Reading: John 20:1-18
In the Gospel of John the first person Jesus appears to after His resurrection is Mary Magdalene. This is bizarre because, if you know the story behind Mary, she really wasn’t a significant character.
For starters, and I know this is somewhat of an obvious statement, but Mary Magdalene was a woman. And in the Jewish culture of Christ’s time, women were very limited in what they were and were not able to accomplish; they could not vote, could rarely own property and didn’t had much of a say in their own households. In fact, if you were a woman during Jesus’ time, your well-being was intricately linked to the men in your life. You were dependent first upon your father, then upon your brothers, then, hopefully, upon your husband. If he died before you the responsibility fell to your sons.
To make matters worse for Mary, not only was she a woman but we know from reading Luke’s Gospel that she was a “woman who had lived a sinful life”(Luke 7:37). This phrase could mean that she was a prostitute or perhaps an adulterer; what exactly this sin is isn’t necessarily important. The point is that she wasn’t an upstanding character. Nor was she a significant or powerful one.
And yet, she was the first person to whom the Risen Lord revealed Himself.
Why the emphasis on Mary? Why dive into her character?
Because don’t you find it pretty easy to relate to Mary? Don’t you find it pretty easy to relate to feeling neglected, helpless, inconsequential and overlooked? Do you ever feel unneeded or unnecessary, like the rest of the world has a purpose but you’re just kind of passing through?
What about the sin in your life? Do you often feel as though the past you’ve had, the mistakes you’ve made, do you feel like those weigh you down and keep you from God?
When we look deeper into the story of Mary leading up to Resurrection Sunday, we see that none of these things held her back. In fact, Mary had a reputation for a reckless love and trust in Jesus. John 12 records an instance when she anoints Christ’s head with an expensive burial perfume; one that was worth a year’s wages in her time. If you want to put that in relative terms, that’s about $44,000 dollars worth of perfume that she took and smashed at Jesus’ feet.
And do you ever wonder to yourself why Mary is at the grave on Easter morning? Think about it for a moment. Why is it that a group of women came to the grave to give Jesus’ body a proper burial? I mean, burial was an important job and was highly valued in Jewish culture. It was something that a revered teacher would have been owed by, I dunno…his disciples maybe? Where were his disciples at this time?
The answer is that they were scared. John tells us later that they were hiding behind a locked door because they were scared of the same people who’d just killed Jesus (John 20:19).
So who is it that comes out from hiding? Who is it that takes the initiative when everyone else is terrified?
It’s the women.
And there among the women heading to the tomb that morning is one who lived a sinful life. Mary was an uneducated, unschooled, known sinner…but a devout follower of Jesus all the more.
The message of Easter Sunday is that no matter how unworthy we feel to follow Christ, He still wants us and accepts us as one of His own. The message of resurrection Sunday is that Jesus does not want our knowledge, our holiness or our own attempts at salvation: He simply wants our allegiance. “Take up your cross,” Jesus so infamously commanded in Matthew 16:24. “Take up your cross and follow me”.
The sun rose on Easter morning and those who knew Jesus most intimately were in hiding. But the woman who owed the greatest debt to Jesus went to be with Him despite anything that could have happened to her. It was like she was smashing the jar of perfume at his feet, all over again. A year’s wages was nothing to her. The scorn of her peers was nothing to her. Her reputation was nothing to her. The threat of death was nothing to her.
All that mattered was her allegiance to Jesus. That’s what she acted upon and this is the legacy for which Mary has always been remembered.
This Easter, as you look out over the rising sun and a glorious new day, remember that we are not called upon to have faith because we of what we know, what we bring to the table or what we can do for Christ. Contrary to our egos, we have been called in spite of what we’ve done and in opposition to our inadequacy. We have been called by Jesus because He loved us and died for us.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! And Mary was the first to know.
Mary, a woman. Mary, a sinner. Mary, the least of these.
For Christ has risen and in doing so He has conquered the sin which bound us. Let us not fall short in our seeking of Him, let us smash everything we have at His feet in worship. When all the cards are stacked against us, when following Jesus requires walking out in faith and following Him, even in uncertainty, even to the grave, let us do so in boldness and confidence.
For Easter Sunday is not the end. Our celebration today is not in just remembrance of something that just happened, something that took place and is finished done, complete. Today is not solely in memory of Christ’s sacrifice. To treat it as such would be to leave Christ in the grave; we’d be stuck on Good Friday!
Instead, what we celebrate today is the reality of Christ’s redemption and renewal that takes place each and every day in the life of the believer. It is a celebration of what is to come, when Jesus Christ who conquered the grave will return to redeem all of His creation, to renew all of the cosmos and, finally, to gather all of us together again into perfect relationship with the Triune God.
And so together, on Easter Sunday, we proclaim as Mary did to the disciples:
“Christ has died, Christ was buried, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again”.