Year B, Easter Day, Gospel of John • Sermon to Pohick Church April 4, 2021
The Reverend Lynn P. Ronaldi, Rector
This beautiful version of Jesus’ resurrection is so familiar and beloved to us, that we might just miss the depth of its meaning for us.
Likewise, expecting the familiar apparently hinders Mary Magdalene and the two male disciples from seeing and understanding as well. They see that the stone has been rolled away. They see that the tomb is empty. But no one grasps what’s happening. Peter and John are amazed. John even believes. Still, the men return to what’s familiar; they go home.
At least Mary stays put. She remains at the empty tomb, weeping, seeking. I imagine her sniffling as her curiosity gets the best of her. She peers again inside the tomb. There, Mary is surprised by unexpected messengers of hope, trust and joy. Two angels, and then a gardener, challenge her assumptions.
First, the angels sitting on eah end of the slab where Jesus had lain, gently challenge Mary to name why she weeps. She answers that someone must have taken the dead body away.
Next, a stranger who appears to be a gardener asks her the same question, then adds another: “Whom are you looking for?” Not only does he want her to name her loss; he pushes her to identify who it is that she is longing to see.
We know the story well, and know of course, that the stranger is Jesus. But apparently, Jesus does not look familiar to Mary at all. When she doesn’t recognize the object of her affection in front of her nose, Jesus utters the one word that opens her eyes of love. He calls her by name: “Mary!” It is only that intimate act of knowing her that moves her to recognize him.
Overcome with joy, Mary wraps her arms around Jesus and clings to her dear friend and teacher. But suddenly, Jesus challenges something significant going on in Mary. He firmly tells her, “Do not hold onto me…”
In other words, do not hang onto what’s past. Do not cling to what is familiar. Instead, it’s crucial to make way for something new and unexpected to be born.
When Jesus calls her by name and commissions her to be the apostle to the apostles, Mary finally sheds her former illusions. She recognizes who Jesus truly is and for whom she’s been longing: not a gardener, not a rabbi, not even a familiar friend — but the Risen Lord.
Having been disillusioned of the finality of death, having let go of the past, Mary now sees with the eyes of love. She grasps that it is now her mission to midwife for others the birth of
something new. Mary becomes the messenger of trust, hope and joy, announcing the great good news to her fellow disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”
I wonder how often we are disillusioned by the disappointments, losses and bitterness of life? How often are we so blind that we miss seeing the Spirit of God midwifing the birth of something new?
I wonder how often we hang onto what’s familiar, to the point that we miss that something new – even as it stares us in the face?