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

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Mary's Tour of Easter

2015-04-05 (Easter) John 20:1-18 Mary's Tour of Easter


Maybe you've done this. I always feel like I'm freeloading when it happens, but it's entirely accidental. We go someplace historical, like, Charleston, or to a museum, and we're having a good time wandering around and looking at old stuff, artsy stuff. But then, a tour comes along – with a guide. And overhearing the guide, this stuff becomes so meaningful. Those guides are great. They should get paid.

Mary Magdalene is the Bible's guide to Easter. She guides us out of the tombs and into the light. She doesn't explain the mystery, but she shares its meaning. She shows us how God turned the grave-clothes inside-out, turning disbelief into faith.

Tour Stop 1: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

Stop 2: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

Stop 3: "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

Stop 4" "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher)

Stop 5: "I have seen the Lord"

Ready? Our tour starts now.


"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

Those "theys."

Alcoa Highway? Horrible road. They should do something about that. Taxes? Yuck. They should do something about those, too. And UT Men's basketball. Oh wait, they DID do something about that. Usually, when you're talking about them, "they" aren't doing nearly as much as they should. Unless it's bad. Then "they" do about everything.

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early, while it was still dark. In the Gospel According to John, light and dark: BIG symbolism. Dark equals lack of understanding. Mary dimly stumbles into finding the stone removed. She runs to Peter and John. "THEY have taken the Lord out of the tomb." Who are they? Don't know. But "they" did it. Them "theys." I hate those guys.

In the absence of information, humans almost always assume the worst. They call it Negativity Bias.[1] Another thing they say: When you're absolutely sure you know the truth without the need for facts, that's an argument from ignorance.[2] Mary's doing both. Not flattering. But we the people nearly all start there: fearing the worst, forming opinions in the dark.

Mary continues: "We do not know where they have laid him." Who's we? Got a mouse in your pocket, Mary? This is Bible-talk, the "Royal We." It's high language to keep you from sounding high and mighty. Why "we" and not "me"? Possibly because Mary was a woman and women weren't supposed to speak to men as equals.

So, Tour Stop #1, while it's still dark, our guide assumes the worst, argues from ignorance, and devalues herself. Not great a great start, but let's move on.


Tour Stop #2: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

Now the disciples have gone. Mary's talking to the Gardener. Strange hour to be pulling weeds, but you know garden-people. Mary's still mad at the "theys". But did you hear what changed? It's huge.

Last stop, who had they taken away? THE Lord. Who says so? WE do. But now, hear what she says. "They have taken away…" Who? MY Lord. And I do not know where." Hear that? Mary goes from THE Lord to MY Lord, from the royal WE to the very personal I.

Imagine you're married and you tell the police, "They have taken away "the husband" and "we" do not know where they've put him." That's touching. "Now WE are going for margaritas." Jesus has changed. More, Mary's relationship with Jesus has been uncloaked. You weep over things connected to your heart. Instead of a formal concept, Jesus is now her Lord. We see into her heart.

It's still early, but the sun's rising. So let's move on.


Stop #3: "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

I used to imagine Mary weeping, begging at the gardener's knees. But that doesn't follow the tour's trajectory. Now, I picture Mary "leaning in," going all Pat Summitt, one hand on her hip and a finger in his chest. "Sir, if YOU have carried him away (and you do not want to tell me you have)…." Just look how far Mary's come. First stop, she was scared and helpless. Next, she bared her heart.  Now, she's taking action. "If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." If you want something done right…. "They" had taken him. But now, Mary's ready do it, herself. Mary has turned BOLD. How did that happen? What does it take for you to do something bold?


When she was 15 years old, Malala Yousafzai, boarded a school bus in in Pakistan. Taliban fighters stormed the bus and shot her three times, point blank, in the head. She recovered, as you know, and went on to become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.[3]

She said, "I think life is always dangerous. Some people get afraid of it. Some people don't go forward. But some people, if they want to achieve their goal, they have to go. They have to move..."

She said, "The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born."[4]

Oh, and by the way, do you know what her name, Malala, means? It means, "grief-stricken." Not any more.

Mary takes the grief that has stricken her down, takes the bitter grave-clothes choking her heart and turns them inside-out. Her weakness, fear, and hopelessness die. Strength, power and courage are born.

That's when she sees Jesus.


"Rabbouni!" Stop #4.

"Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher)."

Writer and preacher, Anna Carter Florence, says:

"Jesus breaks into Mary's grief-stricken… reality with a single act: he calls her by name. It is an amazingly intimate choice. He could have told her who he was; he could have identified his own name. Yet he speaks hers."[5]

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!"

My teacher. My Lord. He's not a they, a them, or an it. And neither is Mary. Jesus calls her name and summons her from the dead. She sees who he is. And she sees who she is.

And if Jesus calls Mary's name, Jesus might even call my name. And if my name, then your name! And yours! And yours! Christ calls us away from the tombs. Christ… resurrects us from the [tombs] of sin and [grief-stricken-ness] into the light of a whole new day.[6] He calls our names and opens our eyes to see who God is to us, for us, with us.

God is the one who finds us in the dark. God is the one who meets us in our grief. God is the one who calls us forward, into the world, to boldly say with heartfelt confidence, "I have seen the Lord!"

Which is the fifth and final stop on this tour.


"I have seen the Lord."

I've always wondered, why the gardener? Why the disguise? Why not just say, "It's me! I'm back!"

I recently read a quote from Stanley Hauerwas, a devilishly good teacher of preachers. He said, "The last thing in the world I'd want is a personal relationship with God." He said, "I'd never trust myself to have a personal relationship with God." He explains, "[because] Our relationship with God is mediated…. Our faith is a mediated faith with people formed through word and sacrament."[7]

Mary could have proclaimed, "I have seen the gardener!" And that would be true. But not the point. She could have said, "The Lord saw me!" That would be true. But not the point. Instead, Mary shares, interprets, translates her meeting with the Lord into the first and shortest Christian sermon and the point of every sermon since. "I have seen the Lord."

Why the gardener?

Why the Habitat House? Why Camp John Knox? Why Stephen Ministry? Why Sunday School? Why dinners and youth groups and book clubs? Why bread and cup? Because our faith is always mediated. Christianity is a mediated faith with people, with gardeners of all shapes and sizes, and clothing, and genders, and personalities, and weakness – and with strength they didn't know was on the tour.


In the times I've stumbled into someone else's tour, I've never once had a guide say, "Excuse me, sir. You need to cover your ears." Maybe they're not paid enough to care. Or maybe the guides just love what they're talking about.

Do you like to show people pictures of places you've visited? To post them in real-time? Do you like to tell stories about what you've seen and people you've met? Isn't it so refreshing to be able to show someone what's on your heart, without the worry of judgement?

On Easter, God puts judgment away. God has Mary give us a tour of her faith. But there's this thing about tours. They end. But really, their end is just the beginning. They're the beginning of your stories of what you've seen, and heard, and felt.

So, wave goodbye to Mary. Because now the sun's up and it's our turn, in the light of this day, our time, our Lord. We can boldly share what we judge to be true, because we've seen, and we believe.