The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Easter Sunday 2013 – John 20:1-18
Of the four variations on the story of the resurrection it’s this one from the gospel of John that’s my favorite. There is something very real about the way it all played out in this story, as “real” as resurrection can sound anyway. In the other gospels there’s an earthquake or sparkling angels or something hugely dramatic that shines a phenomenal spotlight on this moment. But in John it’s a little more gentle and I like that that.
At first, there’s just Mary and she had gone to the grave to grieve. And while it was extremely sad, I imagine that the morning was also peaceful – we all know how important those alone moment of tending to our own grief can be. But when she got there the stone had been rolled away and the body was gone. She went and got Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and both of them ran to the tomb to see if what Mary was saying was true. Both disciples eventually entered the tomb, saw the linen wrappings that had covered Jesus body lying on the ground and the cloth that had been over his head was wrapped up in a place by itself. And so having seen the empty tomb for themselves the Peter and the other disciple believed what Mary had told them – notice they did not yet believe that Jesus had been raised “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead,” John says. All they believed at this point was that Jesus body was gone. Resurrection had not yet occurred to them. And so they left the garden. The gospel says that they actually returned to their homes! Hear that the first experience of resurrection was to miss that it had actually happened at all.
And so again it was just Mary at the grave. She was weeping – grieving the loss of her friend – and now confused about the body being taken. She looked in the tomb again and this time there were two angels sitting there where Jesus’ body had been, one at his head and the other at his feet. And they asked this beautiful question, “Woman why are you weeping?” And she told them the story.
But before they could get into it any further, Mary turned around – turned away from the tomb – and there was Jesus, but she didn’t know yet that it was him. Again, recognition of resurrection takes time. Jesus appeared to be the gardener, the caretaker of the grounds. And he asked her the same question that the angels did, ‘Woman why are you weeping?” and added “Whom are you looking for?” and after she responded Jesus said her name, “Mary.” And at that moment, at the calling of her name, she knew that the gardener was the Christ.
I like this version of the story because in some ways it allows resurrection to be both absolutely miraculous and also intimate, almost tender and a surprise that takes some time to understand. And that’s more like how it tends to play out in our own lives. When we think of resurrection we tend to think in terms of earthquakes or mountain tops or flashy angels. But often resurrection comes gently, slowly. Rather than an instantaneous ‘Alleluia,’ resurrection unfolds over the course of a whole scene, like it did in today’s gospel. Sometimes faithful disciples can even miss that it’s happened at all.
So what we need to watch for in our lives, even expect in our lives is this: Easter often begins not with bells or joyful shouts – often Easter begins in an emptiness and even in a place of tears – because those are the places to which God comes. And then resurrection begins to unfold. In the midst of that emptiness there is an unexpected and new presence that wasn’t there before – there are angels who meet us – angels who acknowledge our grief, let us tell our stories and who very simply receive us in the place that had been tomb. Then there’s a grace of some kind, a grace that turns us away from the tomb and invites us to look out into the world and live again! Often it’s the voice of Christ spoken through a friend or a co-worker, or a fellow church go-er, or a parent or child, or a neighbor, or even a stranger – that voice who asks us about our tears, calls us by name and listens us into the possibility of new life. And then resurrection is fulfilled in one or ones who are “gardener” for us. I love that Jesus chose “gardener”; He came to Mary as one whose job was to nurture, care for and grow living things.
Now I don’t want to lessen the drama of this day. This first Easter morning was the moment on which everything turned forever. Death was conquered. Endings became beginnings. Heaven was cracked open and humanity was invited into eternity. Don’t lose that! But know too that for the people involved in that very moment, Easter didn’t just happen; it unfolded over time and in our day to day lives Easter is likely to happen just like that. It’s more likely to play out intimately, tenderly and over the course of a scene or two.
And so while we rest in the magnificent eternal promise, we live because angels meet us, voices turn us, gardeners tend to us and resurrection unfolds for us.
And so I wish you these kinds of resurrection experiences. I pray that angels appear in whatever tomb it is that has your attention; let them hear your story and accept your tears. I challenge you too to listen for your name as the Christ calls you away from the tomb and out into the world, receiving you and all that you bring. And I invite you and all of us to notice the gardeners in this world, to together be the gardeners in this world – tending to one another and the new life, the resurrection that is always coming to be.