[Sermon given on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012 by Sister Nicole Symmonds– Clarkston United Methodist Church, Clarkston, Georgia]
It is humbling to stand here before you on the first day of the week, with the sun rising out of the clouds. It has been a long road to get to this place and now we are here, a small dispensation of the saints, to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. We are not unlike Mary and the two disciples who hastened to the tomb only to discover that their Lord was gone. Like Mary, we have come with grief and one thing on our minds, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Ours is a deeply personal relationship with Jesus because we have lived with the story of his life, death, and resurrection most of our lives. I surmise that Mary too had a deeply personal relationship with Jesus. This is most clearly illustrated by her actions toward the Lord following his resurrection.
She was the first person to rise early in the morning and see about the Lord. At the sight of the stone, which was rolled away, she immediately went to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and announced to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” She was a messenger spreading the word of the Lord being taken away from the tomb. At her word, the disciples ran to the tomb and discovered the same. The text tells us that the disciple that Jesus loved looked into the tomb and saw his wrapping cloths lying there and he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter, the man who denied Jesus three times at the crow of the cock, walked into the tomb and saw the wrapping cloths lying there and the cloth that covered Jesus’ head in the corner. The disciple that Jesus loved followed Simon Peter and saw the same, but his vision was different because he saw AND believed. But, unlike these disciples who took to walking in the tomb to investigate, Mary stayed outside of the tomb to commiserate. It is her commiseration that indicated her deeply personal relationship with Jesus.
For Mary, Jesus’ absence from the tomb was more than a reason for investigating an unsolved mystery; it was a moment to show how much he meant to her. It is her commiseration that leads to her investigation and this commiseration lead investigation leads her to an encounter with two angels who would propel her into her being the first person to have an encounter with Jesus. When the angels asked Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Her response of, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him,” witnesses to a woman grieving a personal loss. Her response to the angels is different from what she said earlier to the disciples in, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb…” In the presence of angels Mary confesses her personal relationship with Jesus but in the presence of men she doesn’t seem to do the same. As if they were granting her an answer to her question, Jesus arrives unbeknownst to Mary. One might assume that she is still so taken with commiserating that she is consumed beyond consolation and not able to see anything but her own grief. But she speaks to this man who she doesn’t know is Jesus and says something, one more thing, that shows us how deeply committed she is to finding her beloved Lord.
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She has told the disciples of Jesus’ absence from the tomb, has responded to angels about why she was weeping, and now, when she is in the presence of someone whom she doesn’t realize is her Lord, she says exactly why she wants to recover his body, so that she could take him away. As if these were the words he wanted to hear, Jesus reveals himself to her by doing something only a friend could do, calling her by her name in a certain way. One senses that there must have been a particular intonation with which Jesus said Mary’s name that made her realize who he was. But at the moment she heard her name, she knew who he was, and she returned the greeting in kind calling him “Rabbouni.” Now we see two close friends meeting again and as close friends are wont to do after time apart, Mary wanted to embrace Jesus. She wanted to savor this moment of seeing him again after what probably seemed like years. She wanted to feel his embrace and maybe, just maybe, this was going to help comfort her. But Jesus would not let her hold him. In a move that seemed to be rather abrasive her told her, “Do not hold onto to me because I have not ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Here Jesus changes the course of Mary’s life by not only appearing to her and speaking his first words, post-resurrection, to her. But he let her know, subtly, that all of the love she had for him and her knowledge of him, wasn’t to be kept inside. Her deeply personal relationship wasn’t just for her benefit, but it was for the benefit of others, first for the disciples and then for everyone who would hear the message. It was Mary’s deeply personal relationship with Jesus that lead her to become the first person he called to spread the message of the good news about his resurrection and ascension. No longer would Mary have to weep outside of an empty tomb and wonder where her Lord was. Now she knew where he was and where he was going and was called to spread that message. We are not unlike Mary in this respect.
We have commiserated and investigated the whereabouts of our Lord Jesus. We no longer have to weep and wonder where he is. We have the pleasure of knowing not only where he was and where he is, but also where he will be. But with this pleasure of knowing Jesus and having a deeply personal relationship with Jesus, comes the responsibility to let others know about Jesus. Just as Jesus told Mary not to hold onto him, we must not hold onto to Jesus for ourselves. We must let him go so that he can continue to do his work. And we must go forth to do the work that he first called one woman to do, to spread the good news of his resurrection.