Have you ever lost something that was precious to you and just about the time you have given up hope of ever finding it, it suddenly shows up. The relief and excitement at recovering the lost article is enough to brighten any day. This is such a common experience to people that Jesus used this illustration several times in his teachings: the woman who loses a coin, a shepherd who loses a sheep, and even a man who loses a son. Loss is part of the shared human experience.
This year, most of us are feeling loss with an intensity we have seldom experienced before. Most of my friends are either clergy or musicians. We live in front of a live audience for a good part of our life. That evaporated and is just now beginning to come back slowly and with many changes. Many of you may have lost a feeling of freedom and security. The ability to go where you want, when you want, hug who you want, sing when you want, share a meal with others when and where you want. I suspect, this year, more than most I am ready for Easter. I am ready for Resurrection and I suspect you are too.
In our gospel reading today the people in the story believe they have lost someone very precious to them. They have lost their friend and teacher who has been the center of their lives. Jesus has been their life. Despite his constant attempt to prepare them for what he knew would happen, they refused to accept the idea that he would not always be with them. When he was arrested, tried, condemned as a traitor, and crucified, they fled in fear, confusion, and sorrow. Joseph of Arimathea, understood death. A discrete follower of Jesus before his death, he stepped up and claimed Jesus’ body after the crucifixion and placed it in the tomb he recently had built for himself. The tomb was then sealed with a large stone disc which was rolled in front of the entrance. All of this happened, very hurriedly, just before the Sabbath.
Sunday morning before the sun came up, Mary Magdalene and some other women went to Jesus’ tomb, bringing some spices to anoint his body as was the custom. When they got there, the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Imagine the surprise and the grief of these women. First their beloved teacher is taken from them by death, and now even his body has been taken. Jesus had told them he would rise again on the third day, but in their grief they had forgotten it. Even those who had witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus, were unprepared for the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Their process of grief has been interrupted by this unexpected occurrence.
They run to tell Peter, and the other disciples. Peter, and another disciple, probably the young John, set out to see for themselves what has happened. As they approach the tomb the two men break into a run and the other disciple gets there first. The women appear to be following behind them. As the first disciple approaches the tomb, he peers cautiously inside and sees the grave wrappings rolled up having been set on the ledge where Jesus’ body should have been. He is frightened and bewildered and does not go in. Impetuous Peter goes right in to check things out for himself and the other disciple follows behind him. They can see that Jesus’ body is missing and that his burial cloths are still there, but at this point, they leave saddened, confused, perhaps angry, but it doesn’t yet click for them what has happened.
Mary Magdalene, remains by the tomb. The presence of Jesus seems to cling to this place, and even though she knows the tomb is empty, she longs to be near the memory of his presence. The others have gone, but she can’t bear to leave. She peers in the tomb, as though perhaps if she just looks one more time, he will be there. Instead she sees two angels casually seated on the ledge that had once held Jesus’ body. “Why are you weeping?” they asked? Didn’t they know? Didn’t they understand that the most important person in her life had just been taken from her? She turns away and there is another man behind her. He asks her the same thing “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
Mary cries out to the man she assumes is there tending the graves. “Have you moved him? Please tell me where you have taken him. I will take his body.” Perhaps Joseph didn’t want Jesus in his tomb; perhaps the Romans had said he could not be laid there. Where was her precious Jesus? The man speaks her name “Mary.”
It is incredible how much is conveyed in the human voice. While Mary did not recognize the physical body of Jesus, she would always know his voice. “Teacher!” Mary rushed to put her arms around him, but he held her at a distance. “I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and tell the others, I am ascending to my Father, your Father, my God, your God.”
Mary rushed back to the others, being the first to share the good news, “Alleluia, our Lord is Risen!” This was good news. This was the best news she had ever experienced and she could not wait to tell those whom she loved. If Mary had lived today, she probably would have tweeted everyone on her contact list and the news would have gone viral in a few minutes. But then again, it would have been forgotten a few minutes later when some other world shattering news hit social media.
God knew what he was doing when Jesus came two thousand years ago. The Good News was spread person to person, with relationships built and strengthened as people shared their stories and experiences of Jesus. Two men walking down the road toward Emmaus shared it with a stranger, who happened to be Jesus himself. Peter shared it in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and three thousand people embraced the Good News and began sharing it with other people.
The Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost experience changed Christianity for the about 120 followers of Christ. I am sure for many of them, they longed for the days when they could sit at Jesus’ feet and just listen to him. Now they were the teachers. Christianity was moving and spreading in new ways, embracing new groups of people, and facing new challenges.
If COVID 19 has taught us anything I hope it is that Christianity is not about our buildings. Christianity is not about which songs you sing, what instruments you play or what clothes you wear. Like the early Christians who found life had changed after Jesus’ resurrection, yet Jesus and his teachings had not. We too must revision the life of our congregations in this new world, but our purpose has not changed. Christianity is about sharing that Jesus whom we love was once dead, but is now alive and has promised that we too can overcome death and experience resurrection. Our lives will not end when our days here on earth run out. We will not cease to exist, but will be transformed.
This is the Good News. This is what we are called to proclaim to everyone we meet. Halleluiah! Christ is Risen!