This sermon was performed from the center aisle, with Betsy+ playing the role of Mary Magdalene. The text below is the script that formed the basis of this project.
[start with slamming open back doors to church]
Did you notice that the men left the tomb? They came to the tomb where they thought their friend’s body had been laid. And they went in, and they looked. They put their hands on the linens which had wrapped his body. They touched the bloodstains. And they left.
They left me alone in the garden! With an empty tomb.
Don’t you think that’s odd? The men know that they are in a group of known trouble makers- they are going to spend the next few weeks hiding in upper rooms because they are so afraid to be out. But they just left me alone!
You know, I did feel safe enough in the garden. You know, anointing the dead, washing bodies, rewrapping the linens that were wrapped so hastily before Sabbath… that is women’s work. If nothing else, one of the blessings of being a woman si that we are so often ignored. No one pays that much attention to us. So when the men are hiding, we can attend to the work of caring for our beloved.
And that’s why what happened is so astounding.
I came to the tomb, and it was empty. And I called the men, and they went in, and they saw too (you can ask them). And when they left… they just went home.
They wouldn’t even help me search to find the body.
I was so sure it must have been moved. Until the Gardener spoke to me.
I bet you laughed at that part of the story, right? Jesus was my friend. I’d seen him, nearly daily, for a long time now. How could I mistake my friend and teacher and beloved for anyone else? How could I not recognize him?
You’d have not recognized him either. When we last saw him, he was on the cross. He was bruised, bloodied, beaten. His face had that haunted, hunted look that transforms our mind and sears that image into our hearts. Ever been in war, or in a room with a doctor, or with a mother whose child hasn’t lived long enough? Sadness and pain change a person’s face.
His face wasn’t like that anymore. He seemed… light, easy. Almost as if nothing had ever hurt him. He really did look like a gardener. Of course I didn’t recognize him.
What do you mean, I should have remembered the prophecies? You weren’t there… and the men ran away. I bet you didn’t remember the prophetcies! What prophecies? I’m a woman, remember. I suppose I could go to worship, but the priests, they aren’t all that consistent. They sacrificed the snimals and such. They don’t really have a coherent adult education program. They didn’t really do a lot of teaching.
Prophecies… that’s not something you’d necessarily teach the women. Remember Martha and Mary? They were Jesus’ friends, too. And I bet you remember the little kerfuffle Mary caused at that dinner party when she sat down at Jesus’ feet like any old disciple, ready to learn. While her sister did all the work!
They had a brother to take care of them. So they did know the prophecies. I had to make my own way in this world. Me, I just didn’t have time in my life to remember all those prophecies and stuff from church.
But that wasn’t the important part of what happened this morning. Jesus wasn’t about prophetcies and churchy stuff to me. He threw out all those churchy people from the temple. He went to wedding parties and he brought the wine. He lived life, you know. Grabbed it and lived it, like me. That’s what made him my friend.
So no, I really wasn’t thinking of the prophecies this morning, when I went to that tomb.
I wasn’t really thinking of Israel and my people and God saving us. What did I care about God saving all of us, when my people had just promised that awful govenor that they’d be loyal to Cesar? Nothing was going to change in my lifetime.
My friend had died. That was what I knew. I’d sat that night with his mother in her grief. She told me about what the angel had said to her before Jesus was born and how she’d thought he was going to be great. Her dreams died when he was arrested, too. It was late night before we soothed her enough to put her to bed.
So when the Gardener spoke to me… I really honestly didn’t recognize him.
But then when he spoke… I knew. I knew because he used my name. He called me Mary, and I would recognize his voice anywhere. Besdies, what Gardener would know my name?
When I recognized him, it was like that resurrection reached out and claimed me. It was the strangest thing. At first, I was afraid. You know how grief and fear feel the same sometimes? That black icy foot on your heart, that’s what I felt.
I knew when he called me by my own name. And I was not afraid. Ghosts are scary. Spiders are scary, and I’m enough woman to admit that. Lots of things scare me. But this? When I saw him, I was as unfraightened as I had ever been in my life.
I swear to you people…. I swear on my grandmother’s grave that I saw Jesus, who I love, standing in front of me. He’d gone down to hell and just slingshotted back up again, and death can’t touch any of us anymore. He’s really alive again.
I don’t have to understand it all to believe. And I don’t need your approval to believe. He called me by my own name, that’s what I needed.
But you know what? We can’t go back to how we were.
The eyes of the whole country were fixed on us. We practically started a country wide riot.
The goveneor was threatened by us. Jesus stood in the house of the high priest. Do you really think any of us would ever be comfortable in church again? Do you think there’s any number of doves or goats or sheeps or any animal really that can atone for what we did, following Jesus? Geez. We helped him so he could heal on the Sabbath. We paraded him into Jerusalem like a King. That was a game changer.. He died like a traitor on a cross, because of what we helped him become.
There’s no going back to normal for us. We already changed our lives No, I’m not afraid of that empty tomb. I’m not afraid of seeing my dead friend resurrected. But we can’t return to the way things were. This is a resurrection. He’s not just alive again. He’s different. The old things passed away and now it’s all new again. It’s like he cast off the old ways when he cast off his shroud.
He’s calling us. He told me so when I talked to him. New things are continuing to happen. He wanted me to come tell you, so you can come too. He knew my name. I was just the first witness. You saw. And I saw too. Come on. You are like me too. I know you want this to be true. You know me. Trust me now.
Jesus is risen. He’s real. And he told me to come and tell you, too.
The tomb is empty.
Come on. Let’s go.