As it began to dawn,
on the first day of the week,
came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.
Three phrases that are of great interest to this greatest of all stories. But I'll take them in the order I wish: First, about the women. When I was contemplating writing my Holy week blog posts this year, I fully intended to write about the women of the gospels. If I ever write a book--oh wait, I already did that!--this will be the subject. The importance of the women in the Incarnation. In an extremely patriarchal world, the likes of which none of us can even imagine, women show up in pivotal places. From the first word that He is coming--a mere nine months hence--to the word that He has risen, the good news of Jesus Christ comes not to men, not to the disciples, but to women. The best word about worship? Look to a woman pouring perfume over his feet and wiping it with her hair. The best word about attentiveness? A woman sitting at His feet, neglectful of all domestic responsibilities.
So two women hurry to the tomb as soon as the dawn breaks. Sabbath is over and there's work to be done. Women have had this work for centuries. My own grandmother had it, you know. Preparing her grandmother's dead body. Because of the Sabbath, there hadn't been time to do this Friday, so Jesus--their beloved Lord--had laid dead for three days, three days rotting to their ways of thinking, so there wasn't a moment to lose. There wasn't a chance in...well, you know!--that those Fishers of Men would do this job, any more than they would have prepared the meal for that last supper. No, this was women's work.
And because it was so, the women were first. AND GOD KNEW IT WOULD BE SO. It was no accident. He knew those men were still asleep in their grieving beds while those women saw a stone rolled away and an empty tomb. God intended it so. I've wondered if, because Eve responded first to the insidious words that God had lied, that she wouldn't die if she ate the fruit, so took that first bite, that God gave her--woman--the first glimpse of the victory over that enemy and our very death. The first "Oh-my-God!" that wasn't anything but the absolute truth. Dropping their embalming ointments (like myrrh) right there at the rolled-away stone, staring into that empty tomb for a moment then running off to tell the disciples, that "Oh-my-God! He's risen!!!" And the disciples didn't look down on the women like, "sorry, there's no possible way God would have chosen you to tell first." No, they took the news as...well, as gospel, Peter and John even having something of a footrace to the tomb, to see, to confirm, that He had risen, He had risen, indeed.
But John tells us of another moment, a quieter, most significant of all moments in all of history. Mary Magdalene has come back to the garden and is walking alone, worrying herself silly over that wide-open tomb and empty grave clothes, certain (as many of His detractors have tried to say throughout history) that someone has stolen the body.Crying. When she finally sees a gardener, he asks why she she asks, "Just tell me where He is so I can get Him."
And then the supposed Gardener speaks her name. "Mary."
Three important things happen in this moment, in this beautiful resurrection garden moment that pertain to how Christ comes to us. First, He appears. He's simply present with her before she knows who He is. He knows her, asks about her hurts, knows what troubles her. And this is always the case with how He appears to us. Secondly, He speaks. He calls her by name. He knows what what she can do, and what it will take for her to know Him. She recognizes Him when He calls her by name. And thirdly, He gives her a charge. He asks her to obey ("Don't touch me yet!") and she does on the basis of their relationship.
My mother's very favorite Easter chorus, which we sang with great gusto in the 70s, when it was popular, was "Every morning is Easter morning from now on. Every day's resurrection day, the past is over and gone." The tune is...well, it fits the era, but the words strike a chord (get it? a chord!) that ring so true, I can't stop singing them today. From the first moment those first women saw that the stone wasn't in place, and when Mary heard the 'gardener' call her name and finally realized what it meant--that He was alive, every day IS resurrection day. His resurrection, which happened in an out-of-the-way, little garden in a small country 2000 years ago, is the most transforming event of our lives.
So, these questions:
Do you feel His presence?
Do you recognize Him when He calls you by name?
Do you obey Him?
In short, do you live your life in the resurrection garden?