Gospel text John 20:1-2,11-18.
Luther writes, “Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the Church; how could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in Christ, unless that person knew where Christ’s believers are?”
We are that Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, bearers of ancient stories and ancient traditions. We’ve heard the Word, and the Word we’ve heard is ours to share. Perhaps we are those of whom it is said in Psalm 22: 31, “They will come and will declare God’s righteousness to a people not yet born, that God has performed it.”
Yes, indeed! God has performed it, and we will tell this over, and over, and over again to the next generation and to generations who follow. This Word is holy, dear, and precious for it is full of resurrection hope.
When the first gospel resurrection story is told, Mark’s gospel says that women are first to see the resurrected Jesus, but they are not excited to see him, instead they flee in terror, and no one believes a bit of it. Of these women, Luke’s gospel says, their “…words seemed…an idle tale, and the apostles did not believe them.” No gospel writer ever says that these women are unbelievable. That’s not the issue. The problem is that they are just not believed. Maybe it was because they mention angels. Who knows. Now we’ve come to John’s version of the resurrection story, and we’re with Mary Magdalene and the angels.
The dark dawn holds vigil in the garden. Mary moves in its darkness, feeling aggrieved; she doesn’t realize angels speak to her. She doesn’t realize the One she seeks is with her. She hears her name. She’s startled, maybe terrified. Her spoken name, even from oh-so-familiar Jesus, catches her by surprise, is a game-changer. This wasn’t what the seeking Mary expects; she seeks a dead body, she finds her living lord—Jesus.
We’d expect celebration, but the reunion takes an odd turn, Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold on to me,” a fancy way of saying, “Let me go!” She expects a dead body, is awestruck by Jesus, her living lord, is then told by him, “Let me go,” and is quickly told by him to take her leave. Yes, Jesus bids her, “Go!”
As she goes, how does she feel? How does she process this encounter? For in darkness her world is being remade. No matter where she goes from here, she never goes the same.
“Let go,” Jesus says to her. “Let go,” Jesus says to us all. Mustn’t we let Jesus go? Mustn’t we let go of the Jesus we’ve made in our own image? Mustn’t we let go of the Jesus we think we know so well, because he’s nothing like the Jesus who knows us so well?
We are the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, bearers of ancient stories and ancient traditions. Yet in 2000-ish years of history, are we truly able to say that we know all there is to be known of Jesus? Are we able to profess complete knowledge of Jesus with 100% certainty? When Mary stands before Jesus having journeyed with him for some years, she doesn’t know Jesus until he calls her name? Are we so sure it any is different with us? And what would we make of Jesus, should Jesus call us by name then tell us, “Go!” We can’t stay in the garden with him though the morning around us be dawning, for he bids us, “Go!”
“Go to my brothers and sisters,” says Jesus.
Jesus does not say; “go to the disciples,” doesn’t use the word for disciples. Jesus does not say; “go to the apostles,” doesn’t use the word for disciples either, for Jesus uses a family word, “ἀδελφούς,” a word meaning brothers and sisters, the both together. To brothers and sisters, the both together beyond the garden, is where Jesus bids us, “Go!”
“Go to the family and tell the family, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
Note that Jesus doesn’t make this a glamorous, showy affair. Jesus simply gives a woman a message and bids her, “Go!”
And what is Mary’s message? Is it complicated, long-winded, systematically theological, hard to understand? Not all. Her simple 21 century old message is this, “I have seen the Lord.”
That’s the “apostle to the apostle’s message,” the message of the first one to whom resurrected Jesus has said, “Go!” And it is the message of every Christian since that dark dawning morn. Isn’t the message that Jesus bids you carry, “I have seen the Lord?”
Isn’t that the message that Jesus bids you go and “declare of God’s righteousness to a people not yet born?” That Jesus is risen and that “God has performed it.”
Isn’t this the message of all who Jesus calls, the message of all who Jesus bids, “Go?”
“Go to my family,” says Jesus. Leave the me who you believe that you knew, and leave the you who you believe that you knew behind—right here at this tomb. Leave those misconceived characters behind—right here at this tomb. Let’em go! Leave’em at this tomb, for the morning is not so dark as to make you blind! Hear Jesus call your name! Be remade! Hear Jesus bid you, “Go!” Then, “Go!” Not as you came, never the same!
Go to the family of Jesus—whoever they are, wherever they are—meet your brothers and sisters together as they are, loving them by telling them, “I have seen the Lord.” Don’t leave ‘em out there in the dark. Don’t leave them out there in the dark dawn of stinking thinking, of binding fear, of lonely hopelessness, longing for a living word, knowing about Jesus, but not knowing Jesus. Go! Get past your misconceptions, stale ideas, and fear. Go!
For 200o-ish years now Mary the Magdalene is seen as the saint who calls us to pitch stale ideas, pitch misconceptions, to move beyond fear, to risk, to leave the way-it’s-always-been thinking at the empty tomb, right where such empty stuff belongs. Isn’t that what we’re compelled to do when our they’ve-taken-my-Lord message becomes our I-have-seen-the-Lord message?
Who hears such a message and leaves unchanged?
In the light of such a message, what dark dawning morn stays the same?
A dead world gets a living word, “I have seen the Lord.” And a dead world gets another chance to hear that living word when dead people come to life and tell it, by the command of the One who bids them, “Go!”
And ever since Mary Magdalene first heeded him we’ve been going into lands and seas, into hearts and lives, carrying the precious words, “We have seen the Lord.” Sometimes Jesus sends us to people and to places that we’d never wish to know or to go. But Jesus never sends us alone, for is he isn’t moldering somewhere in a tomb, for he is alive, and we have seen him with us as we go. And we will never stop going, for like the Magdalene, we are those who will never stand silent. How can we? For we will declare God’s righteousness to a people not yet born, that God has performed it.” And we will declare this for we are the Church and we have seen the Lord, and we will obey Jesus when he bids us, “Go!”