The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 10, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Happy Easter everyone!

Everything this week – the waving palms, the shared meal, the sorrow at the foot of the cross has been leading to this day. This day that changed everything.

In the Bible there are four different gospel books, four different books that tell us about Jesus’ life on earth. There are similarities of course, but there are also differences in the way each writer tells the story.

This year our cycle of readings, the lectionary, has us looking at the resurrection story in the gospel of John. One of the unique features in John’s gospel is the way he gives us dramatic scenes of individual encounters with the risen Christ. He doesn’t just tell us the basic facts of what happened, he invites us into the story.

Jesus was crucified on Friday, and then his body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linens and placed in a tomb. A large stone was rolled in front of the opening and Roman soldiers stood guard outside.

So when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, that is what she is expecting to find, but she is about to be surprised.

Today’s gospel reading began, “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…”

We’re going to get to Mary shortly but first I want to focus on these two men for a little bit. I really like saucy people, and the unnamed man in this story is pretty saucy.

This unnamed disciple is commonly thought to be John, the author of this gospel . So it could be argued that it’s an act of humility that he is unnamed. Mary Magdelene is named, Simon Peter is named, but the second man is not named.

However, is it really all that humble to leave out your name if what you do instead is call yourself, “the one Jesus loved?” (2)

I don’t think so.

And is it really humble to describe racing to the tomb with Peter and point out that you ran faster than Peter did and you beat him to the tomb? (4)

What makes me chuckle at these kinds of details without beginning to worry that perhaps this is an arrogant, and therefore unreliable narrator, is the fact that the writer also tells us that although he reached the tomb first, Peter was the first person to go inside. (5)

Why race to be the first one to reach the tomb and then stop without going inside? Maybe he was afraid. Maybe the gravity of the situation hit him and he wanted a few more minutes before he had to deal with what he assumed he would find – that Jesus’ body had been stolen.

Maybe you’re there too. The liturgies of Holy Week ask us to sit in particular scenes in the life of Christ and in particular emotions. If you haven’t quite caught up with the joy of Easter Sunday, that’s OK, be ever so gentle with yourself. We’re glad you’re here.

Peter goes inside the tomb. He finds the linen that Jesus’ body would have been wrapped in lying there. The linen wrappings weren’t just tossed on the ground either. The gospel tells us that the “cloth that had been on Jesus’ head” was rolled up and separate from the other wrappings. All of these details suggest that Jesus’ body wasn’t merely stolen – because why would you unwrap a body that had been dead for several days before stealing it? Why would you take the time to carefully roll up the wrappings that covered his head?

You wouldn’t. That’s gross.

The two men examine these things and return to their homes. (10)

And that’s all we hear about them in today’s reading. They will re-appear again in future passages, but for today’s story, they exit the scene.

Why give us a detail like which disciple was the fastest runner and not tell us what they thought or said when they discovered the empty tomb? Or what they talked about on the way home. Or how they felt?

Maybe because some things are just too big for words.

But by the time this was written, the author could have found some words, he could have stayed with the two disciples and continued to tell the story from their perspective, but he doesn’t, the two male disciples exit the scene, and the story continues with a focus on Mary.

Now before we go any further, there are a lot of Mary’s in the Bible, so who is Mary Magdalene?

Since the Middle Ages she’s often been referred to as a prostitute but she wasn’t. Inaccurately describing her as a prostitute is meant to diminish her role in the story. It’s meant to draw focus from the fact that she was one of the earliest followers and supporters of Jesus’s work.

Because if you acknowledge Mary Magdalene was disciple, you have a harder time telling women that they can’t be leaders in the church than if you say she was a prostitute.

Earlier I mentioned that we have four different gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and there are similarities and differences between them.

All four gospels writers say that Mary Magdalene was at the tomb and all four gospel writers say it was Mary who told the disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Mary’s role and her faithful support of Jesus have been erased and ignored by the church for centuries. If I say too much more then we’re all in for a very long rant about patriarchy and the erasure of women in the church which we should probably save for another day. Many of you probably have lunch plans after the service and I wouldn’t want you to be late.

So let me just say that a lot of work has been done to reclaim Mary and her role in the church, and we now honour her with the title, “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Apostle means “sent.” Mary is the first person who sees the risen Jesus and the first person who is sent to tell others the good news of the resurrection.

But we’re getting ahead of the story.

Mary arrives at the tomb when it is still dark, she sees the stone has been rolled away and runs to tell the two disciples about it.

Mary tells them that “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

They all return to the tomb, the disciples confirm that Jesus is not there, and they return home. They don’t seem to stop to talk to Mary, or to comfort her, they just… leave.

Mary stays. Mary stays and stands outside the tomb weeping. (10)

Eventually, she peeks inside the tomb and sees two angels sitting in the place where Jesus’ body should have been. (11)

The angels ask her why she is crying and she says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (13) Mary then turns around and Jesus is standing right behind her, but she doesn’t recognize him.

She thinks he’s the gardener.

And then Jesus says her name and suddenly she knows who he is. (16)

Jesus sends Mary to tell the good news to the other disciples, hence her title Apostle to the Apostles.

Jesus also tells her not to hold onto him. I suspect that he has to say this because as soon as she realizes who he is and that he is alive, she tackles him with a gigantic bear hug. (17)

She doesn’t care that she’s a mess, tears streaming down her face, Jesus is alive! She’s going to hang onto him.

If she stood aloof and at a distance, Jesus wouldn’t have had to ask her not to hang onto him.

Mary does what Jesus tells her to do. She lets go of Jesus and she goes to share the good news. John tells us that, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!” (18)

In a great sermon from a few years ago, Nadia Bolz Weber writes, “… when Mary Magdalene, this imperfect woman, stood at the tomb, she didn’t encounter some perfected radiant glowing Jesus that morning. Seriously, no offense to gardeners but Jesus couldn’t have been looking all that tidy and impressive if she mistook him for a gardener: And here’s the thing: I like to think that Mary Magdalene mistook the resurrected Christ for a gardener because Jesus still had the dirt from his own tomb under his nails.”

When Mary sees the angels in the tomb, she knows they’re angels. When she sees Jesus, she thinks he’s a gardener.

What does it mean to worship a God with dirt under their nails? What does it mean to worship a God who loved us so much that they were willing to live and die as one of us? A God who was willing to get their hands dirty. What does it mean to worship a God who doesn’t need us to clean up and pretend we’re perfect before we can follow them?

It sounds like good news to me.

Mary encounters the risen Christ in the garden and her life is forever changed.

This story changed and continues to change my life. Maybe it has changed yours too.

What will your response to the resurrection be? What will our response be as a parish? How will we live in this new reality of resurrection? This reality that God is bigger than death and gives us all new life?

In the days and weeks to come as we explore the stories of how those first followers of Jesus began to live in the new reality of the risen Christ I hope we will also be challenged and encouraged to shape our own lives in new ways as well.

But those are stories for another today. Today is a day to celebrate because…

Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen.