Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
This year, we are experiencing the resurrection through the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is a very theological, multi-layered Gospel. There is a lot going on here that I’d like to unpack for us.
First of all, Mary encounters the empty tomb. She thinks that someone has stolen Jesus’ body so she runs to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. They both then come to the tomb. Peter doesn’t know what to make of the empty tomb: he just goes home. The disciple whom Jesus loved believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, but the text even says he didn’t really understand what it meant yet. And Mary is just weeping.
The next section of our passage this morning focuses on Mary. Which Mary is this? This is not the Mary who is a sister to Martha and Lazarus. This is Mary Magdalene. What does the Bible say about Mary Magdalene? In Luke 8:2, she is described as a woman “from whom seven demons had gone out.” She is also listed among the women who provided for Jesus out of their own resources. Many of us have heard descriptions of Mary Magdalene that call her a prostitute, but there is no Biblical foundation for that. The Bible simply describes her as a woman who was cured of demon possession. Also, as a wealthy woman who used her wealth to provide for Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The next part of our passage starts in verse 12, when Mary looks into the tomb and finds angels there. Normally, when angels appear in the Bible (and in texts written at the time of the New Testament that are not in the Bible, when angels appear) they have to say first, “Do not be afraid.” Most people when they see angels are terrified. But Mary, here, is in her own world. Elle est dans la lune. I can relate to how she might have been feeling. First of all, she was probably exhausted. All of the events leading up to Jesus’ death were exhausting: they were terrifying, and grief-filled, and crushing. Then after Jesus’ death, Mary and all of Jesus’ followers must have been filled with grief. And grief is really exhausting. It makes your whole body feel like lead and it’s really hard to think clearly. Plus, I get the sense from reading the things that Mary says that she’s in a panic. When we get in a panic we do not think clearly, and we often do not realize what is happening right before our very eyes. So I don’t think Mary even realizes that there are angels sitting there. She is just looking for anyone who can help her find Jesus’ body. When the angels ask her why she is weeping, she says in verse 13: “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him!”
Jesus appears immediately. He doesn’t leave her in that state alone. She turns around and sees him, but doesn’t recognize him. And he asks her a very important question. He says in verse 15, “Whom are you looking for?” Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of John are found in John 1:38. This is where Jesus calls the first disciples. In the Gospel of John, there is not a catalogue of the twelve disciples. Discipleship is a very broad concept in which many people participate. In John 1:38, Jesus asks some people who aren’t named who want to be his disciples, “What are you looking for?” Then they ask him where he is staying, and then they follow Him. Here in John 20, Jesus asks her who she is looking for and she proceeds to ask him where Jesus is (not realizing that she is talking to Jesus) because she wants to go to Jesus. This is the first calling of Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection and for His ascension (as we will see). This is the calling of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ disciple, as one of His own, and this is confirmed by what happens next.
In John 10:14-15 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” And in John 10:3-4, Jesus says, “[The Good shepherd] calls his own sheep by name...he goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Here in John 20:16, when Mary is exhausted and confused, Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!” And that is the moment [*snap*] when she understands. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls her by name, and she knows His voice. Mary is one of Jesus’ own. She is one of His disciples. She responds by calling him, “Rabbouni!” which is an Aramaic word that is a term of endearment for “rabbi”, teacher, or master (NIB, John, pg. 842). She knows Jesus intimately, but not in a sexual way. In the way that Jesus says in John 10: “I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus is calling Mary as one of His own.
By doing so he also fulfills one of the promises that he made at the last supper in John. As I said before, discipleship in John is a broad concept. There is not a catalogue of the 12 in John so the list of Jesus’ disciples is larger than 12. At the last supper, there is not a description of who is there. We know Peter, Judas, and the disciple Jesus loved were there, but we also know that other people were there. We don’t know who or how many. Perhaps Mary Magdalene was there and heard this promise. Either way, she is the first to experience its fulfillment. Jesus gave this promise in John 16:20-22: “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” The Gospel of John refers to Jesus’ death as His Hour. In this passage, Jesus compares His death on a cross to a woman in labor. He says that the disciples will weep and have pain, but they will see Jesus again and their hearts will rejoice and no one will take their joy from them.
Here in John 20, we see this promise fulfilled for Mary. She is weeping. She is in pain. But when she sees Jesus and recognizes Him, her pain is turned into joy! Her weeping is turned into rejoicing! ...because Jesus has been raised from the dead and has appeared to her.
The beautiful thing about what Jesus says next is that the fulfillment of this promise is not just for Mary. Jesus says, “Go to my brothers...” The Greek word which is translated “brothers” is not gender exclusive. Like French, Greek uses masculine words when both men and women are in a group together. Mary is sent to the disciples, which we know in John is a broad category of people, men and women, who follow Jesus. One of the things that Jesus’ resurrection did that was new and unique is that it broke into human history. Jesus’ resurrection showed that the promises of God were not only for the end, but are also for now. Our weeping turns into dancing, our mourning or sadness turns into joy, now. Yes, we receive eternal life after death in the presence of God through Jesus, AND we also receive new life now. When Jesus tells Mary to go tell the brothers the good news, His instruction is not just for them, but it is also for us. In John 1:12, in the very beginning of this Gospel, when we are hearing about Jesus becoming a human, we learn that “to all who receive him and believe in His name, He gives the power to become children of God.” When Jesus tells Mary to go to “the brothers” he is saying that this has been fulfilled. He is saying that all the people who follow Jesus, all the people who are Jesus’ own are now ALSO children of God.
We talked before about how the Gospel of John is constantly describing Jesus’ closeness with God the Father. On Maundy Thursday, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, we learned that the foot washing invited the disciples into that deep relationship between Jesus and God the Father. Jesus’ command to love one another is embedded in that deep relationship. Jesus lays down his life in order to deepen our relationship with Him, and in order for us to enter into that deep relationship with God.
We see this clearly in Jesus’ instruction about what Mary should say. Jesus’ death was the act that reconciled humans to God. His resurrection and ascension are the actions that seal our relationship with God. Jesus tells Mary to tell everyone at the end of verse 17, “I am ascending to my Father and YOUR Father.” God has never been called your father before. And Jesus continues, “to my God and YOUR God.” The intimacy of the relationship with God the Father in the Gospel of John was always something that Jesus had. Jesus had an intimate relationship with His own. And HE had an intimate relationship with God the Father. We saw this intimacy with Jesus in Mary’s greeting to him. But NOW, Jesus is saying that God is not just Jesus’ Father, God is also our Father.
Now, I think it’s important to say that by calling God Father, Jesus is not saying that God is male or that God is like our earthly fathers. Many of us have had wonderful fathers so it is easy for us to make that connection in a positive way. But some of us did not have good fathers and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a positive connection with God being father. The point of calling God Father in the Gospel of John is to say that we are family now with God. God is our parent. This family connection with God, this relationship now with God being a parent to us IS ideal. Everything that we could have ever wanted from family or from parents we have now in God. Through Jesus. Through Jesus’ resurrection and ascension now we are children of God. We can connect with God on that intimate level, on the level that we have always craved with other human beings but have never found, we can connect with God on that level through prayer.
Jesus’ resurrection and ascension give us access to God and intimacy with God. Yes, when we die, we will be at peace in the presence of God. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension give us that. AND, because the resurrection and ascension broke into human history, that intimacy with God is also possible NOW, in this life, for all of us, through Jesus. We can access that intimacy with God through prayer. We have been given power to become children of God. What kind of God is this who is now our parent, who we are intimately connected to?
We learned about this during Holy Week. God is full of grace and mercy. When Jesus washed the disciples feet he didn’t exclude anyone. He even washed Peter’s feet (Peter denied him) and Judas’ feet (Judas betrayed him). Our God is a God of grace, mercy, forgiveness, who is always reaching out to us even when we deny God, when we betray God, when we mess up. God doesn’t give up on us. God is willing to sacrifice everything for us. Jesus laid down his own life so that we might also be children of God. And we saw in our passage this morning with Mary that God doesn’t leave us alone in our despair. God gives us a taste of the ultimate joy that we will have in heaven now in this life through the resurrection. Mary went from weeping to rejoicing. This is our God.
Just as God does all this for us, so we are called to reflect God’s character in the world. We are called to be people of grace, mercy, and forgiveness who are always reaching out. We are called to give in order to relieve the suffering of others. And whenever possible, we are called to turn weeping into joy in all that we do.
We are children of God. We are people of the resurrection. As we go from this place, let us reflect all that God has done for us in all that we do. Amen.