Our reading is from John 20: 1—16.
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. She ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple 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. Simon Peter went into the tomb and saw the linen wrapping lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head.
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, “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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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).
There are so many themes relevant to our lives in the stories of holy week and Easter, so many lessons that Jesus taught us through his actions that week. One of the main ones is courage; courage to risk our very lives to do what is right. Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire when he first entered the city of Jerusalem and was hailed as a hero by the crowds, while Pilate and his army were entering through another gate as a demonstration of Roman Power over the Jews. Herod had already had John the Baptizer killed because he feared a rebellion. Yet, Jesus rode straight into that fire. Even before that, Jesus had said, “If any want to become my followers, let them take up my cross and follow me.” “To take up the cross,” Amy-Jill Levine tells us, “meant to risk Roman capital punishment. To accept humiliation and loss, even death, in order to proclaim a vision of a better world, a kindom of heaven, and then to work for it.” The incident at the temple was extremely risky because so many people witnessed it, including the temple police and the Roman guards, who likely reported it to Pilate. Unlike what I learned growing up, Jesus didn’t turn over the tables of the money changers to show how corrupt the Jews of his day were. He was one of the Jews of his day. He did it to point out what the mix of church and state and human greed can lead to. It was a public disruption of business to try and get people to understand what was and what wasn’t part of this better world he wanted for them. It’s sort of like blocking the freeway with protests. It makes you unpopular, but sometimes it’s the only way to bring attention to your cause, so it’s a risk you take. The theme of empire is portrayed in the power that the Romans had over their subjects, including economic and political oppression and execution if they felt their power was threatened. In Judas’ betrayal, we saw how greed can lead someone to commit despicable acts. Love across social and political boundaries is evident when the woman from the street entered the house where Jesus was having dinner, poured perfume on his head and feet and washed him. While the host and the other guests expressed righteous indignation, Jesus was grateful and showed her compassion. A powerful theme is the acknowledgment by Jesus of his grief and pain, in the garden of Gethsemane, where he went to pray after sharing the Passover supper with his disciples. Jesus knew his time was short. He had been hearing the rumblings all week. The more he spoke out, the more followers he gained, the bigger threat he was to the Roman Empire. The text said he was grieved and agitated. He shared his feelings with Peter and James and John, and asked them to please stay awake with him, even though it was late. He admitted in his prayer that he didn’t want to face execution. And the disciples didn’t stay awake to talk with him. Then his friend pointed him out to the authorities, and everybody else ran away to save themselves, which brought him more grief and pain. But that leads to the lesson of forgiveness, which is a major tenet of the kindom of heaven. As hurt and disappointed as he was, Jesus forgave them all. Because there is no way to have a community of love and compassion without forgiveness. It’s also one of the most difficult things for humans to do. Evolution has programmed us not to let ourselves be exploited, so we are always on the lookout for it, and when it does happen, it is easy to close that person off forever. Participants in 12 step programs are asked to pray for and wish good things for those who have hurt them. But this is in tandem with taking an honest look at themselves and accepting that we are all imperfect humans who make mistakes.
We get angry or afraid or jealous or we don’t feel seen or heard and we say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. And the only way we can back our peace of mind and peace of heart, is to forgive each other. The primary theme of Easter is Hope. Whether you read the story of the resurrection literally or metaphorically, Jesus’ mission and message did not die when he did. Those same disciples who were so afraid that they abandoned him in the garden somehow found the courage to carry on the work. Maybe knowing that he forgave them set them free. They became teachers with followers of their own, and continued to spread the good news about the kindom of heaven, that was available here on earth if we just love our neighbors as ourselves. And that gives us hope for our world, also a world of unfairness and inequity, where the power of empire arrests a black congresswoman for knocking on a white governor’s office door while he was signing a law making it illegal to give water to people waiting in line to vote. We need hope. And we need to be willing to take even a fraction of the risk that Jesus did to help make hope happen. And to follow his teachings so that we too can be resurrected from our tombs of hatred and prejudice and self-interest. To free ourselves and everyone else from attitudes and actions that are keeping us from living the kindom life that Jesus wanted for us.