1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18
April 5, 2015 Easter Sunday
Though “apostle” does have a broader meaning in the New Testament, it often indicates someone who announced that they were eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. Paul had this in mind when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9 that he was the last eyewitness of the risen Jesus and the least of the apostles.
In that sense, John 20:1-18 reports that Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the risen Jesus, the first one to announce his resurrection. Thus she is sometimes called the first apostle and the apostle to the apostles.
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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
In the middle of Mary’s story, we read that neither Peter nor “the other disciple” yet understood the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Yet “the other disciple” believed when he saw Jesus’ grave clothes in the tomb. I wonder what he believed and what he understood, and I wonder about Peter’s response.
In his Gospel, John is not trying to prove the reality of Jesus’ resurrection but to show it effect on those who have been encountered by the risen Jesus. Once seeing Jesus, neither they, nor we, can go back to normal.
Mary Magdalene is the only person named in the resurrection accounts of all four Gospels. While there is a lot of nonsense circulating about her to discount – that she was a prostitute or Jesus’ wife – one legend grew out of seeing her as the first apostle. She had an audience with Caesar Tiberius and brought an egg as a symbol of the sealed tomb from which Jesus rose. Tiberius said no one could return to life after Roman crucifixion any more than that egg could turn red, which it did as she held it, which is one reason we color eggs for Easter.
You may remember the song Mary sang in Jesus Christ Superstar, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” But love him she did. She was first at the tomb, probably with other women (“we do not know where they have laid him” v. 2). Her weeping was unfazed by the appearance of the angels (v. 13). With no consideration of practicality, she offered to take Jesus’ body away (v. 15).
For all that, she did recognize Jesus when he spoke her name (v. 16). She had heard him call her name before.
As a child growing up hearing this from KJV, when Jesus says, “Touch me not” (v. 17), I thought he was still wet like a new butterfly. But “do not hold on to me” is better. With her grief, Mary doesn’t want to let go of Jesus again.
Jesus could have appeared to Peter or the other disciple, but he chose this personal encounter with Mary, and she could never go back to normal; she must tell that she had seen the Lord.
Jesus made his choice personal by calling Mary by name. His personal relationship with her was central.
When he said not to hold onto him, he assured her he’d be there, and when he ascended to the Father, she’d be ready
The message Jesus gave Mary was also highly personal. Not tell “my disciples” but “my brothers.” Not just “my Father and my God” but also “your Father and your God.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, professor at Piedmont College and Columbia Theological Seminary, both in Georgia, tells of her childhood fascination with cicada shells as evidence a miracle had occurred. They looked dead but through the slit a living creature had escaped. She compared it to Jesus’ tomb which he outgrew. It was too small for his resurrection. The miracle was not in the tomb but his living encounters with people. (Christian Century, April 1, 1998, page 339)
Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary says the question we must answer about Jesus’ resurrection is not “Do you believe?” but “Have you been encountered by the risen Christ?” (Christian Century, March 13-20, 2002 p. 16)
Sometimes we talk about hearing God’s call to a ministry or to a vocation or location. But Jesus calls everyone’s name to recognize him as the brother with whom they share their Father and their God. Jesus is calling your name. Have you heard him? Once you do, you can never go back to normal. Since you can’t go back to normal, where are you going forward with the risen Jesus?
Jesus is calling your name to share resurrection life with him, not waiting for the sweet by and by, but now, starting today. Our world is infected with hostility and violence. Jesus is calling your name to be his presence of love and peace to people around you. Our world is infected by fear and anxiety. Jesus is calling your name to be his presence of faith and hope to people around you. Our world is infected with pain and grief. Jesus is calling your name to be his presence of healing and comfort to people around you. When you hear Jesus call your name you cannot go back to normal brokenness but move forward in his resurrection to exuberant wholeness.