The last fifty days or so have shown us how traumatic events are constantly present in human history. We continue to be appalled by human cruelty and violence taking place in Ukraine, and we long for all humanity to live in love and peace. As Christians we pray for peace, and we work towards it. God loves us so much that He respects our freedom, allowing us to respond freely to His generous love. This is God’s love in action. Our Heavenly Father does not force us to respond, and even when we make a bad decision, or go down the wrong path, there remains an opportunity to turn around, and go the right way. In our readings over the last few days we have heard several examples of people going the wrong way, and making bad decisions. The Good News is the same today as when it was preached by St Peter in the first reading, that whoever believes in Jesus receives forgiveness in His name. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, and offers us new life.
We are so familiar with the events of Easter that it is easy for us to forget quite how dramatic they were for Jesus’ closest followers. Only a week ago He was hailed as the Messiah, and welcomed into Jerusalem like a King with branches of palm and olive, and shouts of ‘Hosanna!’. Within a few days Jesus has explained to the disciples that He must die. Christ has washed their feet, and celebrated the Eucharist. But then he is betrayed, arrested, tried, tortured, and killed. Everything had looked positive and hopeful, yet now His closest followers are confused, upset, and afraid. They are filled with grief and loss. At the same time they are worried about their own safety. Would the crowd turn on them as well for following Jesus? Are they about to be lynched?
In the dark, early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She wants to be close to Jesus. She loves Him, and longs for consolation in her grief. And then she sees the stone rolled away from the tomb.
‘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.”’ (Jn 20:2)
Mary’s first thought is that grave robbers have stolen Jesus’ body. Peter and John come running. John gets to the tomb first and sees the grave clothes, but does not go in. Peter, never one to hang back or do things in half measures, rushes in, and sees the grave clothes. Finally John goes in, and sees, and believes. John, the Beloved disciple, the one Jesus loved, and who loves Him, believes that Jesus has risen from the dead. Grave robbers don’t leave clothes covered in costly perfume. They would take them because they were valuable.
Mary is still overcome with grief. Her beloved teacher is dead, and someone has taken His body away. Even two angels are not able to console her:
‘She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”’ (Jn 20:13)
Even seeing God’s messengers has not helped Mary, she is consumed by grief.
‘Having said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.”’
Mary Magdalen supposes that Jesus is the gardener. In first century Palestine, just as in our parish today, graveyards and cemeteries had people looking after them. Mention of gardens and gardeners makes me think of another passage in the Bible concerned with matters horticultural. At the beginning of Genesis, God makes a garden, called Eden, and puts Adam in it, commanding him to look after it (Gen 2:15). Adam, the first man is a gardener. Likewise, the Risen Christ, the New Adam, is seen as a gardener. Whilst the first Adam brought death to humanity by a tree, Jesus, the Second Adam, has brought life to the world by the tree of the Cross. Humanity falls because of a tree, and because of a tree we are offered eternal life in Christ. Trees matter!
It was on the first day of the week, that Creation began, and now on the first day of the week we see a New Creation, as Christ has risen from the dead, and conquered Death and Hell. Christ is a gardener, and the plants he tends are human beings. We believe in a God who loves us, who cares for us, and who longs to see us grow and flourish.
Jesus greets Mary by name, and suddenly she recognises Him. Then Christ talks of His Ascension, as though forty days of Easter have condensed into a single moment. Mary now understands what she must do:
‘Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (Jn 20:18)’
Mary shares the Good News, just as Saints Peter and Paul in the first and second readings this morning. Likewise we are called to follow their example, and proclaim the Good News to the world. To tell how Jesus is risen from the grave, and that God offers new life to all who turn to Him. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, ‘Pasg hapus i chi gyd!’ ‘A Happy Easter to you all!’ May you, and those you love, be filled with Resurrection joy and strength, now and always. Amen.