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"Resurrection Glue"

She did not abandon Jesus in his hour of need. She will not walk away now. But she is grieving. She is broken. And she is grasping at the pieces.


[1] “Do Not Hold On to Me” by He Qi
[1] “Do Not Hold On to Me” by He Qi

John 20:1-18

March 31, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Mary’s words were reflective, feisty, powerful; they were simple and clear and profound:


“I have refused to live locked in the orderly house of reasons and proofs.

The world I live in and believe in is wider than that ...

You wouldn’t believe what once or twice I have seen.

I’ll just tell you this:

only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one.”[2]


The words are Mary Oliver’s, but they could have been Mary Magdalene’s.


She experienced a world that reason could not explain:

freed by Jesus from a life in which seven demons made hers a disorderly home;

front row observer to more signs than could be explained, but she’d seen the proof;

witness to an innocent man being killed slowly, shamefully, like a criminal;

drawn to a tomb that should have been sealed up tight, but wasn’t;

and an encounter with angels – enough to make most folks tremble with fear –

but she ignored them, as if they were no more than orderlies stripping a hospital bed,[3]

such was her grief.


 

So who is this Mary Magdalene, and why does John place her in the spotlight?


I think he has her stand in for the whole community of disciples who followed Jesus – people who were healed by him, inspired by his words to hope, and then devastated by his death.


She was there at the cross; there when he gasped, “It is finished,” and gave up his spirit.


It was as if a light had been snuffed out and they had all been left in the dark.


And now, according to John, early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, she went to the tomb.


It was not to anoint his body. She carried no spices. And besides, his body has already been anointed – once by Lazarus’ sister, also called Mary, as a preparation for his death, and again by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus with 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes.


So why was she there? Perhaps for the same reason we go to the graveside of a loved one – to weep and remember and lay pretty flowers on the cold stone.


But this was no ordinary death, so one scholar wonders if there was more:


“Is it sheer grief, a longing to be close to Jesus, even in death? Is she concerned that Jesus’ body, already disgraced in mockery, torture, and crucifixion, will be degraded even further — even stolen? Is she holding out hope-against-hope that what he said in his last public teaching (“when I am lifted up from the earth”) somehow means that death is not [the] final chapter?”[4]


 

What is clear is that when she arrives, something has happened. The stone has been rolled away and she imagines the worst. So she runs for help. Peter and the Beloved Disciple come back with her, but they do not know what to make of things either. John reports, tartly: they both returned home.


She is left alone again.


Has that happened to you? Have you been left alone with your grief? Left alone to make sense of a world left shattered by death – the death of a spouse or a child, a relationship or a dream? Left alone, seemingly without even God to keep you company?


John’s worshipping community is nodding their heads. Maybe you are too.


It is enough to break most people.


Mary Magdalene weeps, like a cracked jug leaking water. But she does not leave.


You can take that as a sign of paralysis … or of resolve.


She did not abandon Jesus in his hour of need. She will not walk away now.


But she is grieving. She is broken. And she is grasping at the pieces.


“Singer LeAnn Rimes described her album Remnants as her experience of learning the value of falling apart. She said that the first time we encounter something that threatens to really knock us back, our tendency is to fight to keep standing. We think this is victory, this is grieving well. But Rimes has learned to give in to falling apart — and discovering the beauty in it. When you crumble, she says, you’re able to assess the pieces and preserve the remnant that is authentically you. From those authentic pieces, you can be remade anew.”[5]


 

Because Mary Magdalene stayed, she sees what Peter and the Beloved Disciple miss, something that remakes her.


Actually, she hears it before she sees it.


There is a man there – she thinks he is the gardener – and asks for his help.


It is an honest mistake. John tells us that Joeseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in a tomb in a garden. Who else would be there before dawn, but the fellow responsible for watering and weeding, picking up trash and coaxing a little beauty to grow in a place of such sadness?


But he is not the gardener, a stranger, even a kindly one.


You can tell because he calls her by name.


I think John is hoping that his congregation remembers that earlier Jesus called himself the good shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep. The proof, he says, is that the sheep follow him because they know his voice!


Mary knows his voice too – it is the one who cast out her demons and called her to follow; it is the one who sowed words of life like good seed; and who cried out when he died. It is her Rabbouni, and she is his student!


And suddenly she is not alone!


 

She is so excited that she wants to cling to him. Who can blame her?


But Jesus says he’s got places to be … and so does she! He commissions her to go and tell the good news to the other disciples. And she does!


John tells her story as a reminder to his community that Jesus’ resurrection is not the end of the story, but merely the beginning!


There is work to do: bringing light to those still living in darkness; telling what God has done that only God can do; planting seeds of hope.


If we want to follow in her footsteps, and those of the gardener, there is a lifetime of weeding and watering to do; picking up trash and coaxing a little beauty to grow in sadness’ shadow.


 

Before we leave this story, there is one more lesson. Wilbur Rees captures the contrast between Easter as a one-off celebration and the start of a new way of life. He writes:


“I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”[6]


Rees can wish for it, but it was no longer an option for Mary Magdalene. From the moment the risen Lord called her by name, her soul had been exploded and glued back together with resurrection glue. She had work to do and a bounce in her step!


May Easter have that effect on you too! Amen


[1] “Do Not Hold On to Me” by He Qi
[2] From her poem “The World I Live In”
[3] This phrase is from Barbara Lundblad’s reflections on the text for Christian Century, 3/27/16
[4] From “Dawn” the SALT project’s reflection on the text, 3/26/24
[5] From Ayanna Johnson Watkins’ reflections on the text for Christina Century, 3/29/07
[6] From his book $3.00 worth of God

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