Mary was called Mary Magdalene to distinguish her from the other Marys. She was from the small town of Magdala on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, a few miles around from Capernaum, where Jesus was based in his early ministry.
The only thing we know about her backstory is that Jesus had driven demons out of her. The other people that Jesus had done this for had experienced being out of control. One boy kept being tossed into fires. A man raged against others and himself. A young slave girl told fortunes as a slave. Others were blind or bent double. We don’t know how Mary was trapped.
But Jesus had given Mary freedom.
And she followed him, was part of the team that supported the ministry. She’s in a list of women who had their own resources, who underwrote the traveling team of Jesus.
Which means that she was part of the group that watched Jesus die.
Mary of Magdala knew what it was like to watch someone who was everything to you die.
The next day, Saturday, is a blank in her story. It’s a blank in our stories, too.
On Sunday morning, as early as she could she went out to the graveside. Mary M and some of the other women were going to do what women in some cultures still do: clean the body, pack spices around it, wrap it up carefully, wrap it up right.
When Mary got there, the grave was open. The body was gone. And Mary was upset, as she should be. It’s like going to the funeral home and finding that they don’t have any record. It’s like finding out from family members that the one you think is your fiancé is dead, and then showing up to see the body, and finding out that you can’t.
I’m not saying she was looking for closure. I struggle with the idea of closure. We never shut of the story of the ones we love. But there is something important about completing a task of devotion, of blessing a situation after the worst possible destruction. It is fitting. It is a response to the loss.
And that desire for a response is what Mary felt because that’s what Mary and her friends wanted to do.
When Mary got to the tomb, the stone was gone and the body was gone.
Mary ran to get Peter and John. The leader of the disciples and the new next-of-kin for Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was the right thing to do. But it didn’t solve the pain, especially when they arrived and confirmed her story and were just as confused and went back home. That’s what John tells us when he tells the story. “We went back home.”
Mary didn’t. Because Mary was still looking for answers, Mary was dealing with the loss of her Jesus and now the loss of the BODY of her Jesus.
Mary looked in again.
And now she saw angels, sitting in the empty cave.
“Why are you crying?” they ask. THEY know that there is no reason for sad tears, they know the whole story. But Mary doesn’t. With the single-minded focus of a grieving person on a mission, she has one question: “Where is his body?”
She’s not interested in explaining her tears, in stopping and taking a breath. Her question matters. It’s the one thing that is on her mind.
She turns to keep looking. She sees someone that she can’t recognize in her tears and in the dimness and in her pain-focused distraction.
“Why are you crying,” he said.
“Where have you taken him?” Mary assumes that this is the gardener, someone who might know. “Tell me where he is and I’ll go take care of the body.”
“Mary,” Jesus says.
And she suddenly realizes who she is talking to, who is in front of her. Where the body is. The living breathing talking body of Jesus is right in front of her.
“Teacher,” she says.
There are stories in three of the gospels about how others realize that he’s alive, how others realize what happened. Jesus tells stories for the next few weeks about what it all means, again. He reestablishes relationships, he offers direction, he talks to individuals and groups. He comes and goes as he wishes, but isn’t a ghost. He eats. He is touchable. He is alive.
But. For those of us in this hospital on this Easter morning, there is something else about this Mary story.
Death didn’t disappear. Followers of Jesus were themselves crucified. Others fell ill and died of whatever diseases moved through Jerusalem. The good news this morning is not that all illness is abolished, that everything we ask for will happen.
And I understand the people who say, “If I pray and God doesn’t fix things, I’m not going to trust God.” I understand that feeling.
But I’m not going to let you believe that your frustration with God means that God doesn’t exist. God’s apparent unwillingness to do what we want God to do doesn’t mean God ignores us or hates us. The healing of some people for the short-term and others not at all doesn’t mean that some people are nicer.
There is not a one-to-one correspondence between the resurrection of Jesus and what happens to our bodies in the hospital.
But. For those of us in this hospital on this morning, there is something else. There is this.
When Mary was at her most frantic moment, Jesus asked her, “why are you crying.”
Not in a scolding way, not in a judgmental way, not in a mocking way. In a personal way.
Jesus is constantly asking, “why are you crying?” “What is your pain? What, deep down, do you want.” He invites us to acknowledge our fear, our lostness.
And when she had answered his question, Jesus spoke her name. He acknowledged who she was, that she was. He let himself be recognized. And Mary acknowledged who he was, that he was.
He didn’t give her answers, he didn’t give her time, he didn’t walk with her in alone in the garden. He gave her an assignment. He sent her off.
She went to find Peter again. Eventually, Peter understood, and he preached often about Jesus, about the days of his life and the day of his death, and the day of his resurrection and the delight and the calling to tell others that he is alive.
Which is what I do. But on this day, for those who ache, I offer this.
Be honest about what you are looking for. Why are you crying?
And then listen for your name. I’m confident you will hear it. Whether in the voice of a friend or a chaplain or in the dark, Jesus knows your name.
When you hear it. When you realize that in those really dark moments you hear Jesus say your name, say “yes” to him.
You may not get answers. But you will know that the still risen and living Jesus knows who you are and where you are. And is standing with you.