Scripture: John 20:1–18
On this Easter morning, we pause to join our hearts and minds together in the spirit of prayer:
Gracious and loving God,
we have been faithful companions
as we’ve travelled together
on our journey with Jesus.
We’ve been through the wilderness
and pondered stories of faith and wisdom.
We’ve gathered with palms and acclamations
and travelled to the foot of the cross.
With followers, from an earlier time,
we’ve grieved Jesus’ suffering and death.
And here we are, gathered again,
with hope and expectation
to bear witness to the miracle of new life
and the celebration of the living Christ in our midst.
Holy One, this day and every day
may we walk in the Way of Jesus.
All four of the gospel accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – tell the story of that first Easter morning when grief-stricken Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus’ body lay waiting to be anointed with spices. Matthew, Mark and Luke mention other women with Mary but John’s Gospel names only Mary who discovers the empty tomb and runs to summon others to come and see. Two male disciples respond and see for themselves that the tomb is empty and then they return home. Mary, alone stays and keeps vigil weeping and grieving Jesus’ death and the disappearance of his body. Mary is also grieving the loss of being able to honour Jesus and say good-bye in the loving and very personal act of anointing his body as was customary.
I find it extraordinary that there is no mention of Mary Magdalene in John’s account until she is noted as one of the women who witnesses Jesus’ crucifixion. Then Mary takes centre stage in the story when she alone goes to Jesus’ tomb when it is still dark and she alone becomes the first witness of the risen Christ.
Mary’s experience is profound and personal. She does not recognize Jesus until he calls her by name. Jesus, the Christ, calls her out of the despair of grief to the possibility of renewed life and mission. He calls her personally by name and she responds with conviction, commitment and action. Mary’s experience is so powerful that it cannot be denied and is so transformative that she cannot be ignored by Jesus’ other disciples.
Mary, however special, is not unique. She is not the only one who can experience the living Christ and respond to Christ’s call to go forth into the world and proclaim the good news of Easter. Mary’s testimony prepares Jesus’ other followers to experience for themselves Christ’s presence in a very real way that transforms them from fearful people to courageous apostles. Mary represents any one of us sitting here this morning, ordinary people capable of seeing with the eyes of faith and acting with hearts overflowing with love. People, like Mary, willing to experience pain, be attentive enough to hear Christ’s call and be courageous enough to respond with deep faith and conviction.
Of all the gospel stories of that first Easter morning, John’s account is the one that speaks to me most profoundly. I too have heard Christ calling my name, calling me to follow and to trust that he will guide me. John’s gospel tells a very personal story not only for Mary but for all of us who choose to follow Christ.
When I was called to share in ministry with this community of faith, I was called not as Barbara or Henry or Jeff but as Christine. The next person who will hear the call to come and serve with you will not come as Barbara or Henry or Jeff or Christine but as their own person with gifts and resources to share with you in your ministry together.
The good news of Easter is that Christ calls each one of us by name and coaxes us to be daring and to follow him wherever he leads us. When we do, we are empowered in ways that are more amazing than we could ever ask or imagine.
With this assurance I’ll close with an excerpt from a poem by John Harvey, of the Iona Community, that reflects Jesus’ personal call for each one of us:
We, who dare to say we are following you,
know how faltering are our footsteps,
how delicate our discipleships,
how feeble our faith.
Yet still you call us by name
and invite us into your company
and onto your road.
So give us courage
and the commitment we need:
help us to look out for one another on the road;
show us how we may share the duty
and the joy of discipleship,
knowing that, in the end,
it is you who have blazed the trail,
you who accompany us all the way,
you who will meet us on the road,
and say our name with love and joy.
Thanks be to God for the risen Christ
who walks with us always
wherever this journey of faith takes us.