“I Have Seen the Lord”
Scripture ReadingPsalm 118:1-2, 14-24 John 20:1-18
I couldn’t sleep that night.
I tried. I counted sheep, I traced the cracks on the wall… all the old tricks…
I really wanted nothing more than to be lost in the dreamless mercy of an exhausted sleep.
But what I had seen that day… was too much.
My body ached!
So, I just let my stinging eyes stare at the ceiling.
Not forty eight hours ago, I stood on Golgotha watching my Lord die.
What I had seen was more that death though.
It was… humiliation, grief, betrayal… It was agony.
It was that cruel tyrant sin.
My Lord, my love… wore all of that on his face.
But as I stood there on that hill… watching all this unfold… It wasn’t the pain that struck me as so severe (and from which I prayed for mercy) it was the fear and the lost-ness on My Lord’s face that hurt so much.
I wanted to shout out, “I’m here! Jesus, I’m here! Your not in this alone, My Lord!!!”
But I knew that my voice would get lost in all the shouting, the mocking, the wailing of him mother.
So I just stood there, ridged… as they brutalized my God.
Days before, he had told us that he had to die… but like this? My God, like this? Hanging on a cross?
He knew this was coming, didn’t he? But he didn’t run.
He knew this weight was soon to be on his shoulders… But he didn’t run. Why didn’t he run?
3 hours. Standing there like a helpless fool!
In my own hour of need (what feels like years ago at this point) when I was wracked with demons… My Lord, my Savior came to me and stretched out a hand and took that struggle away from me. Freed me!
But could I return that gift? Gift him with freedom? No… I stood there, stone still.
With the horror of what I was witnessing rolling down my checks…
No wonder I can’t sleep.
Every time I close my eyes I’m back on that hill looking at my broken God.
Night was fast approaching of that hill. The next day was a Sabbath day, so they hurried the executions of the others. Then they lowered My Lord’s lifeless body from the cross, so we could bury him.
We were so rushed! We barely had time to wash him, anoint his body and wrap him in burial linens, before the sun began to sink in the sky.
The tomb we put Jesus in was reserved for someone else! But we needed it… we had to lay our Lord to rest before the Sabbath started.
Just as the sun was hitting the tree line, we rolled the stone in place.
Then we went home. Not speaking to one another. Silent.
What do you do on a night like that? The one that you loved and served is dead… there was nothing left to do or prepare… what do you do when it is suddenly quiet?
I wanted to sleep… dreamless sleep. But it wouldn’t come.
When the Sabbath was finally over, I gathered together my anointing oil, set off to the garden where My Lord’s tomb was.
I wanted to take care with preparing his body for rest. I wanted to take time to say goodbye.
It was still dark out. I set out early.
But, as I walked in the garden, I saw that someone had beaten me to it! The stone covering the entrance was rolled back. I thought maybe the disciples had been here early and had the same idea I had, so I approached the tomb thinking that I would be running into Simon Peter or the other disciples. But there was no one there… Worry flooded my body!
I dropped the linens and oil in my hands and I ran to the home where the disciples were staying.
Ideas were storming in my mind! Grave robbers! Thieves! They took our Lord! Had they not punished him enough, they wanted to desecrate his body! Did the elders and the guards have so little respect! Could they not even leave his body in peace? Those thieves!!
Once I got to the house I called out to Peter, “They took him, the Master! They took him from the tomb. I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
They could see the truth of this in my eyes, because they didn’t hesitate for a moment! Peter and another disciple ran with me back to the garden.
Once there, Simon Peter went into the tomb first, there we saw the burial linens empty and folded. The cloth that we had used to cover my Lord’s head was set aside.
Peter and his disciple/brother, looked at each other, sharing a shocked glance, and ran off again back home.
Leaving me in their dust!
But I stayed there, standing at the entrance to the tomb. What was going on!? Why are they leaving? Where was My Lord?
What is there to do now?
I sunk to the ground. My heart being washed with a fresh wave of emotions- confusion, frustration, fear, anger… on top of the grieving…
I could not help but let the new tears come. On the ground I wept into the pile of empty linen…
I wept until my eyes were blurry.
Then I heard an echo of a voice ask me, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
I could hardly see, could hardly stand… But there was a light in the tomb, a light I didn’t quite understand. But in desperation I called to it, “They took my Master, and I don’t know where they put him.”
Then again I head, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” but this time the voice was so close, not an echo from a strange light… it was a warm sound.
There must be someone here to help me! Perhaps he knows! Maybe it is the Gardener, he would know what is going on here.
“Mister, if you took him, just tell me where you put him so I can care for him.” I begged. Surely he must know.
Mary. I heard.
My name. I know that voice. I know that tone, that warmth.
Mary. I heard.
I looked up and forced my eyes to focus through the tears…
And I saw… him!
My Lord! Not the cold body that we put so hastily in the tomb just days before. Not the bloody beaten mess of my God. But the flesh and blood man that we had all loved.
“Rabboni!” I cried!
I lunged at him from my pitiful spot on the tomb’s floor. My arms flying wildly around his legs!
After a moment, My Lord pulled me up from the ground and looked me right in the eyes with all the love and gentleness, and peace that was stripped from him – restored.
He said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”
Yes! I thought, the others have to know! They need to know that Our Lord is here. Living, breathing, real! I had held him in my arms! Not cold in death, but alive with a heart that beats! My Lord! He’s alive!
I ran through the streets shouting, “I have seen the Lord!”
“I have seen the Lord! My God, your God!”
One of my favorite Easter traditions that I have developed over the years is to greet the day (Easter Morning!), with Dolly Patron’s rendition of “He’s Alive” blasting through my house at dawn. There is just something special about how she tells the age-old story. How she cries out
“Yes he’s alive and I’m forgiven!
Heaven’s gates are open wide!
He’s alive yes he’s alive!”
Then she tops the whole thing off with a “Sweet Jesus!” with such heart and devotion. I love it!
But, Dolly’s song, as with the story of Easter Morning starts in a very dark place.
“The gate and doors were barred
All the windows fasten down
I spent the night in sleeplessness
And rose at every sound
Half in hope of sorrow
And half in fear the day
Would find the soldiers breain’ through
To drag us all away”
She tells of the sorrow, fear and anxiety that the disciples must have felt following the arrest and brutal death of their Friend and Savior. The hours and days after the Crucifixion must have been for them, absolutely terrifying. Could they be next?
Easter Morning starts in a very dark place. One of worry and grief. Just like Mary told us. She wept because her savior was dead. She wept because the tomb is empty.
She wept, because unknown to her… everything had changed!
Thanks to the gift of time we know the empty tomb to be a symbol of promise and of Christ overcoming the grave.
Yet we celebration… as Mary weeps.
Easter starts in a dark place.
How many of us woke up this morning thinking of by-gone traditions of the family? How many of us woke up this morning thinking about ones who are no longer with us to celebrate this glorious day? How many of us woke up to find yet another bittersweet holiday on your doorstep?
That’s how Easter starts.
It amazes me that the first person to see Christ alive (the first to experience the fullness of Easter) is a weeping mess of a woman named Mary. Who’s eyes must have been so swollen from crying that she mistakes Jesus for the Gardener… She was so sure that he was dead and gone… so she weeps.
And in response, Christ’s first act in this renewed life was to comfort someone who was in tears.
That is who Easter Morning is for. It was then, and it is now. Those that weep.
How great is our God!?
To comfort, Jesus says simply, “Mary.” And in hearing her name called she welcomes into her wounded soul the possibility of something new, something completely unexpected and illogical. In hearing her name called… Mary is able to understand that her lord might be near… again. That his heart might beat once again… the one she loves. And if his heart beats… so can her aching heart beat once again!
Mary came to the garden broken, grieving the loss of her Rabbi, her Friend, her Lord! The most important person in her life. Mary came to the garden (though she didn’t even know it) with a deep need for resurrection!
All of you that woke this morning to find the day bitter sweet. All of you who have names and images in your head of those who you have loved and loss… Have you not felt what Mary felt – a deep need for resurrection?
Consider this, do you think that Easter would have the same miraculous hope if Christ had died on the cross, and then popped up again immediately?
Heaved his last breath, paused for a moment, and climbed down from the cross whole and perfect… unlikely.
The disciples, those that loved him, had to have those days of grief, they had to have that lost-ness in them so that they could learn that it is in our darkest hours that Christ is the closest!
And Mary was in her darkest hour.
Christ’s first task once he drew in the breath of renewed life was to go to her. To dry her tears and to illuminate that darkness!
And what does she do once she realizes that this is her Lord standing in front of her? She does exactly what everyone of us would have done! She tackles him! She grabs him with this “I lost you once, now I’m never going to let you go!” kind of hold. She clings to him, as Scripture says.
To the point where Christ has to say “Stop clinging to me.”
Now, he says this… to give her a bit on insight on what is to come. He goes on to tell her that he is going to the Father so that he can be with them all though the Holy Spirit. He tries to assure her that he will be just as close to her (to them all) in the future as right in that moment.
But… he has to go, because if he stays on earth, his ministry is limited to just the few people, those that see him face to face. But to be with God… to be able to work though and with the Holy Spirit… then everyone can experience this kind of healing! This kind of joyous reunion that was happening with Mary!
He must ascend or he cannot complete his saving work. He has to ascend in order to throw wide the gates of haven (as Dolly Parton would say) so we all can know the miracle of resurrection! Becoming whole again.
And thank God that Mary let go of him so that we (you and me) can experience this same gift of wholeness.
How hard do you think that would have been? She is reunited with the one that she loved and lost… but she has to willing let go of him, just so he can leave… again.
We all hold on to the things and belongings of the ones that we have love… And it is hard to let go of those things. But they are just THINGS! Mary has Jesus, the man (alive, heart beating) in her arms!
Thank God she let go so that Christ could finish his work of salvation.
Now, Christ also said, “stop clinging to me” for another reason. And this is the message for us today.
In order for us to look forward to eternity, look forward to Christ’s great gift of salvation. We have to stop clinging to what is tangible and right in front of us.
Colossians 3:1-4, in the Message version says this,
“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.”
Sometimes we have to stop clinging to the tangible stuff. The stuff we understand, that is familiar. The stuff that is comforting and right there… So that we can look up to the important things. All that Christ is about and working though!
Christ said, “Stop clinging to me!” the physical me, so that you can be free to look ahead. The physical stuff is temporary. The heaviness of love lost is temporary.
The boxes in the attic holding bittersweet memories are temporary.
It does not have to act as an anchor any more, because there is something glorious, eternal, and bright waiting. That is the great gift of Easter. Freedom from the fear of death. Freedom for the grief of loss. Freedom in general. To go and live and thrive without the burdens of this world weighing you down!
Jesus’ first words to Mary were, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Christ rose again to overwhelm all that feels dark. All those tears.
The release and freedom of that fear, the letting go, is what propelled Mary through the street shouting “I have seen the Lord!” In the Greek, the passage ends with- “Mary came telling!” She didn’t wait until she was with the disciples, behind closed doors/ in hushed shocked tones, NO! She came telling! Shouting it in the street! “I have sent the Lord!”
Children of God, “Why are you weeping?”, “Who are you looking for?” Let it be known that God calls your name up out of fear and grief and into freedom, joy and life eternal! That is the Easter promise.
This is the day that the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it!