Easter Sunday, Year C, 2019 – Isaiah 65:17-25, Acts 10:32-43, John 20:1-18
It is still dark when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb on that first Easter day. Early, John tells us, early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb.
Why does she come? What can she possibly hope to do? She does not bring spices – Nicodemus has done that already; 100 lbs of precious myrrh and aloes he has brought to the place of the cross, and he has anointed the body of Jesus, he and Joseph of Arimatheia; they have anointed the body and wrapped it in burial clothes and laid it in the tomb.
Mary does not come with spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, for that has already been done. She comes to a tomb that has been sealed. There is a huge stone across the mouth of it. (You must imagine an ancient Jewish tomb: a cave, an opening in the rock with an entrance about the height of a man, and a boulder the height of a man and just about as thick pulled on a track dug into the ground in front of the entrance to close the tomb.) In Mark’s gospel the women as they go to the tomb say to themselves, “Who is going to roll away the stone for us from the mouth of the tomb?” Because they certainly cannot.
Mary does not go to the tomb to open it; she does not go to the tomb to anoint the body. She does not go there to “do” anything.
Mary goes to the tomb early, early, while it is still night, simply to be where his body is laid. She goes because she loves the Lord.
And when she does not find him there, she is utterly distraught.
“They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Mary weeps at the empty tomb because she loves the Lord. She loves Jesus, and she has lost him, lost him cruelly, on that cross. She weeps at the sight of the stone rolled away because she has come to watch by his body, and now even his body is gone. This last comfort taken away.
We may smile at Mary’s tears – because we know the end of the story, because we know her Lord is not gone, because we can see the angels and hear from this tomb rising a great and lasting song: Christos aneste, Alleluia, Christ is risen; alethos aneste, he is risen indeed.
We can smile, now, and sing on this day, in this place with all the powers of heaven (it is amazing, really!); here on this morning we sing heaven’s own song.
But we need to hear Mary’s tears. Because Mary’s tears speak true. Because she is right about the loss, about the cost of the tomb, this tomb, the tomb of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour, Lord. This tomb of Jesus, who has loved her, and whom she loves.
It is not just that she has lost him. It is that his death speaks a loss beyond words, and his empty tomb speaks to her eyes an emptiness at the heart of all things. What is the cross of Christ, after all, in the dark before the resurrection? It is, surely, the triumph of violence, the triumph of hatred and ambition and fear; it is everything that is small and mean and vicious in ourselves and in our world come to a point, the world rolling itself up into a cruel ball to come to this point, just this point: to crucify the Prince of Peace. It is unimaginable, what we do to Jesus. And it is true. It happens again and again.
CS Lewis gets it right.
“Bind him, I say!” repeated the White Witch. The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others – evil dwarfs and apes – rushed in to help them, and between them they rolled the huge Lion over on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave….Then they began to drag [the great lion] towards the stone table. ”Stop!” said the Witch. “Let him first be shaved…”Oh, how can they?” Said Lucy, tears streaming down her cheeks…for now that the first shock was over the shorn face of Aslan looked to her braver, and more beautiful and more patient than ever.”
Everything small and mean and vicious coming to a point in the cross of Christ – only of course it is not hags and witches and evil dwarves who do it. It is his people, his disciples, Judas and Peter and the whole crowd. It is we ourselves.
And at the end of it there is silence. There is a tomb, the emptiness of the grave, its absolute zero. Mary has loved Jesus; she has loved him because he has so loved her, because he has seen her – this woman, of little account surely in the Palestine of her day – he has seen her, and healed her – 7 demons he has cast out of her, the gospel tells us – and walked with her. He has loved her, and he has called her to love him. Jesus Christ, Son of God. Word of the Father, in whom all things came to be. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. This one, Word of the eternal Father, has come to her and taken her hand.
For God so loved the world…See how he loves us in Jesus the Christ! Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene a love at the heart of the world – for her, yes, and not only for her. For Peter, too, and Judas, for the crowds who shout crucify! For the priests and the Pilates, for the evil dwarves and hags. For God so loved the world. In Jesus the Christ, Mary sees a love that is the logic at the heart of all things. CS Lewis calls it “deep magic.” But it is not magic. In Jesus Christ it is the way things are. For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life. This is what Christ holds out to us as he walks among us, full of grace and truth. This is what God wants for us in Jesus Christ. That we might live and sing. That we might live and sing to him, our lives a symphony of love. This is in Jesus Christ the truth of the universe.
Mary has known in Jesus a love that remakes the world.
So at his tomb she knows a grief beyond consolation. She knows what has been lost, if the victory of our violence is true. The emptiness of his tomb is only a shadow of the larger emptiness out there, if the victory of our violence is true. An infinite silence, where we had hoped to find an infinite love. Mary weeps for the silence of the universe, at the empty tomb.
Mary stands weeping by the tomb in the dark of that first Easter morning, and as she weeps she sees the gardener.
“Sir,” she says to him, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
He says to her, “Mary.” Just this. He calls her by name.
And at his word the silence of the universe splinters, shatters, flies apart, and the place of death, the place of absolute emptiness, becomes a garden where love, where hope – where the world – is reborn.
On his lips her name. And the world is not silent and the tomb is not empty – for see, there are angels in it! The tomb is not empty but the place of angel song. Mary. I have called you by name. On his lips the sound of an infinite love.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
When you go through the waters
I will be with you,
and through the floods;
they shall not overwhelm you…
Even on a cruel cross I will be with you; even this hatred at your hands cannot silence my love.
For you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” the angels say to her. Why are you weeping here at the empty tomb? For this is the first of days. This is the day heaven sings, this is the day the whole world sings, for Christ lives and his love is true and there is music in the infinite spheres.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
On this day the ancient word is realized.
In the crucified and risen Christ it is love that is true. “Mary,” Jesus says, in the dark before dawn on that Easter day. He calls our name for love of us, still and always, from the cross and from the empty tomb. It is the sound at the heart of the universe. In every corner our name sounding from his lips; the world not empty, finally, not random in its infinite expanses, but alive in his redeeming love; singing, shining, thrumming with his word. Yesterday, today and forever, Jesus Christ.
“Mary.” I have called you by name. You are mine.