Easter B – April 1, 2018

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” John 20:18
Our Greek and Russian Orthodox sisters and brothers have a wonderful tradition of telling jokes on Easter. Since it’s April Fool’s Day, I’ve decided to follow their lead with a couple of jokes, the first an old one from the Smothers Brothers. Three guys die and find themselves at the pearly gates. St. Peter says they can enter if they can answer one simple question, “What is EASTER?” The first man replies, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s the holiday when everyone gets together, eats turkey and is thankful.” “Wrong,” says Peter and asks the next man, “What is Easter?” He replies, “Easter is when you put up a nice tree, exchange presents and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” “WRONG,” Peter shakes his head in disgust, turns to the last man and asks, “What is Easter?” The third man smiles confidently and looks Peter in the eye, “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover.” “Yes! Go on,” says Peter. “Jesus and his disciples ate the last supper, then he was betrayed and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. They hung him on a cross to be crucified, and buried him in a nearby cave, seal off by a large boulder.” “Yes!” said Peter with delight! “You’ve got it.” But the man continues, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if he sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.” Just had to tell that one because there’s a chance of snow tonight and it’s been eight weeks since the groundhog saw his shadow. One more, during a children’s sermon the pastor asks the kids, “What do you think Jesus said to his friends when he rose from the dead?” A little girl jumps up, gestures broadly and says, “Ta-Da!”
If only that was what happened in our Gospel this morning. It would have saved a lot of running and weeping. When Mary comes to the tomb, early on the first day of the week, she sees the stone has been removed and Jesus is nowhere to be found. Fearing the worst, that his body was snatched, she runs to tell Peter and the beloved disciple. Together they run back to the tomb to check it out. They find it empty and while one believes and the other’s not sure, both act like she’s invisible. Without so much as offering her a tissue, they return home leaving her alone with her tears. Then if that wasn’t enough, when Mary kneels to look into the tomb she encounters what must have been the two most unhelpful angels ever. “Why are you weeping?” they ask her and she tells them, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.”
That’s all she says, but behind the words are so much more. Mary’s crying because she’s experiencing a horrifying loss that left her with an aching grief and a huge hole where love and joy and her life use to be. She feels powerless, fragile and so alone. And it’s not just his death, but how he died …the nails, the blood, everyone running away. It’s the sin of it. Mary weeps because human beings can be so cruel and mean, so stupid and weak, so selfish and treacherous. And with a deep, gut wrenching kind of knowing, we get that Mary is also crying because she’s not sure where God is in any of this. God felt so close when Jesus was alive, but now feels hopelessly far away. Beside what kinda of God lets his son die such a horrible death?
While the angels ask, “Why are you crying?” we already know the answer. Mary is crying because of death and sin and separation from God. S Jesus transformed her life and now she has died with him. We understand Mary’s tears because they are our tears too. We cry at the death of beloved ones who wrapped us in their arms and made us feel safe and secure. And at the death of dreams and innocence. We cry because death makes us feel so powerless, fragile, and alone. We understand Mary’s tears because we also weep over sin. We live in a world of Parklands, entrenched poverty and terrorism. We too have been hurt, disappointed and betrayed. And if truth be told, we cry because we are far from being angels ourselves. We’ve done things we can’t undo and said things that cannot be taken back. We have habits, addictions and systems we can’t extricate ourselves from. Nor can we bear to look at the pain we’ve caused others. Mary’s tears are our tears. Exhausted and overwhelmed, sometimes God seems hopelessly far away. We long for a faith that takes the pain away, but like Mary we can’t find what we’re looking for.
That’s what she tells the gardener, or at least the man she thinks is the gardener. She looking for the body of Jesus and asks, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.” The irony of course is that the body Mary seeks is standing right before her, living, breathing and full of life, only she doesn’t see him! But Jesus sees her and calls her by name…Mary! And in the hearing, Mary sees. Her tears of grief and pain are transformed into tears of joy, Easter tears. For Jesus has emerged from the tomb and therefore death does not have the last word ever again. Jesus is alive and the power of sin is dismantled. Now Mary can picture a world where hatred is transformed into love and cruelty into mercy and kindness. Jesus reunited her with God and reunited us too. For all her disbelief, doubt and fear, and ours too is washed away in an ocean of grace.
Jesus calls her by name “Mary.” Just as he calls us by name in the grace-filled waters of baptism. Last night at our Easter Vigil three of children heard him calling their names, Emily Justine, Owen Riley, John Roland Joseph as they were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then they were marked with the cross of Christ forever so that they never forget that Jesus loves them. After their baptisms, they and a whole gaggle of children put their hands the water and remembered everyone that they too were baptized, they too were called by their names. Mary’s story is their story and our story too.
Whatever it is we think we are looking for, the Risen Jesus is what we need. He’s the only cure for hearts broken by sin and death. No matter how lost we are, he finds us. No matter how blinded we are by our tears, he sees us and calls us by name. Jesus defeated death so we don’t have to be afraid of it any more. He dismantled sin so we can dare to imagine a world of peace and justice, mercy and kindness and have the courage to work to make it so. He is alive and nothing can keep him from us. Jesus is God with us, God for us, God beside us. We may not recognize him, because he might look like the gardener, or our next-door neighbor, or the check-out clerk in the grocery store. Jesus our Risen Lord calls us by name, transforming our weeping into Easter joy, and our sadness into holy laughter.
Indulge me in a final joke. Did you hear the one about the two Roman soldiers guarding the tomb? The stone had been rolled away and the tomb was revealed as empty. One guard said to the other, “Well, now the only thing that’s certain is taxes.” April 15th is coming, maybe by then winter will be over. Amen

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville