She stood lost in her own world. It was made up of sunshine and a rose bush. She stood before the bush contemplating the beauty of it. She looked at the deep red petals, overlapping each other. Bending forward, she placed her nose closely to the rose and inhaled. She stood straight again and kept looking at the bush with the beautiful flowers on it. That was all I saw of her. Until the light changed to green and the city bus I had been sitting on moved down the street to the next stop.
I hope she didn’t mind that I watched her private moment, but she caught my attention as I waited for the bus to move forward. I looked at her closely, for those few moments.
She had the worn-down appearance of a life that had been hard. You could see it on her skin, her hair, her body; that hardened look people get from years of stress, from poverty and malnutrition, from neglect. And yet she stopped to breathe in the shapes, colours, and aroma of the roses on that bush; a bush resplendent in colour in the middle of a concrete city.
I don’t know why she did it. But I would like to imagine that there must have been a moment of truth for her. Perhaps she thought as she stood there, looking at that rose bush, that there was in fact beauty and grace at the heart of the universe, despite all evidence she might have had to the contrary.
Today, as the sun shines, the buds grow on the trees, the crocuses poke their pale green shoots through the soil, the grass once brown and dead, comes to life, we celebrate Easter. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and in his resurrection we also celebrate our own – the end of our long winter.
Today, John today tells us this beautiful story of Mary Magdalene going to Jesus’ tomb and seeing that the stone had been rolled away. It was Mary who sought out Jesus again, if only to be close to where his body lay. Quite confused, probably also a little frightened, she runs to tell Peter and the other disciple that Jesus loved, that Jesus’ body has been moved. They run to the tomb and see the linen cloths used to wrap his body are lying empty.
Mary stays and encounters the angels who bring her the news. They sit like bookends where Jesus’ body used to be and they ask why she is weeping. Mary repeats her confusion over where the body of her friend and teacher might be. It is Mary, out of love, who keeps searching for Jesus.
Out of love, Jesus comes to Mary. In her grief and confusion, she does not recognize him. Jesus repeats the angels’ question, “why are you weeping?” She thinks he might be the one who moved her friend’s body. Only when he calls her name, “Mary!” does she recognize him.
Love searched for and found the object of its seeking. Mary and Jesus, we are told by John, have this intimate conversation together and Jesus tells Mary to “go to my brothers and tell them.” And Mary, lowly Mary Magdalene, marginalized by her own society and later by the church, it is she who goes and tells the good news to her brothers and sisters in faith: “I have seen the Lord.”
Today as we celebrate those words, “I have seen the Lord,” with Mary and all the disciples, we move from dark to light, from sinner to forgiven, from lost to found, and from dead to alive.
We have come today, not out of a sense of obligation or duty, but because we recognize that there is meaning and truth for us in the resurrection. With Mary and Jesus in front of the empty tomb, we recognize there is beauty and grace.
I suspect we know the truth of the resurrection because we have lived it ourselves. It is our hope for today and for tomorrow: for ourselves, for those we love, and for the world.
I would be so bold to say on this holiest day, on this day the Lord has acted, your lives are the best illustration.
When the tears finally stopped flowing after someone you loved died: friend, mother, sister, brother, father, child, and life went back to its own kind of normal.
When a child was born to you, or a grandchild, and you recognized the absolute blessing in that birth and in that little life.
When you had the strength to move from a broken relationship.
When you found forgiveness or gave it away.
When you helped heal a relationship.
When you gave something of yourself to another person, and in it you found something of yourself.
When you stood with the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless of this world and used your own shaky voice so their cause could be heard.
When you demanded change to unjust policies from government leaders.
When you gave your time and attention to the care of God’s earth.
When Love sought you out, found its way to you and you let it in.
That is risen life. And your lives are the best illustration, better than what I can come up with as a preacher.
That being said, I have one last story that I would like to share with you this morning.
Garfield Todd, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (what is now mostly comprised of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi), told of a harrowing experience of getting lost in the jungle. It was one of the most frightening experiences of his life.
It was just after the Second World War and, among other things, fencing wire was hard to come by. He had heard of used wire for sale at a distant ranch and went off to see if he could find some. He arrived at the ranch late in the afternoon, found the wire fence and started following it, to examine it before he put in a bid for it. Only it was later than he thought and almost in an instant he was covered in darkness. And because he had followed the meandering path of the wire fence, he had also lost his direction.
Although he walked and walked, trying to find his way, he had only moved deeper into the jungle. Todd realized in order to survive he had to keep following the fence and keep moving, keep walking, because as he tried to find his way again he could hear the sound of animals following him in the darkness. He also reasoned that if he followed the fence, at some point it would have to give way to a clearing and then hopefully he could get his bearings. He also knew and held out hope that his wife would be out circling the jungle in her car looking for him.
After the most horrendous night imaginable, at about dawn he mercifully stumbled into a clearing, then to a road. Shortly afterward he saw the lights of a car and his wife, Grace, appeared. Half frozen, exhausted, clothes torn and tattered, skin bloodied, Todd dropped at his wife’s feet. She fell to the ground and there they held each other and rejoiced.
You see, love had persisted all night. While love was trying to find its way out of darkness; love was also diligently searching for the one in darkness.
You see, of all powers, love is the most powerful: it moves mountains, it changes hearts and lives, it grows a seed, and it brings new life.
Today, as we celebrate the truth that Jesus lives, let us walk out into the clearing, knowing that love has found us. Today, let us walk out of the tomb and into the light of the One who invites us into risen life with him.
Pr. Katherine Altenburg