Go with me to the garden for a moment. It’s first thing Sunday morning. The sun has just broken over the eastern horizon, the dew is still on the roses, the birds are singing their morning praise songs and we are crunching along the stone path to Jesus’ grave to anoint His body properly. It was a holiday weekend, the biggest there is, but it certainly didn’t feel like a holiday weekend! None of the food tasted any good; it was filled with tears of mourning. Everything we had ever hoped for, dreamed of, talked about, loved… died on Friday afternoon. We have nothing to celebrate right now. But, as much as we dislike it, life goes on, and there are things to be done; dishes to wash, laundry to fold. But there is one small bright spot to our day this Sunday. We get to go visit Jesus’ body one last time. Touch His hands and His feet – anoint Him. So here we are on the path in the garden on what is by far the most beautiful morning we’ve seen in ages. Everything seems alive and vibrant and fresh today, I wonder why. I turn to you in concern, “Oh no! How are we going to roll that huge stone away from the tomb? There’s no way we’ll be strong enough to do it! Those are next to impossible to move!” But you reply, “God will make a way for us. Have faith.” “Just like Mary,” I think to myself, “always faithful. God bless her, she’s right, God will bless us in our efforts, He will make a way for us to honor His son and anoint Him.” But then we see it! His tomb, it’s already open! “Wow! God REALLY made a way!” But as we approach we start to sense something amiss, where’s Jesus’ body!?! As we become a flurry of confusion and grief and anger and voices, two men with clothes like lightning appear standing next to us, startling us to silence and immediate prostrate positions of humility with our faces to the ground. (It was either that or faint I think!) The angels questioned us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He’s not here! He is risen!…” As an unexplainable joy floods our souls and brings us back to the living, the angels remind us of Jesus’ words “…crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Oh how could we have forgotten? We run the entire way back to the house where the disciples are, the birds’ songs cheering us on, urging our feet to move faster. When we arrive our excitement streams through our lips as fast as we all can speak, causing dazed, shocked, confused, angry and hopeful looks on everyone’s faces. None of them know what to think, could it really be true? Can our hopes still be alive? What is happening? Was it thievery or a miracle? Can it really be true? Peter, not wanting to be left out of the action I’m sure, returned to the tomb to investigate, running the entire way. Breathing heavily he entered the tomb to find all the wrappings of death discarded carelessly, and the napkin from His head folded carefully, signifying that He was not finished and that he would return. Not quite knowing how to deal with all this extraordinary information Simon Peter went away to think and pray, but you, Mary, you stayed. You couldn’t bear to leave could you? Your grief and confusion is so complete so consuming that you simply couldn’t leave the last known residence of your Lord and love Jesus of Nazareth. He saved you from a horrible life of torment didn’t He? Those demons had plagued you night and day, filled your head with criticisms and self-doubt, fears and pain unimaginable. But then Jesus came along didn’t He? He freed you from all of it! The pain, the shame, the torment, the fear, all gone the instant He touched you. It must have been amazing! Obviously it was because you haven’t left His side since, even in death, you’re still here at His grave – waiting. Crying because you don’t know what’s happening. But more than that, because you don’t know where He is. All you know is that He’s not with you and the pain that that is causing you is worse than anything the demons ever did. Your love for Jesus is so pure that nothing can stop you from wanting Him; His presence in your life, His love in your life, His grace in your life. You miss Him like nothing you’ve ever known. And as you’re standing there wailing beside the tomb, you just have to look upon His last resting place one more time. But this time there are two angels sitting there. And right now you are too grieved to care that there are two supernatural beings speaking to you. “Woman, why are you crying?” they ask. You sob, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put Him!”
Mary, when everyone else left Him, you stayed. When everyone else pondered, you grieved. Maybe you didn’t understand what was really happening, or maybe you understood better than anyone else. Either way, I can’t imagine what it felt like to be there that morning. In that new day air, your eyes brimming with tears saw a man standing near Jesus’ grave. “Maybe he knows where Jesus is.” Perhaps that’s what you thought when you asked Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.” Perhaps, at that moment in the garden, Jesus looked so much like His father that that’s why you mistook Him for the gardener. Oh, but no tears or choking sobs of grief could disguise His voice from you could it? No. Just as the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, all it took was for Him to say one precious word, your name. “Mary”. And reality came crashing through your tears. He is HERE! He is ALIVE! He is speaking YOUR name! He knows your grief, He knows your pain and He came to you first to end that anguish in your soul and replace it with joy and hope and fire. All with a single word, your name. Because He knows your name, it’s written on the palm of His hand.
Oh how desperately you wanted to cling to Him, to talk to Him, to hang on His every word and bask in His luminous personality. But alas, just as you could not hang onto your grief this morning because you had work to do, that same is true now. You can not hang onto your joy because there is work to do. OH! But the work that there is to do! It too is joyful. “You Mary”, Jesus explains, “have to tell the others. You must spread the good news! You (a woman, which means they may not believe you) must tell everyone that I am alive, you have seen me, and that I am returning to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God. No Mary, you may not stay longer here with Me, I know you want to, but there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now, people need to know what has happened and what will happen. I will come again, and we will be together, so be patient. Until that time, tell everyone the good things I have done for you for My glory. O blessed one.”