Called by Name; Sent to Proclaim
March 27, 2016
Mary goes to the cemetery while it’s still dark. Darkness obviously means before the sun comes up. But darkness also means she comes in despair, sorrow, and grief. Many of you have lived in that darkness. In addition, darkness means that she comes without understanding. She’s in the dark as to what’s going on. She hasn’t been let in on the joke pulled on the evil one.
So Mary comes in the dark to the cemetery where Jesus was put to rest on Friday. Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus in darkness, had wrapped the body with spices, as was the burial custom of the Jews, and buried Jesus in a new tomb in a nearby garden. Other gospels mention more women, women coming to wrap the body in spices, but in John’s telling the story, Mary comes alone and empty-handed.
So Mary comes to the tomb in the dark of early morning. She sees the stone rolled away. In her darkness she thinks the body has been removed, stolen, desecrated. Stumbling her way through the darkness of her grief and now her horror, she runs to the disciples. Maybe they know something she doesn’t. Maybe they’ve devised some plan they didn’t tell her about. Maybe they know where the body is.
But the disciples are also in the dark. They don’t know anything either. But two of them, Peter and the other disciple (we think John), run to the tomb. John gets there first but stops at the entrance to the cave. Peter rushes straight in and sees funeral wrapping piled up. Odd, the head covering is rolled up in a separate place. Why would grave robbers take the time to undress a corpse? Why would they neatly care for the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head? We’re not told. The Bible simply says, the two disciples saw all of this then returned home. They came in the darkness of the night and left with their minds in darkness at to what happened.
Mary stayed. Perhaps, you understand. In the darkness of her grief she doesn’t want to leave. She can’t leave. Maybe she’ll put a bench here and stay. Or at least come every day when the dew is still on the roses and the garden is so quiet — the birds aren’t even singing. Come and sit and cry. Sit and grieve lost in the darkness of despair and uncertainty.
What follows is the now-famous scene of Mary Magdalene crying her eyes out when a stranger (we are told this is Jesus incognito) asks Mary why she is weeping. Mary is crying because death had done to her beloved Jesus what death does to everybody.
And then it happens. Jesus calls her by name. His voice penetrates the darkness of her grief. Hearing her name called dispels the darkness. It’s hard to imagine all the emotions that must have coursed through Mary in that moment; and yet, while the text doesn’t give us many clues, I suspect that after just a heartbeat she responded at first with a big grin, wiping away the tears that soak her cheeks, and then she grabs him and hugs him tightly and doesn’t want to let him go.
But it doesn’t end here. After a brief moment to savor this encounter, to feel his heart beat as she’s pressed against him, Mary is addressed once again by her Lord. “Go to the others and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Having been called by name, Mary is now sent to proclaim the wonder of what she has witnessed. And she does. Racing back to the city in broad daylight to announce to the other disciples and the world, “I have seen the Lord.” And in so doing, Mary becomes the first Christian preacher, the first herald of the resurrection, the first apostle and we are all her heirs.
Mary was in darkness. It was darkness of night. It was darkness despair. It was darkness of confusion. Why are we in the dark? What despair or grief or uncertainty? What has you paralyzed or traumatized, confused or bewildered? Maybe it’s war, raging now in so many parts of the world, or terrorism, having afflicted the people in Brussels so recently? Maybe it’s grief over the death, or pending death, of a loved one? Or the crumbling of an important relationship? Maybe it’s an uncertain future or a painful past. Maybe it’s any one of a host of things that plagues us on any given day of the year, weakening our lives and paralyzing us where we stand. Is it your arriving at the end of another long Lenten journey only to discover you’re not sure about it all?
Whatever it is, hear once again the good news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Jesus Christ is calling you by name. If you have faith, then you have been called by name. That’s good news! And yet it doesn’t end here. The Lord has something more to say. Now that you have been called by name, you are now sent to proclaim what you have seen and heard. Sent to his other disciples and sent to all the world. And this world lives in darkness and is ready for such good news!
Called by name, sent to proclaim. That’s the Easter word to you. God is calling you by name. God is reconnecting you to Jesus. God is inviting you into a whole new world — a new world filled with the possibility of resurrection and the promise that nothing — not even death itself — can separate us from the love of God.