Resurrection Witnesses
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

April 8, 2012
Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Peace that his Spirit brings be with you this morning.

Grace and Peace.

This morning we hear of three witnesses to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and one whom John simply calls “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

We begin with Mary Magdalene. It is the day after the sabbath, and she comes to the tomb and sees the stone has been rolled away. She must have peeked in, because she reports that the body is gone. “We don’t know where they have taken it,” she tells Simon Peter and the beloved disciple. (What a strange phrase. Did he not love all the disciples?)

Simon and the beloved disciple run to the tomb. And the other disciple gets there first. He stoops and looks in, but does not enter. Not until Peter catches up. Peter goes in first.

What stops him? Is it fear? Obedience to the Torah that says one does not touch a grave or else one is unclean? Does he wait for Peter because Peter is the leader, or because Peter is braver? Or has he learned what I have learned. The chaplain never wants to be first on the scene.

The other disciple sees the place where he was lain, and he believes. John tells us that they did not yet understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. This one gets it, just seeing the empty tomb. Not so with Simon Peter.

And then, it says, they go home.

But Mary Magdalene stands there, weeping.

I don’t know which one you identify with this Easter. Is it the stopping short of the tomb and waiting? Is it the charging forward but not quite understanding? For me, this year, reading this story this time around, I find myself understanding a little more from the perspective of Mary Magdalene – one is weeping for the loss of someone whom they love.

And in this moment of weeping, Mary stoops to look in. And she sees what Simon Peter and the beloved disciple did not: angels.

Not an empty tomb. Not a place of death and decay. But a place where the messengers of God are sitting.

There is a strange paradox in this moment. No stranger than victory through a cross. No stranger than the power of God revealed in weak human flesh. But another strange paradox nonetheless. Angels appear to those who weep. God hears the weeping of his children. It is in our flaws, in our brokenness, in our grief, and in our weeping that God becomes most present to us. Even if, like Mary Magdalene, we do not recognize it at the time.

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

And she turns around, and he is there. She does not recognize him. She presumes he is the gardener. Perhaps her tears cloud her eyes. Perhaps he looks different somehow. Perhaps she cannot begin to think that it might be real.

And he calls her by name. “Mary.” She turns and she recognizes Jesus. Risen from the dead. He speaks her name, and she knows it is him. She knows what her name sounds like in his mouth. Her name is safe in her mouth. Her name is spoken with the respect and compassion and love that she has come to know from him.

And he sends her to the others. Go and tell. Go and speak. Go and witness. Mary Magdalene, the first apostle of the resurrection. “I have seen the Lord.”

Not Simon Peter, the headstrong rock on which Jesus will build the church. Not the disciple whom Jesus loved. Not Matthew the tax-collector, nor Andrew the fisherman, nor James or John, the “sons of thunder,” who bickered for top billing among the disciples. But Mary Magdalene. An unlikely choice if we count how many times people are with Jesus when he is teaching and healing and preaching and praying. An unlikely choice in a world that too often presumed that only men could be religious leaders, prophetic preachers, bearers of messages from God.

He calls her by name. And she recognizes the impossible has become possible. It is not some gardener, but her Jesus.

That’s what it takes to be a witness to the resurrection. Not some divinity degree. Not some church title. Not some authorization. Not a collar or a robe or a stole.

Being a resurrection witness means simply recognizing those places where God has made a way where there had been no way. And telling someone. Simply noticing those places in life where our flaws and our brokenness are met not with judgment or condemnation, but with grace and with forgiveness. And giving thanks for it. Simply listening for the one who speaks your name with respect, with love, and with compassion. And then following.

Whichever of these disciples we identify with (or none at all), the God of all creation calls us each by name. And our names are safe in God’s mouth.

Where we thought to find only despair, now we find hope.

Where we thought to find only hatred, now we find common ground.

Where we thought to find only fog, shadow and gloom, now we find light.

And where we thought to find only death, now we find life.

It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed.

Thanks be to God.