8:30am Easter Service: "Mary's Easter"
Topic: Easter from the perspective of Mary Scripture: John 20:11–20:18
In the Orthodox churches of Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, it is a tradition to devote much of Easter day - telling jokes. This is the day of happiness and laughter. Death has been overcome. Christ is not only alive, He is victorious. Let’s rejoice! One challenge might be finding enough jokes to last the day. Finding funny jokes is even harder. For example: Where does the Easter bunny like to go for breakfast? The answer, of course, is IHOP. Once in a great while, Easter falls on this particular day. Somewhere out there, some poor preacher is making a huge mistake by claiming that the angels in the empty tomb greeted Mary Magdalene with the immortal words, “April fools!” I’m glad we would never make that mistake.
The unforgettable garden scene takes place in the half-light and mists of dawn. For Mary, it started not as a happy day, but a time of tears. Even as we celebrate the high point of our faith, we know that this day finds many in that same place. We think of the people of Yemen and of Syria, pawns in a global power play. We remember those who have been gunned down at school, or in their own backyard, unarmed. We grieve with those whose loved ones have been taken by disease. Our congregation has had its share. Grief is one thing we all eventually have in common. The One Great Hour offering is a response to suffering around the world, a way to bring the hope of Easter.
Mary knew that this One, whom she most loved in the world, had died. She was doubly distraught because now it seemed His body had been taken somewhere, and she didn’t know where or why.
The gospel’s power can address life’s deepest hurts. We still grieve, of course, but we have a hope in Christ that can never die. Through her tears, Mary’s vision was blurred. She thought Jesus was the gardener, and she wasn’t entirely wrong. Jesus was a gardener—THE Gardener, who tends our souls, roots out sin, and nourishes the good plants of spiritual growth and spiritual gifts. He is the new Adam, and in Him, a new world has begun—a second Eden, where love prevails, and justice is done. This Holy Week has brought word of the passing of Jan Van Hulst, at the age of 107. In the early 1940’s, the director of a Dutch Reformed seminary. The yard of that seminary was a garden, and through that garden, Dr. Van Hulst rescued hundreds of Jewish children from the children’s nursery next door. Resistance activists then smuggled the children to safety, in laundry baskets, or on their bicycles. They pretended that the children were their own—and in the largest sense, they were right. The world’s children in danger are OUR children. All of them. The seminary garden was like the garden where Jesus rose: a scene of life and hope. We honor the memory of Jan Van Holst.
Mary’s day brightened when Jesus spoke her name. She’d recognizer that voice anywhere! Recognizing Him alive, she was so happy, she wanted to give Him a great big hug. Jesus said something unusual: Noli me tangere in Latin. Don’t hold onto me. Don’t cling to me. It seems a strange thing to say. What’s the matter with a joyful hug? We don’t know, exactly, but we do know that Mary’s understanding of Jesus would change. Her friend and teacher was now Lord and savior—hers, yes, but the whole world’s, too. He was about to go to God, not so He would be absent from earth, but so that earth would come to realize Him as its true sovereign. Don’t cling, Mary. Don’t hold onto your previous, limited view of me. Let go.
In life, all of us have some things to let go of, and to grow beyond. Sometimes we hold onto regrets about loved ones, now gone. Did I do enough? Did I love enough? Did I really listen and respond? The gospel says, that I the risen Christ, all is forgiven, and all is made new. Whatever we did or didn’t do, God has made it all good. Loved ones are held in the everlasting arms, and they are aware only of the goodness and love that surrounds them now. We can let go of regrets; we need not cling to them.
We can also embrace a wider view of God. Christ is bigger than our limits. We can expand our ability to trust. Many have recently been anxious about work, and about their jobs. The fears have been understandable. But will our relief turn into gratitude? Michel Montaigne said, five hundred years ago, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Our imagined worst-case scenarios usually never come to pass. If we have been spared, let us rejoice.
It took Mary a while to get to the heart of Easter. She became fully “woke” when Jesus gave her a task, a mission. There’s nothing like an important assignment to get us moving again. “Mary, go tell the others.” A woman was empowered to share the word. She became the Apostle to the Apostles. Dr. Tom Wright of St. Andrews University observes, “Nobody in that time and place would make up such a story with a woman as the hero. They would of course make a man the first preacher. The fact that it is a woman who delivers the first gospel message is proof of its veracity.
Through Mary’s willingness to let go, and let God, Jesus launched the mission and the message of Easter. Who knows what He will do through us?