In the predawn hours, Mary Magdalene sets out for the tomb of Jesus. She has work to do. You see, on Friday, men had rushed to get his body in the tomb as the Sabbath hour was fast approaching. From sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday the law said that no work could be done. They had not taken time to prepare him for burial. So, as women do, she sets out with oil and spices to anoint his body. She walks slowly, head bowed, consumed by grief, weeping quietly. It is so hard to believe what has happened to her Lord. She had stood at the foot of the cross and witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus. She had waited, afraid and sad through the long, still hours of Saturday. And now, on Sunday, as she walks in the breaking dawn, Mary remembers that a huge stone had been rolled in front of the tomb to seal it. There was no way that she would be able to move it. She realizes that she isn’t going to be able to complete her task. Oh, why hadn’t she asked someone to help her? Wearily she trudges on, approaching the tomb. As the sky lightens, she slowly raises her head and sees ... the stone has already been moved back.
Mary is shocked and runs to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple. She cries out, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” The two men take off running, and like men, they had to race each other. Peter loses the race but shows more courage as he is willing to go inside to see the empty tomb. What do they do next? What do they think? What would you think? Resurrection? Probably not. You’d probably suspect grave robbers had been at work. The disciples go home.
But Mary stays ... weeping. After the terrible events of the past week, this must seem like the last straw. As she weeps, she looks into the tomb and she sees angels sitting there. When they ask her why she is weeping, she replies “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” She turns around and thinks she is seeing a gardener standing there. She’s indignant with him, thinking that he has taken the body. This ‘gardener’ turns to her and says, “Mary!”
With that, everything changes. She knows this voice. It is her friend, her rabbi, her Jesus. She grabs at him. She doesn’t want to lose him again but he holds her off. He tells her to go and spread the word. Mary Magdalene, becomes Mary the evangelist as she rushes to share this good news.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell this story and there are many differences in how they tell it. One thing remains constant: it is always Mary Magdalene who discovers the open, empty tomb. It is Mary Magdalene who first experiences this pivotal event in our Christian history, the resurrection of Christ. Tradition teaches that Mary Magdalene was a penitent sinner. She asked for forgiveness and received it. Look what that says: the first person to witness this miracle is not a priest or a holy person or even one of the 12 male apostles. The resurrection of Christ is first witnessed by a forgiven sinner. Kind of gives hope to people like us, doesn’t it?
It is fitting today that we focus on Mary Magdalene as she asked to have her sins washed away and thus received the grace of God’s forgiveness. One of the promises of baptism is the washing away of our sins. This water used in the ceremony is the outward sign of the inward grace that happens with baptism. Today we will all celebrate with Jenna as she is washed clean and made ready to start a new life in Jesus.
Listen to what Paul writes to the Romans: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom 6:3-4)
Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. In the water of Baptism we are buried with Christ in his death. By the water of Baptism we share in Christ’s resurrection. Through the water of Baptism we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
New relationships are built with baptism. The most important, is the new relationship that will be built between Jenna and Jesus. Today Jenna will also build a new relationship between herself and other followers of Jesus. We must all welcome Jenna into our church community and remember her in our prayers. Today, as we all say our baptismal vows, we can remember that our lives belong to God and that God is well pleased with us.
Now, please look at our cross. It was made in 1974 by Andrew Jonassen. Isn’t it beautiful? When I first came to church here I was a bit confused about why I didn’t see a body on that cross. I thought it was a small thing, just a little difference. Jesus died on the cross and that is the focus of many churches. We focus on the fact that he was taken down from that cross, buried and then rose from the dead. We are a resurrection church. We are an Easter church. We focus on the hope and promise of the resurrection.
You see, Christ is not on that cross because he is here, NOW with us. Through his resurrection, he lives on in our church, in our homes, in our daily lives. He is here with each of us today and every day. When we shout with joy on this Easter Day, “Christ is Risen, Alleluia!” we are not talking about what happened 2000 years ago. We are talking about now, today. Christ is risen in our own lives today.
I’d like to close with a prayer:
Christ, you are risen from the dead. We are risen with you. May our life never deny this eternal life, this peace and hope and joy. Praise and glory to the God of life who is stronger than all kinds of death. Alleluia.