Bishop Brian Cole reflects on the resurrection story from the Gospel of John, inviting us to walk into the darkness with Mary and to follow Jesus through the Easter story rather than attempting to control what Easter might mean for us.
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Gospel Passage: 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. 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.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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.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.’When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 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.” ’ 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.
Hi. I’m Bishop Brian. From the Gospel of John, we hear the Easter message. We hear an Easter message of resurrection. But if we’re not careful at times, we can hear it on autopilot. And we can imagine ourselves as really more people going to the tomb in order to pay our respects to the Christian tradition. But what we are called to do is to go with Mary Magdalene and to begin this journey in the dark. She’s going to the tomb, expecting to find a tomb, expecting to find death and death surrounded. But, she gets there and the tomb is broken and it’s empty.
That is a frightening way to begin Easter. And she’s willing to go back to that tomb and to take others with her and to wonder what’s there to realize its empty death has been evacuated. She goes and she takes others with her. And we hear in the gospel that someone sees an empty tomb and then they believe what is it that they are believing they’re simply believing that the tomb is empty, that what they expected to find isn’t there. That’s a kind of belief, a kind of early confession before the confession. But she goes back and she eventually encounters Jesus, but in a way that she can’t initially recognize friends.
That is the Gospel we need to hear now in 2022. With so much fragility in our world, we might find ourselves on autopilot simply thinking we’re on this journey to Easter. But we’re really about paying our respects to what was or what has been in the life of the church. But the gospel is alive and it’s active, and the Christ is being resurrected now.
So, you and I are invited to rise early in the dark, either in the actual dark or just a kind of emotional darkness and to go there early and to be open, to be surprised maybe even a little fearful, to find an emptiness, an openness, and then to realize in following Jesus, we are following Jesus, we’re not controlling Jesus. We’re not controlling what Easter looks like. We’re not controlling what resurrection looks like. Resurrection is real, but it begins with an opening and an emptiness. We linger in that emptiness. We take others to that emptiness. And they believe initially they simply believe it’s empty, it’s open. But the more we linger, the more our eyes adjust to what is. We begin to see things. We begin to see people. We begin to see the gardener. And we realize, no, that’s Jesus or the person we don’t expect. No, that’s Jesus. The resurrection is in our midst as we continue to journey into this Holy Week and into Easter.
Know that I continue to take such joy in serving with you as your bishop and walking with you in East Tennessee. There is much life emerging, but that life emerges often with openness with emptiness, with being expected to find death and to find life instead. Resurrected life. Life that can no longer be killed. That is the story of Jesus. That is the story you and I are called to proclaim and to proclaim that story for others. The Gospel is not just for us. The Gospel is for the world. The Gospel is for the hurting, the Gospel is for the suffering. The Gospel is there for those who need something to be opened who need to know that death does not have the last word. Death does not have the last word. Christ is risen. Amen.