April 12, 2020
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright
Each of the accounts of the resurrection is different, as each gospel writer develops his own themes, and remembers his favorite stories, and tailors his version to his specific audience.
Matthew begins his version, “As the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”
These were the same two Marys who were present at Jesus’ burial – silent witnesses as Joseph of Arimathea took possession of the body from Pilate, wrapped it in clean cloth and laid it in his own new tomb. They lingered there after he rolled the stone across the doorway and went away.
Maybe they cried or maybe they were all out of tears after witnessing the crucifixion; so perhaps they just sat and talked about the Jesus they had known.
Mary Magdalene had followed him ever since he had healed her of seven demons.1 He had saved her and she would spend the rest of her life paying off that debt. She had been one of the ones who supported him out of her own resources. Like the rest, she had hung on his every word, but she was one of the few who had believed in him even when others drifted away … or fled.
The other Mary (and all indications are that this is Mary, the mother of Jesus), had known Jesus even longer. She said yes to the angel, even when becoming his mother risked her reputation and marriage to Joseph. She had counted his tiny fingers and toes and wrapped him in a blanket against the night’s chill, just like any mother would. Not too long after, she had marveled at the magi’s gifts and fled to Egypt so her son might be safe. Later, when the crowds had gathered to listen to him preach, she and his brothers had waited outside to speak to him. When Jesus was told, he said “Who is my mother or my brothers? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” At first it had stung – as if the woman who had born him and shielded him had no more claim on him than anyone else, but after pondering it, Mary had chosen to embrace the idea that Jesus was just adding to the size of their family!
So it was these two Marys who made their way back to the tomb after the Sabbath.
Matthew is the only gospel writer who does not mention that they are bringing spices with which to finish preparing the body.
Maybe it slipped his mind. Or maybe he is saying that they were there for other reasons. Maybe there is something about these two Marys that had readied them for something amazing.
Before we can give that quirk in the story much thought, Matthew tells us that there was a great earthquake, like an aftershock from time of Jesus’ death when “the earth shook and rocks were split … and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two.”
While the soil was still jiggling like a bowl full of Jell-O, an angel from heaven popped down out of heaven, pushed the stone out of the way like it was a flimsy screen door and sat down on top of the stone looking mighty pleased with himself.
It was all too much for the soldiers sent to guard the body. They slumped to the ground like dead men out of fear. But the two Marys didn’t even blink.
After being tormented by seven demons, maybe one for each day of the week, Mary Magdalene wasn’t frightened of anything, and the other Mary had seen angels before. While she knew that angels turned your life upside down, she also knew that they were like the UPS man – there to deliver a package, get you to sign for it, and go.2
When the angel said, “Do not be afraid,” I’ll bet they smiled at each other knowingly.
And when he said, “[Jesus] is not here, for he has been raised, as he said,” I’ll bet the two of them remembered all the times Jesus had tried to explain things to his followers. Most of them had gotten caught up in his predictions of suffering and being killed. They had wept and yelled and made plans to fight; they had been frightened and refused to believe. But the two Marys had known a lifetime of suffering and powerlessness. So while Jesus’ words broke their hearts, they were not surprising. They knew that the powerful can be vicious to those with whom they disagree, those they see as a threat, those they dismiss as disposable.
Of course the two Marys had also witnessed a different kind of power – the persistent and patient power of God, so they waited, they listened, and they hoped. And sure enough, Jesus’ words had gone on, plowing through all the other voices raised in outrage, like a boat through a storm, almost drowned out, but clear enough to those desperate to believe that death would not have the last word. And so, like a still small voice after all the wind and earthquake and fire3 Jesus revealed what God would do, what only God could do: “on the third day he will be raised.”
Because they could not keep him from going to Jerusalem or stop the powerful from killing the one they loved, they clung to the promise of what God would do – a miracle!
And because God had given one of them her life back when she was as good as dead and had made life in the other when there was no way for such a spark to be kindled, they helped each other believe that it could be so.
The angel had one more package to deliver. He ordered the two Marys, “Go quickly and tell his disciples. ‘He has been raised from the dead and he is going ahead of you to Galilee.’”
And just like that the two of them, the Mary who had followed faithfully but never been one of the 12 and the Mary who had answered the angel’s calling once before but had been forgotten, were commissioned as apostles to the apostles.
The one who had experience with demons would spread the good news and help the 11 shake off their own demonic fears and shame. And the one who had given Jesus life would spark something in those who thought life was over without their savior.
The two of them would support each other, witnessing to what they had seen, completing each other’s sentences, laughing with joy, and gasping for breath after running all the way back from the empty tomb.
But even that was not the end of their amazing adventure.
As they were running, Jesus appeared to the two of them!
He repeats what the angel had told them … as if he is afraid they will forget.
But I wonder if there wasn’t another reason. Maybe he just wanted to see them again – to lay his eyes on the two Marys who had played such a big part in his life.
We know what that’s like. We have been separated from each other for about a month now and seeing each other, something we used to take for granted, has become a treat!
I know it’s hard to not be together for Easter, but take solace in this: “Christ’s resurrection did not begin (or end) with large gatherings of Christians accompanied by choirs and [guest instrumentalists.] It began with an empty tomb and [two Marys]. This is the Easter to ponder such emptiness, to linger over it, indeed to reveal in it. This is the Easter to let our sanctuaries and choir lofts remain utterly empty, not in despair, but in testimony that lives are being saved by doing so.”4 We can still follow in the two Mary’s footsteps and proclaim what we have seen. Christ is risen and will meet us wherever we are! Amen.
1 see Luke 8:2
2 this image is from “My Favorite Angel” by Alyce McKenzie, 4/10/14
3 see 1 Kings 19:11-12
4 from “The Life –giving Emptiness of This Easter” a Holy Week message by Dr. Bill Brown, 4/7/20