Magdalene at the tomb. The rise of the nameless and the voiceless. The rise of the poor and the powerless. The rise of Good News that is actually good! News of generosity and thankfulness. News of change and redemption. News of resolve and faith. News of tenderness and mercy.
News captured in the gentle hands of the woman rubbing the oil on Jesus’s skin, in Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, in the busy hands which made our Holy Week a special time for us.
Sharing the Good News
The power of the empty tomb is the power of sacrifice, of hope, of GOD’s dream for humanity to destroy our weapons and make them into tools, then to use those tools to do the work we were born to do, the work given to that first human: to till the soil. To create and recreate. To build and to feed. To give and to nourish.
Again and again these stories give the followers the chance to build the kingdom. Not only in the work given to Mary alone and in the unnamed woman with the nard anointing Jesus for his burial, but in the work given to all his followers throughout the generations. For if the gospel is the good news of what she has done, it is the good news of what a person has done. It is the good news of what we can do. It is, then the good news of what we are all called to do.
A call given to people of all cultures and backgrounds and educations, including us.
A call to Go! and get moving. With a message to us to see the work of Jesus as unfinished, to see our time as incomplete, to see our vision as partial. And yet, we do not merely rest from our work, this week. We don’t relax and let things return to normal, resuming those habits we curbed through Lent.
We take as our own the message given to Mary at the tomb, a message to share word with the other disciples, the ones just like us, that Jesus isn’t here! But we’ll see him! “I have seen the Lord!” we’ll say. He wants us all to see, but he also wants us to share the story first.
[My homily for the Great Vigil of Easter is here.]