It’s always the women who go.
In all four gospels the women pick their way back down the path to where Jesus’ body lay in the rock, wrapped in cloth: like when he was a baby. Birth and death are so closely linked, don’t you think?
Perhaps that is why it’s the women who go. Or maybe it’s because it’s the women’s job to do this kind of work: the fleshy work – the stuff of birth and death, of mess and cleaning. Women relegated to the intimate work of touch and smell. Women who risk their bodies to bring life, now show up to tend to death.
But death isn’t what Mary, and the others find at all and this is the surprise non-ending to this story. Jesus isn’t there. Surprise! There is no body to be tended, there is no cleaning to be done here. No need to put spices on a body that will not smell after all.
The men do come, they run in fact, to see, to confirm what they have already been told - that Jesus isn’t there. But they go home once they know for sure that it’s true.
And in tonight’s Gospel, Mary stays, she holds vigil to her grief and the loss that she has just experienced, first with Jesus’ arrest on Maundy Thursday, then when he died on the cross and now, Jesus’s body is not where she expected it to be, the body is gone, and she weeps. The only thing to be done today is that of grief and loss and weeping. And that is when she learns that she is not alone – there, with the dazzling figures or the gardener, or the angels, depending on the version you are reading, is the very one she is looking for. Now the work is to take it all in.
Nothing is as it was before – nothing is following the script that she has been given.
Here is hope and the ridiculous notion that Jesus remains, that love is alive, that we are not to hold on to what we knew before because love has the possibility to change everything.
In my experience, it is often the marginalized voices, the people that we push to the side, those who allow themselves to feel, who show up to do the work that none of the rest of us wants to do - who are the first to see where possibility lies and who are most open to the ridiculous notion of hope. Like the women – like Mary.
Don’t hold on to me, Jesus tells her. I’m not here for long and I’m not here in the ways that you have known. Don’t hold on to what you knew before – look for possibility, for ways to take me seriously, to change the systems that oppress, to open your hearts to strangers, to love with wild abandon.
And I have gone on ahead to show you the way. Tell the others. Jesus loved his friends and loves us – and it is what we are made to do, when we aren’t restricted by the voices around us that put us into nice safe roles with specific jobs.
Of course, I’m reading into Jesus’ directive not to hold on to them, because of how I read the Gospels, because of what I understand the message of his life to be. But stay with me on this.
We do not have to give up our lives to systems that imprison us, to roles that are made for us, to the expectations of others. Those ways of being can die and we can rise with Jesus, to a new way. To a new way of justice making and loving our neighbour. We can work together to create a new heaven and a new earth, here and now.
I asked this question at the 10:30am service a couple of weeks ago, but I want to ask it here too: As we begin to see the implications of the vaccine roll out and as hope is on the horizon. As there is some possibility of emerging from our homes sometime in the not-so-distant future: what do we want to be different because of what we know now?
Specifically, what does the hope of the One who Loves you into being, mean for you in your life? And how will you live into it? What does resurrection look like for you?
In some ways we might feel as though we are still in the darkest days, still waiting for new life to appear. Our numbers aren’t good, and we are back in a circuit breaker – lock down. And maybe, this is exactly the time to talk about hope and light and possibility. And empty tombs And liberation.
This pandemic had lifted the veil for us on a number of things, it has exposed for us who in our world does the work that the rest of us don’t want to, who is the most vulnerable and whose voices we need to hear. It might tell us something about who we would send to the tomb to clean the body – and do we listen? Have we heard?
I want to suggest that there is hope in listening to those voices. I want to remind us that new life – the potential for a new way of being is all around us and that Jesus is right here, right now, with us – bursting through the chains of our assumptions and holding out new ways of being, if we, like Mary, would only look up past our expectations of what we think we know, to what is possible.
Because that’s the thing about God. If we learn anything from the Jesus story and maybe even from the Bible as a whole, it’s that God will not be contained by our assumptions or our egos or our expectations of whose work is what.
God, loves us into life and this story about the empty tomb, reminds us that life is all around us, we just have to see it and then tell others about it. Like Mary or the other women who go to tell their friends that Jesus is not, in fact in the rocks, where they had left him.
And who has to tell them again that they left too soon, if they had stayed just a little bit longer, they would have seen for themselves that love was not contained, that it could not be contained. That love never dies. And of course this isn’t the last chance that have to see Jesus, they will make sure that the point of all of this, is made clear in the coming days, As is Jesus’ way – our expectations have been disrupted, Jesus remains with us and goes ahead of us – we might just need to look a little bit harder, beyond what we think we know and we might need to listen a little better, to the voices that we choose to ignore.
Because friends, ours is a faith built on hope, grace and redemption. We follow one who loves all of us and cannot be contained by our expectations or our rules, who longs for liberation for every single one of us. That is the hope of Easter. That is the story that we called to stake our lives on. That this work does not just belong to any one of us or one particular group, but it is our work together. And God is longing for us not to cling to ways that we have been or what we thought we knew, but to hold those expectations lightly and to move towards this new way of being and to live into this hopeful love that we receive in Jesus and witness in the resurrection. Witnessed by Mary and the others.
I found these words in my daily prayer book and maybe they are a good way to end this reflection:
Clarence Jordon, co-founded of Koininia Farm, wrote, “The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner[s]…with him.
That is good news indeed.
 Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro. Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervann, 2010. 217