So you want to hear the story, eh? You want to hear it from this old woman, this old crone who was in that garden that day?
I’ve told it so many times over these decades since it happened. I am tired…but no.. I will tell it to you again, because I see the hunger in your eyes. You want to know what happened? Sit down there, by the door, where you can feel a breeze on this hot afternoon, and I will tell you.
It was a strange day, after an even stranger week. We started out thinking we would be sharing our Passover dinner together, in Jerusalem, a blessed time. There are others who say differently, that we had that Passover dinner, but this is my story…we dined, and the Teacher blessed that dinner, but it was no Seder…it was something else. But we hardly understood how different this meal, those days would be.
They killed him, you know. It was ugly. The chief priests had made a devil’s deal with Pilate; they had aroused the passions of the crowd. Pilate didn’t really want to do it, but shrewd politician that he was, he did the deed without taking any of the blame for his acts.
They killed him. It was vile and ugly, as crucifixions always are, but this one was even uglier, because this was a gentlest, most loving Teacher. He had done nothing wrong.
Pigheadedness. Odd to accuse those righteous priests and scribes of a quality of an unclean animal, but there it is. They refused to hear what he was teaching. They simply saw him as a threat to their established order. So they used the power of the Roman Empire to dispose of someone they hated, not because they thought his teachings were wrong or sinful, but because they thought he would take their power away.
Men! Consumed with themselves, with power, with control.
We women know better…only God has power. Only God has control.
Where was I? Yes….he died. Miserable pain. Only a little sour wine at the end to ease his agony. He died, and Pilate did the one gracious thing in his power…he let Joseph, that rich man , Arimathean, take the body of our poor dead teacher.
Good man, that Joseph. He put the Teacher’s body in his very own tomb. A nice tomb it was, freshly hewn, no animals in there, just a stone slab on which to lay him down. A hard bed, but at least a clean one. Nicodemus came, too…he brought the spices, the myrrh, the aloes. We buried him properly, wrapped in fine linen, with the spices in the folds of the cloth, as was our custom in those days. And Joseph and Nicodemus and four of Joseph’s servants heaved a great stone across the opening. None could get in to disturb dear Teacher in his resting place.
And so we left. Our eyes were dry. There were no tears left to weep. The beloved one, with his arm around Mary, Jesus’ mother…they were both beyond words. The rest of us, too, feeling nothing but the hard cold emptiness of our loss.
I could not sleep. No surprise…my mind always raced ahead at breakneck speed, trying to understand the Teacher’s beautiful words. But now there would be no more words…I wanted to repeat them, over and over, so I would never forget. But it was not enough.
And so I got up, before the sun’s rays warmed the air, and went back.
Back to the tomb, back to the Teacher. The words were not enough. I wanted…no, I needed, to be near him.
I wandered down path, tripping over stones in the darkness, hearing the cries of animals around me. I was frightened. Darkness is a harsh world. You imagine much evil that you cannot see in the dark. And evil had been all around me these past days.
When I got to the cave where we had buried him, I stopped. I thought it was a trick of the light, as the sun crept over the horizon…no…it was true…the stone was rolled away. There could be only one reason – some evil ones had rolled away that stone and taken the Teacher’s body.
I had been frightened walking in the dark…now I was even more frightened, and angry, too. Who had done this? Where had they taken him? It was more than I could bear…first they killed him, then they took him. Why? To what purpose?
So I turned and I ran. I ran faster than I had ever run before, most certainly much faster than these old legs could carry me now. I found Peter and the beloved one, and told them…He’s gone. Someone has taken him from the tomb. I don’t know where he is.
And now they were running, the two of them, running even faster than I had, and the beloved one – oh how he loved the Teacher! – he got there first, but when he looked in and saw, he would not go in. But Peter, he did go in, and it was a strange thing he found there…
The linens cloths, neatly folded. The head wrapping rolled up separately on the slab. But no Teacher. And the beloved one went in, too, and saw it…they did not know what to make of it, I tell you, nor did I. They said not a word to me, but their faces were greatly troubled…they simply left. Walked back home.
But I could not leave. This was the final insult to my dear teacher, to have him taken from us by death and now by…what? Who? I did not know. So I sat on the ground and wept.
I had thought my tears were spent. I was wrong. I cried, and I looked into the tomb.
You know, it is foolishness to look once and see nothing, then look again as if something might magically be there. And perhaps I was a fool to look, but I did, as if I could once again imagine his body there as we had left it.
This fool looked, and saw something beyond belief…two angels. Perhaps I was mad with grief, but I tell you now, they were real. There were two of them sitting on that cold hard slab of rock, one at the head, one at the foot. They saw me weeping there, and asked me why I wept.
Why did I weep? Why should I not weep? The pain..first, to see the Teacher killed, then to have his body removed from the tomb? Such ridiculous questions…I turned away again in my anger.
And there was a man standing there. I thought he was the gardener at first…his face was in shadow, my eyes were blinded by my tears. And he asked the same question “Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
I thought he might have been the one to take the Teacher away, so I asked him where he had put him…
My eyes were blinded by my tears, but my ears were not. I should have recognized that voice, shouldn’t I? But it was only when he said my name, “Mary” that I knew. It was my teacher. He was alive…I reached for him
Dear Teacher, let me touch you and hold you! Let me embrace you!
But he said no.
I could not touch him. He would not let me.
But the tomb was empty! He was alive! He had conquered death!
I wanted to embrace him.
But he had something else in mind… to tell the others what I had seen, and that he was ascending to the father in heaven.
I wanted to hold on to the old Teacher, the man I had known, had anointed with nard, had dined with. But this Teacher was something new and wondrous. He was no longer someone for human embrace…all I could say to the others was the truth “I have seen the Lord.”
So that, my young friend, is the story. The years have taught me what I did not understand then. The human embrace would never have been enough. It was when I embraced this risen Teacher by living as he taught me, by teaching others as he so often did, by loving my brothers and sisters with the depth of the oceans and by loving my God more than anything or anyone….that was the true embrace. The miracle of that moment in the garden was the release from clinging to the man so that I could reach out with those same hungry arms to hold on to the world that he came to save.
And I am tired now. Even now, decades later, the story still has the power to undo me. I have tried to be faithful to the Teacher, and I suppose the best way I know to do that is to pass on the story to the young ones, like you. So will you go and do the same? I would like that, and I know that the Teacher would, too.
An MP3 audio file of this sermon may be found here.