Our Gospel lesson tells a story about dawn,
the dawning of faith and hope.
It is about the disciples’ gradually coming to believe
that Christ is alive.
God sometimes acts all at once.
The trumpet blows, the earth shakes, the stone is rolled away.
But it takes us awhile to notice what has happened.
We get used to seeing things a certain way.
It takes awhile for our spiritual eyes to adjust.
The world may turn upside down,
but it takes us awhile to notice.
We know the hour they nailed Jesus to the cross.
It was nine in the morning.
We know the hour he died.
It was three in the afternoon.
Death is easy to see.
We know about death.
We can pin it down, write the time and the cause
on a coroner’s certificate.
But Resurrection is too big for us.
No one saw it happen.
We have no idea what it looked like.
We don’t know what time it happened.
I like to imagine it was in that deepest darkness
just before the first pre-dawn light
– the time when people see not the slightest hint of light
but the birds can sense it and begin to sing.
I like to imagine it was then, but we do not know.
All we know is that it was before sunrise.
We know that because Mary Magdalene
made her way through the darkness,
arrived still in darkness and found the tomb empty.
How did she know it was empty there in the dark?
She found the stone rolled away,
then she must have gone into the dark burial cave
and felt around for the corpse.
I imagine her heart was pounding there in the dark sepulcher
and she was shocked to find no body-- only earthen walls.
“So she ran,” the Scripture says. “She ran.”
She had come to find the cause of her grief,
but instead she had encountered something
mysterious and frightening.
“So she ran” -- ran into the city,
ran as fast as her legs would carry her
to Peter and John.
Panting, breathless, she blurted out
--not the facts but her interpretation.
She said “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb.”
Who had taken him? She didn’t know.
Where had they taken him? She didn’t know.
Why had they taken him? She didn’t know.
But, knowing nothing, she assumed whatever had happened
was bad, another insult, another degradation.
That was the way she was used to seeing things.
Peter and John raced to the tomb,
with the exhausted Mary Magdalene
trailing along behind them.
By now it was early morning,
so they could see a bit in the tomb,
but they still had to go inside to be sure.
They found the linens that had held the body.
They found them neatly folded and set aside.
How did that happen?
What did it mean?
The Bible doesn’t say what Peter thought.
It says the other disciple “believed”
but it doesn’t say what he believed.
In fact the same verse says that neither of them
yet understood that Jesus was to rise from the dead.
Whatever they thought, they did not go rejoicing.
They just left, each to his own home.
But Mary Magdalene, still grief stricken,
now frightened and confused,
stayed at the tomb weeping.
After awhile she did something odd.
It was human but odd.
She stooped down to look back into the tomb
expecting it to be empty,
and this time it was not empty.
This time she saw something.
She saw two angels sitting where the body had been.
Now here is my question.
When did these angels arrive in the tomb?
I may be wrong. I am mostly guessing.
But I assume they are the ones who folded the death linens.
I just can’t see the Resurrected Lord of Heaven and Earth,
having just broken open the gates of hell,
conquered death, and shaken the foundations of the universe,
stopping to make his own bed.
The angels must have done that.
They must have done it before the disciples started poking around
in the sepulcher.
So where were they when Mary first felt her way
into the dark cavern of death?
Where were they when Peter and John
discovered the folded linens?
Had they gone out to run an errand?
Had they returned to heaven and then come back?
Or – and this is what I imagine
-- had they been there all the time?
Was it just that the disciples were so immersed in tragedy
that they couldn’t see the angels
who were there to comfort and reassure them?
The angels didn’t get a chance to comfort Mary Magdalene.
If they had been given a chance, we know from the other Gospels
that they would have announced the Resurrection to her.
But Mary didn’t wait around for that.
She was too afraid.
She scrambled back out of the cave
before the angels could say a word.
Getting people to listen to good news is hard.
We are used to tragedy,
so we have hard time hearing good news.
Mary was running away from the good news angels,
when she saw Jesus there waiting to meet her.
But she didn’t recognize him.
She thought he was the gardener.
Instead of greeting her Lord,
she thought she was meeting the very wrongdoer
who had desecrated the grave and hidden the Body.
Notice how she acts,
groveling before his authority.
She acts like someone whose car isn’t where they think they left it,
assumes she has parked in the wrong place,
and it has been towed.
She’s apologizing for Jesus’ body having been left
in the rich man’s tomb,
so she’s offering to take it away
so it won’t be bother to them.
Then he calls her name. “Mary,” he said.
Maybe she remembered his words,
“The good shepherd knows his sheep
and calls them by name”?
Maybe that is what opened her eyes.
Or maybe it was that she had been so lost in her misery
that she had forgotten her true self.
Somehow, when Jesus called her name,
called her back to herself,
she recognized him.
She listened to him,
and she did what he told her to do.
She went to the other disciples and said,
“I have seen the Lord.”
So here’s what I wonder.
How many angels are in my presence each day,
in my car as I drive, in my office, maybe even at church?
How many angels do I ignore each day
because my eyes only recognize ordinary things.
How many angels are whispering good news to me,
but I am not listening?
And how many times each day
do I meet Jesus but don’t recognize him?
Oh I have seen him a few times – usually in other people.
I have seen him in an old monk at a monastery.
I have seen him in a homeless hitch hiker.
I have seen him in a criminal in jail.
But how many times have I missed him?
I suspect my batting average isn’t even 1%.
How often do I grovel like Mary before authority
or rebel against authority
because I see authority everywhere?
But the person in front of me isn’t trying to dominate me.
He is really Jesus, my sacred friend.
Well maybe that is alright.
Maybe it doesn’t help to criticize myself
for all the blessings I overlook and fail to enjoy.
Maybe if I see only one out of every 10,000 angels
who offer me hope,
and maybe if I recognize Jesus only once in my life,
that is enough.
It may be enough if it reminds me to watch out
for grace and blessing wherever I look.
Then maybe when I see the moon’s reflection
coming toward me over your Sacred Lake,
I will think that may be the light of Christ.
To encounter Jesus even once, or just to believe
that someone like Mary Magdalene may have met him,
is enough to keep us alert to grace
instead of assuming that there is only misery.
And it is enough to entrust us with a message,
the message that there is hope, there is mercy,
that sins may yet be forgiven,
that the wounds in our souls may yet be healed,
that broken love may yet be reconciled,
and all that is beautiful, good, and just
will someday be restored in God’s Kingdom.
God give us the grace to share this good news
with our brothers and sisters who need it so much.