THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
Isaiah 65: 17-25
Acts 10: 34-43
John 20: 1-18
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.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to lookinto 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,[b] “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 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.
My friends, welcome to Easter Sunday! Welcome to the celebration at the end of Holy Week.
Now, whether this has been an easy week for you or not, whether it has been a deeply reflective Holy Week or whether you have struggled to connect with the stories of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and now Easter Sunday, I am glad that you have joined us to celebrate in this Resurrection Sunday!
Welcome all of you to the most important day on the Christian calendar. The day we remember the Good News that our Lord Jesus Christ; who was put to death on Friday, rose from the grave as the first fruit of resurrection on Sunday morning.
Now really, if there’s a day that Presbyterians can shout for joy in church it’s today!
Today we celebrate the most important date in the Christian calendar.
Today we celebrate with the disciples the truth that “He is Risen!” that Mary has “Seen the Lord!”
We celebrate these things and we give thanks to Mary Magdalene, the very first witness of the resurrection! For, if it were not for Christ’s work in her life, none of us would be here as further witnesses to the glory of the resurrection: The joy of Easter morning.
But before we get there. We must understand where that morning started.
As John’s text begins this morning: the disciples are still enduring the painful events of the first Holy Week. They are still hiding in fear from the crowd that is searching for them, they are still reeling to understand Jesus’ teachings at the Last Supper, they are still no-doubt traumatized by the events of Good Friday; these 11 men are terrified and persecuted and exhausted – and then Mary Magdalene comes into the hiding place of Simon Peter and another disciple with more disturbing news:
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”
Instantly, a hundred questions begin to form: who has taken him? where? and why? Haven’t we been made to suffer enough?
The next scene that John describes is literally a running race between the two disciples and Mary as they all clamber and sprint after one another to reach the tomb first.
We have just heard John’s description of the scene:
The two disciples running to the tomb, them both looking inside and seeing Jesus’ wrappings but not the man Himself, they went away, back home, John tells us.
The two disciples saw what they saw, and they believed the Lord was gone, but they did not understand what was about to take place, and they did not stick around long enough to see for themselves.
The disappointed reaction of these disciples can tell us a lot about our own faith and our own ability to deal with confusing and difficult situations.
Like the disciples, we have all faced difficult situations: situations that trouble us, situations that disturb us, situations that sap the remainder of our energy – we have all faced these situations in our lives and have been given the choice: so what should we do? Do we stay here and cry or do we go home?
So I have lost my job? Do I stay here and cry or do I go home?
So my relationship has ended?
So one I loved dearly has died?
So they have taken my Lord, and I do not know where? Do I stay here and cry or do I go home?
Simon Peter and the disciple “whom Christ loved” went home. Mary stayed and cried.
The point of the difference in these reactions is not to say that one is better and the other worse.
The point is not to say that Simon Peter had less faith or were less brave than Mary, only that on this (and every) Easter Sunday we ought to be very thankful to a certain woman named Mary Magdalene for everything that took place afterwards. That if it was not for Mary’s tears and Mary’s witness, this story would be very different indeed.
After the two disciples went away to their homes, Mary remained, weeping and looked into the tomb; unlike Simon-Peter and the other disciple, Mary did not go home. She did not turn and give up on the tomb. Rather, she stayed and cried helpless tears. At least, she had the courage to do that.
and then two things happened very quickly:
She saw two angels standing in the tomb where Jesus had been laid who asked her why she was weeping.
After explaining why, she saw another figure, outside of the tomb.
Only, of course, it was no gardener at all but the risen Christ:
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,[b] “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 say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
In the great, wonderful, and strange story of the Gospels, how could it be any other way? That the first person to see Jesus risen from the grave would be Mary Magdalene: a woman not only so heartbroken at the death of her Lord, but also a woman who was not included in the group of “official disciples”? How could it be any other way? That the first person to see Jesus, risen in Glory on Easter morning, was the person who needed to see Him and have His encouragement more than any other?
So it was that Mary Magdalene became the first witness to the resurrection. The first person to see and believe that Jesus Christ, the same Jesus who took on the sins of the world on the cross on Good Friday, had returned to life on Easter Sunday in order to show us the way to eternal life!
Friends, we have heard the stories, not only in the Scriptures, but in the world around us, of dramatic and miraculous transformation to faith in Jesus.
We have heard about the man, alone in a flea-bitten motel room, who having run out of whiskey turned to the Gideon Bible in his nightstand.
We have heard about the “working girls” who have heard the Good News told to them by a street preacher who have turned it all around.
We have heard about those on the door of spiritual death who have finally let Jesus into their lives to heal them of their pain.
We have heard all of these stories, stories of the least of us being lifted high by the pure Grace and Love of God, and how have we reacted?
Well, if we are good, quiet Canadian Christians, we have probably reacted by saying something like “good for you.”
“That’s nice. Good for you.”
Friends, if there is one thing that John in his Gospel and Mary in her Witness and Jesus in his Resurrection want us to improve upon this Easter Sunday it is this:
That when we meet these people, when we meet these real-life Mary Magdalenes when we meet these people who have had a dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ, when we meet these people whose lives have been saved by the Grace of God, when we meet those who tell us their story.
Please don’t say “That’s nice”
Please don’t say “Good for you”
Not because it’s trite. Not because it’s rude. Not because it’s dismissive, but because it misses the point.
When you meet someone who tells you about their experience with the Risen Christ: about the time Christ saved them from certain doom, they are not telling you for their sake, they are telling you for yours.
Let me say that again: the one who goes around witnessing to the love and the grace and forgiveness they have found in the Risen Jesus Christ is not doing it for their sake, they are doing it for yours!
And Mary Magdalene was the first such witness.
Jesus instructed her: go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
And John proclaimed the truth that Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. Mary did not tell the disciples this for her sake but rather for their sake for the sake of all of humanity, who had just received their Messiah, risen from the grave!
Friends, the only reason any of us are here this morning is because of the Gospel witness of one Mary Magdalene.
A woman (supposedly) of a certain lifestyle and profession.
A woman who would make us uncomfortable in our quiet Christian, Canadian sensibilities, a woman we might respond to with only with a “that’s nice” or “good for you,” had we met her and heard her witness today.
Friends, I love preaching and witnessing and ministering here at the corner of 20th Street and Spadina.
I love the call to minister to the community that has been called by God to “be church” at the crossroads of these two very different streets and the two very different Saskatoons that they represent.
I love being in community with you wonderful and loving people.
I love serving alongside you hard-working and dedicated servants of Jesus Christ.
I love to be the Minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
But, my friends, I would not be giving an honest witness to God’s call if I said that we are already meeting His call for our church.
God has placed us at the corner of 20th Street and Spadina. God has placed us at the crossroads of what these names conjure in our minds: the Courthouse and the Lighthouse, the Bessborough Hotel and the 24hour Pawnshop.
God has placed us at the intersection of two worlds and asked us to do as Mary has done: to witness to the Love that caused Jesus to pour out his life for us on Friday and to rise again for our sake on Sunday.
And if we are to take this call seriously, if we are to be this witnessing community in this diverse and complicated place, then I ask you, myself, and all of us these questions:
Are we listening to the Mary Magdalene’s among us?
The Mary’s outside our doors, the Mary’s in our pews, the Mary’s within ourselves?
Are we giving enough attention to those (including ourselves) who have seen the Risen Christ with their very eyes? Are we listening to their words and are we tryingto believe?
Are we encouraging these voices to speak? Are we listening? Are we believing the Good News they are bringing for our own sake?
The beautiful thing about a church is that there is no fee for admittance. There is no dress-code, no secret password, nothing that should prevent someone from hearing the Word of God preached and the Sacraments rightly administered on Sunday morning.
The beautiful thing about a church is that it is the place where diverse witnesses cangather to tell one another their stories: their stories of Grace, their stories of difficulty, their stories of Resurrection, so that by experiencing the witness of each member, each member is equipped with greater knowledge and experience of God’s Love, and we can leave refreshed and refueled to witness once again!
The beautiful thing about a church is that we all are welcome to feast at the Master’s table and to receive bread and wine (bread and juice) without cost.
Friends, on the day that Mary Magdalene received her call to be the first witness to the resurrection the church was in a state of flux. Their Master gone and dead, the disciples had gone into hiding (fearing for their lives). Had it not been for the work and witness of Mary, the disciples might never have come to believe in the resurrection. The church, as it was then and is now, would never come to be, and we—none of us—would come to know that Jesus Christ went to the grave and came back to show us that God is Love.
The Good News of this Easter morning, of every Sunday morning when we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ is this:
Not only has Christ risen from the Grave.
Not only this, but Christ is in the world, Christ is in our lives. He is at work on 20th Street and on Spadina Crescent. He is at work in the lives of the rich and the poor. Those who suffer with too much and those with not enough. Christ is at work in the story of each person’s life; drawing them into relationship with Him, turning a light on in the darkness of every life, giving His peace to those with none, giving His call to all of us to witness to what has taken place in that tomb and in our hearts.
Friends, we each have some Mary Magdalene inside us. We each know what it is like to be un-included. We each know what it is like to stand crying at the mouth of the tomb, wondering what we are to do. And we each know that Jesus has taken a special interest in our lives; giving us faith, giving us a witness story to go and tell others about what we have seen. What is the story Christ has given you?
So for Christ our resurrected King, for the Mary of history, for the Marys on the streets around us, for the Marys within each of us, let us not be put to shame, but let us go out into the world to witness to the living and risen Christ that calls us to life eternal.
Let us return with sure faith to the one who says “He is Risen,” with the proper and joyful response “He is risen indeed”
And let’s start right now: “He is Risen”
“He is Risen Indeed!”