Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; •
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, •
‘His mercy endures for ever.’
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, •
and he has become my salvation.
15 Joyful shouts of salvation •
sound from the tents of the righteous:
16 ‘The right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds;
the right hand of the Lord raises up; •
the right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds.’
17 I shall not die, but live •
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, •
but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, •
that I may enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord; •
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me •
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected •
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, •
and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made; •
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
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 from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one 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. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But 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, ‘Woman, 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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Sermon on Easter Sunday
“Supposing him to be the gardener” – This phrase tell us a lot, doesn’t it!? But about what? Is it talking about poor Mary, that bereft woman who went to the tomb to do her duty for the body of Jesus, or is it? Isn’t it possible that we are the Mary in the story? Aren’t we all grasping at straws as we try to make sense of the life and death of Jesus Christ? Aren’t we going to ask anyone in the vicinity of the empty tomb about the body of Jesus?
But before we get too confused, let’s look at the text itself.
She saw him standing there and she did not know that it was Jesus, he asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” She supposed he was the gardener; she said to him, “If you have carried him off, where have you placed him? Tell me and I will take him away.”
The words translated as “saw” and “know” stem from the same verb. The word translated “supposed” is from a different verb. The two words are very different, but yet they point to the same reality – that of understanding, which has to do with seeing, in other words with what appears and seems to be the case.
Let’s consider this more philosophical point on this the happiest of days for Christianity. – We suppose an awful lot in the course of our lives. One of the most important is: who that person is who stands there before us right now. Mary supposed that this fellow standing innocently in front of her is the gardener of the burial ground. So it must have been a real shock for her to be addressed by name. When she heard, “Mary!” her heart must have skipped a beat – if it did not stop altogether. Everything changed in that moment, when she really heard with those ears Jesus wants us all to have.
That voice was speaking to her – that voice is the one she knew so very well. “Mary!” the word must have penetrated deep into her soul, and “Master!” burst forth from her stifled heart. What else could she say when she heard that voice? Rather than merely supposing, when that voice pronounced her name, she knew what was the case. In other words, she saw clearly – she knew the truth before her – no longer the semblance of the gardener, but the actuality of her Lord and Master stood there before her. So close she could touch him, as she really did hear him call her name.
We often hear something in a voice, don’t we? That slight inflection, that rise of a particular syllable. Something in the voice gives everything away. – We don’t know what it is, but we hear it with that part of our self that really listens. It is that which this story is all about, that part of our souls which hears everything around us.
Today is the day which demands we begin to hear, just like Mary. We have to listen to all around us and make sense of it now, at long last and yet suddenly. As we stand by the empty tomb we approach the stranger before us, and we suppose. That is the human condition, we suppose something to be the case.
We, with Mary, address the fellow there. She uses the word Kurios. This word has a wide range of meanings, from the dismissive “mister” to “Lord” in the sense of king or god. So Mary supposes this man, this mister, is the gardener. “Sir” she says, let me know … But when she heard her name, when she heard that voice … the word became the highest of meanings, Rabbouni, she replies, another honorific which transforms Kurios, in retrospect when we read the story again this time, the word is morphed into Lord Jesus Christ.
In faith we suppose for the greatest hope we could possibly have. In our everyday lives we suppose that there is some prosaic answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. Like Arthur Dent, we want to accept that simple “42”. We don’t set our sights very high in our everyday lives, do we? Like Mary, we look for a very simple answer to our question, “Where have they laid the body of Jesus?” But that is an everyday question, and the answer that they will give, without any conviction, without any care – that answer is without any assurance that they are telling us the truth. That is the problem of supposing. – We suppose so much, that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, that our children really do love us behind that facade of their careless indifference, that our neighbour might actually have a caring interest in us despite their closed blinds and the six foot fencing around their houses. We do suppose so much, don’t we? That is the problem – when we suppose, we often get it all wrong.
Mary was so mistaken when she talked to that fellow in the garden, wasn’t she? I used to work as a gardener in a public garden, and it was surprising how often people would come up to me to ask me questions. They were questions of all sorts – about the house, the family, everything about the setting in which we found ourselves. Once in a while I would get a question about the garden and what I did to overcome a certain problem, or even to identify a problem they were having in their own gardens. But how often were their suppositions absolutely wrong – especially when they wanted me to solve their horticultural problems!
This notion of opinions and supposing is the basis of so much of our experience. It appears to be the case, we say, and so we act as if it were the known, the very real. It is our opinion, our orthodoxy. But is it the right notion? All this supposing is not the same thing as knowing, the knowing of that other word used in our reading – the seeing of something as it is.
Mary now sees the Lord before her, she stretches out her hand … – We are like Mary aren’t we? – wanting to touch him like Thomas. We stand before the empty tomb, looking into its depths only to hear that voice calling, “Why do you weep?” Each and every one of us can hear just as Mary did, but we must open our hearts and minds – we must open our souls in order to respond to the call.
Easter is a very complex day for the Church, so much is tied up with the events of Holy Week. We are confronted by Good Friday and the cross. Holy Saturday and the aumbrey lies open, the tomb empty. And now we hear the story of Mary, our story today. Now we must sing out the glory of the Lord, to proclaim the thought of the Church about the risen Lord. We need to see clearly so that we can speak about the ultimate reality of the saved individual. This is the new orthodoxy, when we hear that voice calling us into the world. Just like Mary our mouths will be unstopped and with him before us, we will joyfully proclaim “Master!” as has been done so many times before.