It was still dark when Mary went to the tomb, as recorded in this year’s Easter Gospel. In truth, for Mary Magdalene, it had been dark since Friday when Jesus died on Calvary hill. When Jesus gave up his last breath, Mary’s hope died, and darkness took over.
And what Mary saw at first was not hope but an empty tomb. Her first thought was that someone had stolen the body. Mary goes into the tomb. She sees the clothes, but unlike the disciples she sees two angels, and then a man who she takes to be the gardener. “Where have you taken him?” she wails. It’s not the gardener. He calls her by name – “Mary.” She is stunned – and responds “rabbouni,” which is probably her pet name for Jesus. And in her excitement and relief – and this flood of hope – she does what any of us would do – she rushes to hug him.
“Don’t touch me,” he commands, which is his unexpected, and disturbing, response. Jesus will give us his life – and through that life will give us more hope than we can absorb– but he will not let us cling to him – no matter how desperate we might want to do so. And that is also how it usually works – we want to hold on to him, to keep him in a special place; and manage his coming and going. And he won’t have it. He keeps moving – from life to death – to life again, but new life in a new form. We can’t capture him – in a tomb, or in our pocket – or in our carefully crafted theology.
Mary wants Jesus the way he was, which is a desire that we can all understand, and perhaps all share. And he won’t have it. Jesus has risen into a new life. Light has come out of darkness; a savior his risen out of our disappointments. He keeps moving, and he wants us – not to cling, but to follow. Which means that we need to keep moving too. It is not that we need to keep hold of Jesus, but to develop confidence in his hold of us. And follow him into the world’s darkness – again and again, armed only with the light of the resurrection. It is transforming work.
Several times during his remarkable three-year ministry Jesus stands in the face of reality as we know it and challenges people to get up and get a move on: to the centurion’s daughter, he says “Little girl, I tell you, Arise”; to the paralytic he says, “Pick up your pallet and walk;” and to his dear, dead friend, Lazarus, he shouts, “Lazarus, come out. Unbind him, and let him go.” With the Easter story, that challenge is given to all of us. Get up and get moving.
The purpose of the Resurrection is not to show what spectacular displays God can pull off – so we can festoon him in glory, but is an event that is meant to provide hope for the world. For that hope to take hold, we need to participate. We need to get moving by daring to find the Resurrection light in our own darkness – in the tombs of our disappointment, and then taking that light, that God-given light – into the world’s garden and making it better. God gets it started, but you and I provide the increase. We provide the increase by planting and weeding and feeding – and caring and witnessing and advocating and reconciling.
That Resurrection light will probably go out – or at least it will seem that way, because we will forget where it came from, or the darkness will come over us again and blind us to everything but disappointment. Or we will lose interest in the light, or get fed up with the garden. God knows all that. And God keeps a hold on us through his son. And he will find us – in whatever tomb we have gotten stuck in, because he knows where we are, even though we may not know that ourselves. And keeps calling us – by name, out of the darkness into new life. And challenges us to get up – and get moving -- in the name of Christ.