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Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘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!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about two caterpillars who were escaping a spider. They climbed up a branch and got to the edge, but realized they were now trapped. “Hold on tight!” said the first caterpillar and he quickly chewed through the branch. It snapped and they began to fall, but he grabbed two protruding twigs and used them to steer the branch through the air with grace and finesse. “That’s amazing!!” said the second caterpillar. “How in the heck are you doing that?!” The first caterpillar scoffed. “Am I the only one in this whole darn forest who knows how to drive a stick?!”
What a delightful image to have of two caterpillars gleefully soaring through the air on their makeshift glider! Who knew caterpillars could be so clever in evading those rascally spiders?! And all it took was one of them knowing how to drive a stick. Of course, it’s a wonderful play on expressions we use to describe the ability to drive stick shift vehicles. Like the creatures of the forest, not a whole lot of people know how to drive stick shift vehicles so the caterpillar’s frustration is familiar to those of us who do know how to drive them. “What, you don’t know how to drive a stick?! What kind of a driver are you?!” I was fortunate enough to learn how to drive one at an early age having been given a stick shift vehicle as my first vehicle. But it was a blessing and a curse at the same time. I ended up destroying the clutch from unsteady gear shifting and had to replace it…not a cheap replacement! And then I had to teach my younger sister how to drive it who also proceeded to destroy the clutch. I replaced that clutch TWICE! This is all to say that knowing how to drive a stick often comes with a cost so don’t get too frustrated at those who don’t know how to drive one…
But despite his frustration, that caterpillar at least had the compassion to warn his friend, “hold on tight!” I often wonder if Jesus ever expressed to his disciples a similar warning. After all, he sure dragged them through a lot in his three-year ministry. So many teachings, so many miracles, so many healings, so many travels! “Just hold on tight, boys, we’re going for a ride!” Well, scripture doesn’t attest to him making such a warning, even at the very end of his ministry and his life. Certainly the last week of his life was a whirlwind, enough to give anyone whiplash in keeping up. And then he died and the whirlwind should have been over. But it wasn’t! No, three days later Jesus rises from the dead and, in essence, restarts the whirlwind of his life. Poor Mary was the first to witness and interact with the resurrected Christ, something I can’t imagine she ever expected to do. And in her shock and bewilderment, she does something that many of us would do if a recently deceased loved one suddenly appeared alive and well: she clung to him, either physically or figuratively. She simply didn’t want him to leave her again. Who among us wouldn’t react similarly? Few of us are ever ready to say goodbye to our loved ones. And even among those who are ready to say goodbye there are few who fully understand the absolute separation of death. In death, we absolutely lose our loved ones only to reunite with them in the next world. They don’t come back to us. So to witness a loved one actually coming back naturally elicited such a response from Mary. “I don’t know how you defied the logic of death but I don’t care, just don’t ever leave me again!” And Jesus’ response was equally off-putting: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Certainly out of character for Jesus who, for three years, had encouraged everyone around him to hold on to him even if he never said so directly. So why the change?
Jesus explained that he had yet to ascend to the Father. Strange explanation indeed! Certainly a profound explanation. Jesus came back but only for a brief time, a mere forty days. His final destination was never meant to be here in this world. His final destination was to be with the Father. In those forty days he morphed into Jesus the Christ, the Lord and Savior to us all. His full glory was revealed to us all just as it had been revealed to Peter, James, and John at the transfiguration. He wasn’t the Jesus we knew before the crucifixion. No, he had defeated death and was different. He had taken our sins into death, forever reconciling us before the Father. He became truly our brother before God. In those brief forty days, Jesus morphed into the Savior to us all. He couldn’t stay with Mary alone, he needed to save us all. He became larger than who she alone could handle or even understand.
Last week I suggested we consider the crucifixion as Jesus’ way of keeping hope alive. This week, I want to suggest that the resurrection shows us that Jesus is much larger than you or me. We can’t cling to him the way we used to. Nor do we want to! The Jesus of scripture was limited to a very specific geographic area at a very specific time. The resurrected Jesus transcends time and space. The resurrected Jesus meets the needs of us all, not just a few. The resurrected Jesus is witnessed by all…is upon all and within all! Recall the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (60:1) Our resurrected Christ IS the glory of the Lord! He IS our light! Remember Jesus asked Mary at the resurrection of Lazarus, “did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Our resurrected Lord is revealed to all who believe.
And what a revelation to behold! I say it every Easter, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!” He has risen to save us all from our fears and doubts. He has risen to save us from the persistent sin of the world. He has risen to save us from ourselves. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.