Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and sisters and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
A debate exists among biblical scholars regarding Mary’s identity. Various gospel accounts of Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany (that is, Martha and Lazareth’s sister) pose this question: Are Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany the same Mary? Fascinating commentaries exist on either side of this debate. Lucky for you, I won’t be going deep into that rabbit hole this Easter, but I do think Mary’s identity is important. Why? Because Mary is the first evangelist known on earth. The first to see a vision of good news and spread it to others. The first to say, “I have seen the Lord!” Her purpose in this story is powerful not only as the first evangelist, but also as the woman who lingered long enough to see things clearly. Mary’s patience is what gives us all a first glimpse of resurrected vision.
It’s easy for us to read this story backwards. We know the ending. We have the ascension story in mind- so we often race to the finish rather than linger in the emotions of uncertainty Mary must surely have felt.
Mary is the only disciple in this gospel account who comes early and stays late; The other disciples saw the tomb was empty and left, but Mary remains; her presence at the tomb makes this story what it is today: a story of resurrection vision. Who knows how many tears she has shed by the time her eyes catch a glimmer of white from inside the tomb! Who knows how many fears have crossed her mind before she sees two angels, who accompany her grief! Who knows the depth of sorrow and pain she holds, before Mary’s vision begins to clear! Who knows the patience in her soul as she waits on her Lord!
Patience is precisely what Mary teaches us from the first time she enters the gospel. For today, let’s run with the theory that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are one and the same. Do you recall the story early this Lent of Mary and Martha? Martha, an enneagram two, was upset with her sister for her lack of productivity. And Jesus takes Mary’s side. Mary exudes patience and presence. Willing to enter the moment with someone, never too busy to linger. And it pays off.
It’s in her lingering at the tomb when Mary sees Jesus. It’s in her patience that Mary encounters Christ. It’s in her willinging to live into the unknown, to not have all the answers just yet, that gives Mary the first human experience of resurrected vision. Mary is good at lingering, and because of it, she is the first to spread the good news: Christ is alive!
This past year has been filled with opportunities for lingering (that’s the positive spin); we’ve had challenges that require patience; pain that involves a deeply felt uncertainty. Which is why Mary the Evangelist is the perfect person to point us to Christ this Easter. Mary shows us the way to receive resurrected vision. How? We wait.
How do we see life beyond pain? We wait for a vision.
How can we envision hope for a life-affirming future? We linger in the unknown.
How might we trust what we cannot see? We practice patience today, and tomorrow, and every day.
This could be the hardest part of a life of faith- waiting.
In her lingering at the tomb, I wonder if Mary thought back to the moment Jesus revived her brother Lazareth- and clung to what Jesus had taught her and Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
I think she did, I think resurrected vision had become a part of her identity, and I bet that belief gave her the fortitude to see beyond her own pain.
I wonder: was Mary the kind of believing heart Christ was waiting on to reveal himself resurrected for the first time?
At once she turns around to face the one for whom she weeps. And Jesus addresses Mary, the first human on earth to hear the voice of the resurrected Lord. It’s the intimate moment in which Jesus calls her by name that Mary proclaims, “Teacher, it’s you!” All that waiting, all the weeping, are worth it in that single moment.
She knows it's him. She knows that the person she places her faith in hasn’t abandoned her after all. He's really alive! Not only does she hear the voice, but she sees Jesus' risen body! “I have seen the Lord!”
Do you know this truth in your life? Have you been able to see God at work, even in the difficult parts of life? Make no mistake, resurrected vision is not seeing life through rose-colored glasses. In fact, resurrected vision is often curated in environments of deep grief, IF we are willing to linger long enough to see things clearly. To see ourselves reflected in the life of Christ.
This is hard work, especially when pain clouds our vision. If you’re in that position today, I invite you to rely on the faith of others. The next time you feel out of touch with your Lord, whatever the reason may be, remember Mary weeping at the tomb. Remember Mary lingering, insisting on hearing good news. Remember the new life Mary receives when she utters this profound truth: “I have seen the Lord.” That is the moment Mary the evangelist gives a testimony of new life, both Christ’s and her own. Hope made real in connection with a redeemer who can be counted on to show up. This is resurrected vision: seeing hope beyond our pain.
This Easter, you may feel the relief and excitement of Mary- bearing witness to a beloved teacher and friend who has not abandoned you after all. Or perhaps you are one of the disciples who see the empty tomb and believe, but are still waiting for another encounter with the living God. Maybe you’re like many of the disciples who stayed home from the tomb in grief, and are relying on the faithful testimony of others to embolden your own. Perhaps you're a bit confused, because this living God sure hasn’t been showing up lately in your life. It could be you know this story so well- that you’ve become dull to the truth that it matters for you- TODAY! Wherever you are in your story with Christ- TODAY we are all offered resurrected vision…the chance to both receive and give the Good News like Mary, “I have seen the Lord! Guess what! He came back from death to bring new life to us all."
No matter what burdens this earthly life may hold, we are not beholden to them! The power of the resurrection is that we belong to Jesus, our identity is secure in faith that he is a God of new life! And our vision is resurrected by this truth: there’s real hope beyond our pain. Amen.
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.