Summary: Mary was so busy looking for a dead body that she almost missed the living Jesus!
In warmer climates this morning this is what’s happening: the Easter Egg Hunt. Look closely at the picture and count how many red Easter eggs you see. I’ll give you five seconds. (Then take the picture away.) So, how many children were in the picture? You have no clue do you? You weren’t looking for how many children there were, you were counting red Easter eggs! In our Gospel Lesson this Easter morning, Mary Magdalene did something similar as you just did. She was so focused on finding one thing, a dead body, that she remained blind to thing she really needed: a living Jesus. (Intro adopted from Kevin Ruffcorn.)
This pattern repeats itself every day. People are looking for happiness, peace, and joy and think they’ll find it if they can only get their hands on money, fame, or health. But what they should be looking for is a “who” not a “what.” Let me encourage you today to find everything you’re looking for in a living Jesus.
First a word about Mary Magdalene. She was an early follower of Jesus out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons. She was from the town of Magdala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and that’s why she was called Mary Magdalene, like we might call Miss Ingrid, “Ingrid the Edmontonian.” Mary was not just a follower of Jesus, she was also a supporter. She and other women cared for Jesus at their expense. Mary was there at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. She also watched as Joseph and Nicodemus place Jesus’ corpse into the tomb. Then she came back on Sunday morning with the other women to finish anointing Jesus’ body with spices.
However when they approached the tomb, they saw that the stone had been flung to the ground and that the guards were missing. While the other women went to investigate, it seems that Mary ran back to tell the disciples about the tomb. Peter and John went to investigate and found the tomb empty except for the strips of linen that had once bound Jesus.
By the time Mary got back to the tomb she was beside herself with grief. She wept and wondered, “Where have they taken Jesus’ body!” She ducked inside the tomb to look for herself and there she encountered two angels who asked: “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13a) Now the other women had reacted with fright when they encountered these angels—and as far as I can remember everyone else in the Bible reacts with fright to the presence of angels. But not Mary. It was like she was in a trance. She simply answered: “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13b).
Mary not only dismissed the angels’ presence, she didn’t bother to ponder what the linen between the angels meant. The head cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus was folded neatly to the side while the linen that had bound Jesus was not heaped in a jumbled mess as you would expect if someone had stolen the body and had bothered to unwrap it first. The linen was just “lying there” as if Jesus’ body had evaporated from it! But none of that made an impression on Mary. Then when Mary turned around and came face to face with Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. Even when Jesus said: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20:15) Mary didn’t recognize her Lord.
If you stick your head in a bag of dirty laundry, your whole world is going to stink. That’s kind of where Mary was at. She was so consumed with her grief at Jesus’ death, and she was so set on finding a dead body that she didn’t see the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection even though it was staring her in the face! The same can happen to us can’t it? Burnt toast in the morning, a flat tire on the way to work, a pop quiz at school, reoccurring migraines and arthritis, an argument with a loved one—any one of those things can send us into a spiral of doubt, depression, and anger so that we don’t see the many blessings that we still do have. We’re like the toddler who gets upset because Mom has taken away the empty apple sauce container he was playing with, but doesn’t see that she has replaced it with a full container! Likewise life’s challenges and pains are not evidence of the absence of God’s love. His love and his presence are still there, we just need to look to it!
But how do we do that if we can’t even see Jesus? Well how was it that Mary finally saw Jesus? It wasn’t with her eyes but with her ears! It was only when Jesus called her by name that her sadness turned to joy. Hasn’t this same Jesus called you by name? He did so at your baptism. And the best way to keep seeing Jesus is with your ears as you listen to his voice and believe the promises that he has given to you in his Word. That’s essentially what Jesus told Mary when he directed her not to cling to him, as if he were her personal teddy bear. (Joel Pankow) Jesus would not leave her again. It was OK if she lost sight of him when she ran back to tell the disciples the news. Jesus would continue to be with her even though she couldn’t see him. That was his promise. And this living Jesus is with you too even though you can’t see him with your eyes.