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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

John 20:1-18 Mary and Jesus
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
April 11, 2004

Mary looked into the tomb. And where the disciples had seen linen burial cloths, she saw angels. And the angels spoke to her. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
And she said, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.”

Then Mary turned around, and the gardener was there. And he asked her the same thing: “Woman, why are you weeping?” And she said, “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.”

There has been so much written and said lately about Christ’s suffering, and about Christ’s Passion. But here on the other side of the cross, the Resurrection side, the roles are switched. We read about Mary’s suffering, and Christ’s healing compassion. On Easter morning, instead of telling about the pain Jesus endured for our sake, the Bible tells us what to look for in our pain. Angels in disguise. Jesus in the flesh. Like Mary, we may not be able to physically touch him. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Jesus is. Jesus is alive. Jesus is here. And nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


The churches in our neighborhood (a few miles south of here) have gotten into a sign-off. They’re having a theological battle of the marquees, and I’m afraid it’s going to turn ugly. The churches are around the corner from each other, so someone passing by only one of them wouldn’t see the escalating cold war.

Three weeks ago, the Church of God of Prophesy had on their sign, “Salvation was costly for Jesus, but it’s free for you.” The next day, the United Methodists made their sign say, “Salvation is free, but discipleship is costly.” Two weeks ago, the Prophesians’ sign said, “Spring is God’s greeting card.” The next day, the Methodist sign read, “Every sunrise is God’s Easter greeting.” But this past week, the gloves came off when Prophesians struck a preemptive blow. On Palm Sunday afternoon, a week before Easter, their sign said, “He is risen!” I kept waiting for the Methodist sign to say, “He rose here first!”

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and realized that Jesus’ body was gone. So she ran and told Peter and John. It’s not the first competition between the disciples. They were always wondering who was going to be #1 and sit at Christ’s right hand, and who would be #2 and sit at the left. The Bible says they start out together, but John outruns Peter and reaches the tomb first. But he only stays by the door and peeks in. Peter catches up and is the first to go in. And the winner is…? Well, not really either of them. For all their racing, all they see the are empty clothes of death. They see and believe that he’s gone, but that’s all. They turn around and go home, still not understanding.

Easter is a sign from God. But it’s a sign that has nothing to do with who sees it first, or which church’s trumpets blow the loudest, or whose catchy marquee catches the most visitors this morning. Easter is a sign from God that it doesn’t matter whether you’re the fastest, or the best, or The Donald’s hand-picked Apprentice. The Bible has the disciples race to a dead heat in order to show us that when it comes to Easter, the victory isn’t ours.

We create a lot of our own pain by racing to be #1. We hurt ourselves by worrying over whether we have the right clothes or the coolest friends or the juiciest information. And yes, the world looks at those things. But the truth is, for all our efforts, most of the time the world just drives right on by, never slowing down enough to get to know us, and to learn to love what’s behind the outer signs. So we medicate ourselves to the dull the pain. We hurry home before anyone sees us cry. We can wrap ourselves in the finest of linen cloths, but in the end it may turn out that the cloths are all they see.

Easter is the sign that our souls don’t have to hurt anymore. Easter is the glorious sign that the race to God is officially over. Because God has broken the rules. God has stepped over the finish line from the opposite direction. God has broken the biggest rule of all, the rule of death. And the end of death means infinitely more than the uselessness of linen cloths. It means life.


Mary from Magdala is brave enough, or hurting enough, to look a second time into the tomb of death. And where before there were rolled up cloths, now she sees angels. Angels who wonder why she’s crying. Angels to whom she must have been as strange as they were to her. For both, this was the first sign of life breaking through from the other side.

Mary is brave enough, or hurting enough, that she’s willing to break the age-old taboo against touching a dead body. “Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Anyone doing such a thing was poised to become the next outcast from society. [Num 19:11]. She doesn’t care if people think she’s dirty.

Mary is brave enough, or hurting enough, that she doesn’t care where she ranks in other people’s opinions. She’s not ashamed of her tears. She’s not ashamed that everyone from angels to gardeners are watching her cry. She’s out of the God-game. She’s out of the race to be anything other than who she is. And who she is – is someone who just wants to get her Savior back.

“Mary.” “Mary,” comes the voice. When your eyes are filled with tears it’s hard to focus. Or maybe the tears give us the focus to see the things that are normally just beyond our sight. Brave enough. Hurting enough. Mary’s alive enough… that when she hears her Savior call her name, she sees, she believes, and all the pain begins to make sense.

So many times when we’re at our wits’ end (and I’m assuming it’s not uncommon for us to feel as though we’re at our wits’ end) – so many times when we’re at our wits’ end, it’s not our own ingenuity that pulls the ends together again. Instead, it’s a phone call from a friend at just the right time. It’s a kind word from someone who doesn’t usually say kind words. I used to have a wise old minister who would say, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Maybe it’s just the gardener who remembers your name. Or maybe it’s Jesus.

And for Mary it was Jesus. For us, it was Jesus standing before Mary, calling the name of someone who’s brave enough, or hurting enough, to look for angels in disguise. God bless her, because in this instance, the disguise is taken away. And even though she can’t really touch him, she knows, knows with all her heart, he’s there. He’s alive. And he’s ascending to his Father – her Father – to his God – her God. The race is over. All that’s his is now hers – all that matters is every bit as much hers as it is his. And so she races off to tell the others, to tell us, it’s ours, too. Easter is here. He is risen. Alleluia.


There’s an old hymn, #119 in our hymnal, “The Strife Is O’er”

The strife is o'er, the battle done,
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun.

As I was typing in these words, I made a typo. Instead of “strife” I wrote, “strive,” and then realized I’d made a mistake. Coincidence? I don’t know. But I do know that as long as we’re living this human race, there’s going to be plenty of striving. It’s never over. Striving for what we don’t have. Striving for what we can’t see or feel in our hearts. We all have aches and pains, and always will. Aches and pains of the body as well as of the heart and soul. We ache for friends and family who are no longer with us. It pains us when we can’t get other people to see the way we want them to see. Striving against these is part of being alive.

But it’s not the only part. And it’s not the ultimate part. Because in the end, being alive in Jesus, being alive in God through the Holy Spirit means that the strife is o’er, the battle done. Not by our hand, but by the hand of God almighty, the strife of worrying if we count is taken away. The strife of wondering if we’ll see heaven’s gates is lifted. The strife of being afraid that striving is all there is to life is wiped away, like a tear on Mary’s cheek. God has crossed over from the other side, broken the rule of death, and invited us, no – promised us – that he is ascending to his Father – our Father – to his God – our God – and all that he has is now ours, today and forever more.

When you’re in pain, when you’re in strife, look through the tears to see the angels. As surely as they were there for Mary, they’ll be there for you. Easter is a promise from God. You count. You’re going to see heaven’s gates. You’ll find an end to all the striving. On the resurrection side of the cross, Christ’s compassion puts our strife in focus. Like Mary, we may not be able to physically touch him. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Jesus is. Jesus is alive. Jesus is here. And nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.