Standing at the Tomb

Standing at the Tomb

Feast of Mary Magdalen

Readings: Song of Solomon 3. 1-4; Psalm 42. 1 – 8; 2 Corinthians 5. 14-17; John 20. 1, 2, 11-18 (view all)

My Father’s side of the family are North Yorkshire farmers, so I have lots of fantastic memories growing up of going to visit the farm. I also remember being jealous of the exciting things that my cousins were able to do growing up, like hand-rearing lambs and riding cross country motorbikes around the fields.

But there’s one poignant memory that’s always stuck in my mind, of a particular trip when my Dad took us to a little church in the village of Skelton and showed us our family graveyard where many of our ancestors were buried. The feeling of being there in that place with so much history over generations of our ancestors, even across centuries, has always stuck with me.

There’s something about us, as humans, that having somewhere physical to visit helps us to feel connected to our loved ones, and to process our grief and sadness. And this is, of course, exactly what Mary Magdalen does in our gospel reading when, on the first Easter Day, she visits Jesus’ tomb.

So what can we learn from Mary, and her experience at the tomb, to affirm us in our own journey of faith? 

Well, if you have a sense of deja vu this morning, don’t worry it is well founded — we have been here before. This morning’s gospel is the same as the one we had on Easter Sunday, and our epistle is also a repeat of a few weeks ago.

As a preacher it is always challenging to preach on the same passages twice, and so as I re-read the passage this week in search of some fresh insight, I was suddenly struck by a question: Mary isn’t the only one who visits the tomb in John’s account, so do Peter and John. So why is it that Mary is the one that the risen Jesus appears to? 

Our gospel reading this morning is an abridged version. We have a couple of verses where Mary finds the tomb empty and runs to tell Peter and John. Then we jump forward to ten verses later. In the gap, Peter and John visit the tomb themselves, discover it empty and return home. 

But it is Mary who lingers on, perhaps like many who have mourned lost loved ones, and remains there weeping, overcome with grief. 

There is an intensity to her emotion as she searches for meaning, as she sits and allows the emotion to flow through her, which is reflected in the poetry of our Old Testament reading from Song of Songs: 

I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer.

For Mary, this intensity, this longing, comes from the impact which Jesus has had in her life, bringing meaning, healing, wholeness and peace. Many people in our world are searching for meaning, searching for wholeness, but to be a Christian is to locate the precise source of our longing in Christ himself, driven by our desire for relationship with him, and by his love for others in our world.

Mary remains — weeping, longing, searching — standing at the tomb. But of course, and thank goodness, we know that the story doesn’t end there. The risen Jesus quietly, gently, appears alongside her, and calls her by name, entrusting her with the good news of the resurrection.

And so, we too can also take heart, we can also have hope that even in the darkest situation, God is greater. That all the pain and brokenness of this creation, will be renewed in the new creation. That God has and does and will break into the present and bring new resurrection life.

As Paul writes so passionately in our epistle:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

So I wonder, this morning: Are we willing, like Mary to remain when the attention of others has passed, seeing the pain and suffering of our world and longing for healing and wholeness? And will we choose to trust in God’s promise of hope, bringing new, resurrection life into even the darkest situation? 

How can we, as God’s Church in this community, live as a sign of love, hope and peace — not pretending that everything is ok when it isn’t, but choosing to place our trust in something, someone, greater? 

One of my favourite theologians, whom you’re probably sick by now of hearing me quote, Tom Wright, writes this in his commentary on our gospel reading:

This stunning invitation comes as Mary acts out one of the oldest dramas in the world. Stand with her as she weeps. Think of someone you’ve known, or have seen on television or in the newspapers, who has cried bitterly this last week. Bring them too, stand there with Mary. Don’t rush it. Tears have their own natural rhythm. Hold them — the people, the tears — in your mind as you stand outside the tomb. And then, when the moment is right, stoop dow and look into the tomb itself. Be prepared for a surprise.
Tom Wright, John for Everyone Pt 2, p. 145.

Like Mary at the tomb on that first Easter morning, we are called to stand as God’s people weeping for a world of confusion, brokenness and suffering. As we journey to his table this morning, may we grow in our longing for Jesus and for the meaning, healing and wholeness which only God can bring.

Almighty God,
whose risen Son first entrusted to Mary Magdalene
the good news of his resurrection:
grant that we may serve you in the power of him
who has ascended to you,
his God and Father,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be all honour and glory,
now and for ever.
Amen.