John 20: 1-18
On the first Easter morning, when Peter and the other disciple learnt that the tomb was empty, they ran to Jesus’ grave. Over there, they only found the linen wrappings and the cloth used to bury their master. The other disciple went in, saw and believed. And then, they both returned to their home. However, Mary Magdalene remained by the tomb, all by herself, weeping. Why did she stay in the garden? What was she expecting? Who knows? Maybe she was too much in grief to go back to her place. Maybe she lingered there hoping to feel Jesus’ presence one last time. Maybe she was unable to move on with her life.
Much has been said and written about Mary across the centuries. From what we can learn in the four Gospels in which she is mentioned, she began to follow Jesus fairly early in his ministry. She accompanied him on his last journey to Jerusalem. And, when all the men had fled, she stayed and witnessed the crucifixion with a small group of women. Without a doubt, Mary was part of Jesus’ inner circle. She was very close to him.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ brutal execution marked the end of this wonderful journey. For Mary, hope died with him on the cross. On Easter morning, when she saw the stone rolled away she did not shout, “Christ is risen!” She did not assume resurrection. No. She claimed, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Later that day, when she saw a man, she believed he was the gardener and asked him, “Where is his body?” because he must have taken it. This was the only logical explanation; the only possibility Mary could conceive. It is only when she was called by her name that she understood who was standing in front of her. It was Jesus! He came back to life! And together they will be able to resume their existence as it was before, as if his death never happened, as if this was just a nightmare. Everything was back to normal. Everything would be wonderful again. However, Jesus had to stop Mary by saying, “Do not hold on to me.” He has to tell her that something had changed. What was in the past would never be again.
“Do not hold on to me” are probably the most essential words to remember for congregations like ours. Almost all of you know that an important staff shake up is coming soon. After many years of faithful services, Sally, Glenda and Bev are retiring in only a few months. Many of us are sad about this news, with good reasons. Some might feel like Mary standing in the garden, lost and wondering what will happen next or even if there is a future after this. Maybe others are already waiting impatiently the coming of new people just to get back to normal as soon as possible, to continue exactly what we are doing, to put this difficult moment behind us.
However, the story of Easter teaches us that resurrection is not going back to business as usual. It is not the same as resuscitation. Resurrection can only happen after an unavoidable and definitive death. Resurrection can only be experienced after we accept to let go, not of the surplus, the old junk or the clutter that fills our existence, but what we might love or cherish the most. Resurrection can only show up when we leave behind possessions, ideas or certainties, even if we cannot see a path forward or ways to replace them. When we are ready to stop holding on to the past, as wonderful as it might be, we can create a space where new life emerges, where transformation becomes conceivable and where possibilities never yet imagined reveal themselves.
For Mary, resurrection meant letting go the man she loved dearly. Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross and would never come back. The Risen Christ was now standing in front of her. Mary had to accept that he was not the same. No wonder the disciples ever recognized him right away after the resurrection. They did not forget their old master. He was just different. It was not quite him and at the same time it was him. His essence, message and ministry remained the same.
This radical transformation allowed Mary and the disciples to discover a new way to believe and to be the church. They were forced to give up being told what to do and how to behave by a charismatic and inspiring leader. They understood that the Risen Christ could not be with them in the same way Jesus was. But with time, they discovered inside of themselves the strength to continue their journey. They found the determination to engage the world like they never did before. Jesus’ resurrection led them to become more than they taught they were.
Like Mary and the first disciples we are invited to follow the same path. In our families, our neighborhoods, our congregations and in our world there are so many opportunities for new life, new possibilities and new wonders, if we find the courage to embrace the transformation brought the Risen Christ. Of course, it is not easy. Things never go as we have planned. Most of the time we are caught off guard. New challenges emerge constantly. There is always something we never taught possible that shows up. Death, departures and retirements will always be parts of our daily existences. However, when we learn to let go, accept that the future will be different – not better nor worst, just different – and believe that life beyond death is possible, we can discover hope and confidence. We can trust that new ways will bring us to new territories. We can believe that wherever we will go, the Risen Christ will be with us forever. He will show us the way. He will teach us to receive and navigate all the transformations we face in our lives.
On the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene discovered that her life would never be the same again and this was good news because change and transformation help us to see the world differently, to create spaces for new life, to encounter the Risen Christ when we expect it the least. As author Mary Gordon wrote, “For me the meaning of the Resurrection is the possibility of possibility”. And for this, hallelujah and amen.
Here, "Jesus was buried with care (10:38-42), so Mary Magdalene comes not to complete his burial, but simply to mourn and honour Jesus..."
Darkness and light are important themes in John from the prologue to Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night to Jesus’ claim, “I am the light of the world.”
Within the traditional story John makes us aware of his concerns. It was still dark means Mary is still in the darkness, she has not seen who he is. She has not seen the light.