Each of the four gospels tells the story of Easter morning – each with its own nuance – what people saw, and the stories they told. On Easter morning 2020, I’m particularly drawn to the way the Gospel of John tells the story – with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb while it is still dark outside. I’m drawn to the tender touches of the story that connect it to our world today – that somehow make this story feel fully present, and fresh, and raw.
Mary goes to the tomb alone. In the other gospels, they go in a group. But here, Mary heads toward the tomb in solitude – carrying her grief, and her sorrow, and her bewilderment. And even Peter and the Beloved Disciple – they race toward the tomb, but there grows this distance between them. The Beloved Disciple arrives first, and stops at the threshold of the tomb, but doesn’t go in. Peter goes in first. And then the Beloved Disciple enters. They take turns going into this confined space. And then they go back to their homes. They don’t gather everyone together. They return to their place of shelter.
And then there is the weeping – Mary weeping – a world full of weeping – at the mystery of death and loss and grieving. And even when Mary recognizes Jesus, and goes to grab hold of him, Jesus pulls away, “Don’t hold on to me.”
In the Gospel of John, the bodies in this story stagger through their world, distant from one another – and at the same time, caught up together in the sorrow of their world... and, on this morning, in the miracle of Resurrection. Distant in body, but in all this together.
And I think of us. And of our world.
But this is their world, and we should spend some time there. Mary’s story doesn’t start at the tomb – she has been a steadfast follower of Jesus. Scripture identifies Mary Magdelene as one whom Jesus has healed – Mary has experienced first-hand Jesus’ healing touch, and she’s followed him ever since. Luke tells us that she is one of a group of women who have followed Jesus – and supported Jesus in his ministry – followed Jesus all the way to the cross. When Peter denies Jesus, and all the other disciples flee into the night, the women remain – Mary remains. As Dr. J Alfred Smith Sr says – “The women were the last at the cross, and the first at the tomb.” Mary was there as they crucified Jesus, and she was there when they rolled the stone in place over the tomb.
And now, now, in the dark before the break of day, Mary staggers back to the tomb, and she finds that stone rolled away – it is a body blow to her. She assumes, of course, that grave robbers have come – and it is trauma upon trauma – Jesus’ body brutally crucified – and now there is no-- body to grieve. And so Mary runs to tell the others.
And Peter and the Beloved Disciple come running. And there’s this strange moment. The Beloved Disciple gets to the tomb first – but stops at the edge of the tomb. He doesn’t go in. He’s come to see – but he doesn’t go in. One of my gospel teachers identifies this Beloved Disciple – the one whom Jesus loved – as Lazarus – the one whom Jesus raised from the dead – and says that this Beloved Disciple doesn’t go into the tomb – because Lazarus knows what a tomb is like – he has been there before – he has tasted death. This Beloved Disciple goes in only after all that has had time to register, and he goes back into the tomb – this time empty –and he experiences resurrection once again, and believes into life, once again.
But in so many ways this is Mary’s story. When the men return to their homes, she stays. Last at the cross, first at the tomb, still at the tomb. Mary’s not giving up. Mary stays at the tomb, and goes looking for the body. She goes into the tomb and encounters angels who ask her why she’s weeping.