Resurrection, not reanimation

Prepared for St. John’s United, Marathon, live-streamed on April 12th, based on John 20:1-18 for Easter Sunday, Year A.

For the second time in our Gospel, a woman named Mary walks to the tomb of someone she loves.

But where Mary of Bethany found her brother still lying in the cold dark, his body deteriorating, Mary of Magdala finds something even more horrifying.

The tomb is open, the body gone, even the linen wrappings his followers carefully, tenderly dressed his anointed body in are gone.

Tomb robbers!

Heart in her throat, tears burning her eyes, she rushes back to the house the disciples are staying at to find help.

“His body is gone! The tomb desecrated! They took everything!”

And so, Peter and the other disciple come running, racing to the tomb.

They’re stunned. They take in everything from the open door way, to the wrappings, and the face covering all rolled up neatly. The body is indeed gone. And they return home.

But Mary, who followed Jesus, who stood at the foot of the cross with his mother and the other women as he was brutally executed by the state, she is paralyzed.

Like Jesus, she falls to her knees in the garden, hugging herself, and asking “God, did it have to be this way? Is this your will?”

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees two figures sitting in the tomb.

Are the grave robbers back?

Soldiers come to check on the peasant rebels tomb?

More of Jesus’ followers come to mourn?

She’s not sure, and before she can question them, the two figures ask her: “Why are you crying?”

“Someone’s taken away my Teacher, and I don’t know what they’ve done with his body.”

Turning back around she sees a third figure. He repeats the question: “Why are you crying?” adding, “Who are you looking for?”

Why are there so many people here this morning? She wonders to herself. Who is this? The gardener, maybe?

She begs him, “If you’ve taken his body, can you tell me where you’ve placed it? I know we used this empty tomb because it was convenient, it was the day of preparation when we claimed his body from the Romans. Please, tell me where you’ve placed him. I’ll think of what to do with his body.”

“Mary!” the man says.

And what did her voice sound like, when she finally recognized him? Was it a shout of glee, a tremulous whimper of disbelief or a stunned whisper of: Teacher!

She reaches out for him, but he backs away, holding up his hands. 

“Mary, don’t grab hold of me, I’m not done yet, because I haven’t ascended to my Father yet. But go to our friends and tell them, ‘I, Jesus, am ascending to my Father who is your Father, to my God who is your God.’”

Nodding mutely, Mary turns back to the road, gone is her slow walk of sorrow, now she is slapping the packed dirt with her sandals, desperate to return to the others, to let them know: I have seen the Teacher.

Just as with the story of Lazarus a few weeks ago, resurrection is not the finale here.

I had some friends in high school who used to refer to Easter as “Zombie Jesus Day”, which is true in a sense.

But God is not in the business of reanimating corpses; God is in the business of breathing New Life.

After we read the chapter about Lazarus’ awakening we hear about him lounging at the table with Jesus. In this part of our Gospel we hear Jesus telling Mary that his work is not complete with his resurrection, his transformation is not done.

Even resurrection is not the final word! It is the pathway to life beyond death.

In our own stories of resurrection we certainly have defining moments but it’s the fullness of life that follows that is God’s dream for us.

We are not liberated from sin and death just to be a “before and after” photo of God’s goodness. Let me be a little controversial here and say, God’s not interested in counting conversion moments.

Jesus, in the Gospel of John, keeps returning to the idea of “dwelling” with God. 

He tells his followers to dwell with him.[i] He tells his followers that he dwells with the Father, and that he is going to go and prepare a dwelling place for them with God.[ii]

This idea of “dwelling” speaks of an intimate relationship.

And I don’t think we’ve ever before had a stronger sense of what “dwelling” together looks like than right now!

For those of us who are isolating with someone, gosh do we have a powerful sense of what that means. And for those who are isolating alone, for those who are feeling an ache of loneliness, I know you too have an idea of what Jesus is referring to here.

The crux of the story, for the Gospel of John, is intimate relationship with Jesus and his Father. It’s the entire point of resurrection. We are called out of death into new life, not just to be a proof of power or a box to be checked off, but to live intimately with God.

God is not in the business of counting conversion moments, God is in the business of counting days with her children.

How does that Psalm go? Better is one day in your house than a thousand elsewhere.[iii] The Psalmist knew, knew that it was living intimately with God, dwelling in God’s court, that was the real prize.

I wonder what the call to “dwell”, to live intimately with God looks like for you?

I want to just pause, right here. You don’t need to share in the comments, just close your eyes and ask yourself, What does intimacy mean for you? What does intimacy with your Creator, mean for you?

I want us to consider this question over the Easter season. Let’s think about those things that might be barriers to intimacy for us, but also what dwelling with God feels like. Is it something that’s been a part of our lives so far, but we haven’t been able to name or to recognize it? Is it something familiar to you, a reservoir of strength and inspiration?

Jesus offers Mary what even her friends, the other disciples, do not: he acknowledges her pain. Then, in asking her who she is looking for, he enters a familiar “call” narrative from Peter’s call at the beginning of the Gospel,[iv] and he sends her out as his Apostle of the Good News.

Jesus sees Mary in her sorrow, and then he calls her into New Life, into a new purpose in his kin-dom. For her part, she sees him and, though her instinct is to cling, she accepts his call to be a messenger, to be sent out. 

Because the idea of “dwelling” has changed for Jesus.

Before he called others to his side, to eat and drink with him, he stayed in their homes as a guest. But now, the idea of “dwelling” has been transformed, just as Jesus’ body has been transformed also.

This new kind of dwelling goes beyond the physical – not denying it, but not being constrained by it either.

And we, as an Easter People, our call is to live as Mary did.

We are called to recognize Jesus in the stranger.

We are called to enter into that Holy Mystery.

We are called to a new purpose for God’s kin-dom.

Then… we are sent out to share the Good News.

We are sent out as part of a larger family, a larger dream for this world.

We are sent out so that others may know, there is room in God’s house for them also.

May we go boldly, wiping Good Friday’s tears from our faces, turning towards the brilliant New Life God is birthing in our world.


[i] John 15:4,10, [ii] John 14:2-3, [iii] Psalm 84, [iv] John 1:42

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