For most of Jerusalem, Sunday arrived like every other Sunday. The sun came up, the merchants went to their stores and began bringing out their baked goods and fresh fruit, fish and fowl, woven goods and exotic spices. The sounds and smells of the shops mingled with the clattering of the hooves of Roman horses and the clank of Roman swords as soldiers patrolled the streets of the holy city. In an upper room, a group of Galileans awoke from their troubled sleep, uncertain of what the day would bring.
The women got up first. They had work to do and they wanted to get it done early. Their friend and teacher Jesus had been executed just before the Sabbath and had been hurriedly placed in the tomb without the proper anointing. The rules of the Sabbath prevented them from taking care of it during the day on Saturday, and it was too dangerous to go to the tombs at night. But now, just as the pink glow of the sun broke over the horizon, they had a job to do.
As they walked they talked among themselves. Hopefully the Roman soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ tomb would allow them to go in to take care of him. Perhaps they could even convince a couple of them to roll back the large stone disc that sealed the tomb and kept animals from disturbing the dead.
As the women got near the tomb they suddenly realized that the soldiers had fled and the tomb stood wide open. Where was Jesus? Why did someone open the tomb? What had they done with his body? His death had been hard enough, but now were they even going to be denied giving him a proper burial?
According to Mark, at this time, the women entered the tomb. It is not a very big place. It is a hole, perhaps four feet high, dug out of the side of the hill. There is a narrow walk way where 2-3 people can stand and on either side ledges have been created by not digging out the rock all the way to the ground. Here, on one of these two ledges Jesus had been lain, but as they enter the tomb they see a young man dressed in white sitting on the ledge on the right.
It seems the normal response upon seeing a heavenly being is alarm and the first words out of their mouth is always “Do not be afraid.” The messenger tells them to go find Peter and the others and tell them that Jesus is going to Galilee and will meet them there. Mark tells us that the women were so frightened that they fled and told no one what they had seen.
But apparently they did eventually tell Peter and John. In the Gospel of John we are told that they tell Peter and John someone has taken Jesus’ body and they do not know where he has been moved. Peter and John run to the tomb with the women following behind. John, being the younger gets there first and just peaks into the tomb where he sees the burial clothes lying on the ledge. Peter is bolder and steps into the tomb and sees not only that the linen cloths that covered his body are lying on the ledge, but the wrapping that had been around Jesus’ head is rolled up and laid to one side.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he instructed his family and friends to unbind him and set him free. Perhaps the angels unwound the wrapping from Jesus’ head, or perhaps Jesus just walked out of them like he walked through the close door where the apostles were gathered a few days later.
It didn’t hit Peter and John right away what had happened. We are told they turned around and went back home, leaving Mary Magdalene there crying in the garden. Mary goes in for another peek. Perhaps she just couldn’t believe that he was gone. Perhaps if she looked just one more time he would be there. This time there were two angels sitting inside the tomb. They ask her why she is crying. Who is she looking for? She begs them, “Please, They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.” She hears someone walk up behind her. She turns and a man asks her the same question. Why are you crying? Who are you looking for? Thinking the man to be the gardener she pleads with him, “Please tell me where you have taken him, I will take him away.” They are poor. Jesus was poor, but he had been laid in a tomb prepared for a wealthy man. Perhaps she thought it had been a mistake and they had moved him. She would see that he was properly cared for. Then the man speaks her name, “Mary.”
It is amazing how distinctive a voice can be. Mary did not recognize Jesus as he stood in front of her. I don’t know what was different about him, but his voice had not changed. Immediately she calls out “Teacher” and starts to hug him. He tells her not to hold on to him as he has not yet ascended to his Father, but to go and tell the disciples that he is ascending to his Father, her Father, his God, her God.
This time Mary goes to the disciples and has Good News. I have seen the Lord. He is alive!
It is interesting that Jesus appears first to Mary rather than to Peter and John. Women were not allowed to testify in court in first century Roman provinces. They were considered foolish and prone to fantasy. If the Evangelists intended to make up stories to support their case that Jesus had risen from the dead, the last thing they would do would be to have Jesus appear to a woman first. The improbability of it is a testimony to its accuracy.
The only proof I can offer to you that the Resurrection is real is the testimony of the lives it changed. In the first days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples behaved like fugitives, laying low. Fifty days later, Peter is preaching in Jerusalem to an audience of several thousand people. The apostle Paul was going door to door, much like the Nazis did in Germany persecuting the Jews, Paul was arresting anyone found to be Christian and hauling them before the magistrates. After a blinding experience on the road to Damascus he saw the light and became the loudest voice for Jesus from Jerusalem to Rome. James, the brother of Jesus had believed he had gone mad and tried to drag him back to Nazareth while Jesus was on the road preaching, soon after the Resurrection became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Others throughout history have had life changing experiences some before and some after becoming Christians. The Roman Emperor Constantine opened the door for the open acceptance of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire after believing that Christ had come to him in a dream. Martin Luther experience Christ in a thunderstorm. John Wesley had his heart strangely warmed. Many of you have experienced healings, gifts of joy in the midst of tribulation, and other manifestation of the love of God through Christ. If you have experienced the Good News of the Resurrection share your experiences with others.
If you, like Mary believe you are sitting in the garden and God is painfully absent from your life, take time to listen. Listen, listen for the voice of your Lord as he calls your name, speaking words of comfort and then let the world know that Jesus is alive.
Alleluia! He is risen!