Did you used to play hide and seek as a kid? Remember when the seeker would yell “Ready or not, here I come?” It always scared me because I never felt ready. Well, I don’t feel ready for Easter either. Do you?
If you’ve kept a good and holy Lent, perhaps you have done the work that you are supposed to do to get ready for Easter. Between us, I never feel I’ve stayed focused on Lent unless I’ve given up a food I love, then I’m counting the days until Easter and the resurrection of Jesus feels like a personal miracle just for me because I finally get to eat tacos!
Well, if we’re not ready for Easter, we don’t need to feel too bad about it because those closest to the event, those physically present at the first Easter weren’t in the least bit ready either. Over and over Jesus tried to tell them that he was going to die and then come back but they never seemed to get it. For example, He said: “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me.” John 16:16
Despite hints like that, none of the disciples is ready for Easter. If they’d listened to Jesus, actually heard what he was saying, they would have spent that Easter morning getting dressed up and joyfully rushing down the path to the tomb, eager to meet their resurrected leader. But that is not what happened.
Jesus Christ has died a horrible death on the cross. His body has been taken to a tomb and his followers are cowering in a locked room, saddened beyond words. Picture a grief stricken morning when the world seems lost. Mary Magdalene awakes early, feeling pulled to the tomb, to do the sad work of cleaning the body of her friend. In the quiet, dark morning, she walks through Jerusalem; past the market, past sleeping dogs, along the ancient walls of the city, guarded by drowsy Roman soldiers.
As she passes through the gate in the wall she feels the fresher air of the countryside. To one side is a stone quarry. There is a cliff nearby with crosses on it, a horrible sight in the still morning. She sees the two men who had been crucified near Jesus still hanging there.
Nearby, in a corner of the quarry, there is a garden with rows of tombs cut into the side of the cliff. She approaches the tomb where Jesus was laid with dread but stops when she sees the stone from the mouth of the tomb has been rolled away.
The only thing she can think is that Jesus’s body has been stolen. This is a final insult. She is so appalled that she runs all the way back to where the disciples sleep. She wakes Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple.
Now they are not ready for Easter and they don’t know what to think about Mary’s terrified tale but they jump up, slip on their sandals and take off running. The beloved disciple goes into the tomb, sees and believes. Just like that. We don’t know what he believes, just that he believes.
Peter has a different response. He charges right into the tomb, looks around, sees the strips of linen that had wrapped Jesus’ head and walks out. Luke tells us that Peter is amazed at what had happened. He runs right back home.
The real story, the Easter story belongs to Mary Magdalene. This is a woman with a checkered past, a woman with a reputation, shunned by all, until she meets Jesus. For the first time she is treated with respect, with love and she is deeply changed by this. She would follow Jesus to the end of the earth and does so for two years, listening to him talk about bringing the kingdom of God to earth. But in the last few days, it seems the miracle that is Jesus has ended in the worst possible way. She is crippled with grief for her beloved friend. But now, now, this quiet morning, Easter happens to Mary.
Mary is not ready for Easter. With those hurried disciples gone, she stands alone at the empty tomb. This time she looks inside and sees what the men didn’t see: two angels sitting where the body had been. They ask her an irritating question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Mary must want to hit them. “Really? You ask why I weep? Have you been around the last couple of days when my best friend, my savior was killed?”
Angels aren’t usually so dense. Maybe they are both joking a bit. Maybe their question is, “Why are you weeping when Jesus is standing right behind you?” And there he is, watching this interchange, thinking “Ready or not, here I come!”
Mary turns around and sees Jesus standing there but she doesn't recognize him. Think of this: we know that the wrappings from Jesus’ body were still in the tomb. Maybe he went outside and found some extra clothes the gardener had stored next to the tool shed.
Mary challenges this man in gardener’s clothes: “If you know where they’ve taken his body tell me now and I will take him away!” She glares at this man but only knows him when, after a long pause, Jesus says her name: “Mary.”
This is my favorite verse in the bible. “Mary.” Everything turns on that one word. Jesus, the risen Lord, knows her. Jesus loves her. Whether she is ready for him or not, Jesus names her. With this one word, Mary encounters the living Lord. She grasps at him, saying “Rabbouni!” And he tells her to back off. “Do not hold on to me. Go to my brothers and tell to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
In a daze, Mary Magdalene goes to the disciples who are hiding in an upper room and tells them this: “Christ is risen.”
2000 years ago, Jesus called Mary’s name. She answers his call, then she becomes the first Christian preacher as she rushes to share the good news.
Think of this: the story could have ended a bit earlier, with Christ’s followers cowering in a locked room. But the risen Christ appears to his friends four more times and with each encounter his followers became more and more like him as they become Christ’s hands and feet, as they move out into the world, bravely preaching love.
Are we ready this Easter to encounter the risen Christ? Can you hear him calling your name? Jesus called Mary’s name, he knew her. This is the kingdom of God; a place where God knows each of us and calls us by name. In this kingdom we are invited to know each other’s names and care for each other as God cares for us.
The opportunity to do the work Christ gave us to do is still alive for you and me today. We continue the work Christ did when we strive to bring about the kingdom of God in our world today. When we act with kindness rather than coldness; when we choose to include, rather than exclude: when we forgive rather than bear grudges; when we simply reach out with love we are working toward bringing Jesus’s dream to life.
Ready or not, Christ is risen and he is calling your name. Amen.