United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


🌸🌻🌷“Our Resurrection” 🌸🌻🌷

 April 9th, 2023

 Rev. Rebecca Migliore



        The story of Easter morning in the gospel of John is different from the other gospels in at least one sense—it is a personal story, the story of Mary.  In all the other gospels, it is various groups of women who go to the tomb early in the morning after Passover.  But here, it is only Mary.  Oh yes, Peter and “the beloved disciple” make an appearance—a mad dash and a quick look and then a walking away.  But we are laser focused on Mary. 

        We don’t get told why it is that she alone has come to the tomb before first light.  And in the fog of consciousness she sees that the stone covering the tomb has been removed but doesn’t appear to go in to look.  She does the only thing she can think of, run, run to the others, run to Peter and John (the beloved disciple), who must have been up as well, and says, not what we expect “The stone has been removed, what can it mean?” –no, she blurts out what must have been one of their concerns, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.”  Who is they?  Romans?  Robbers?  Other disciples?  And who is “we”?  We don’t know, we the royal we, I don’t know, you don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know what to think, we don’t know what to do, we don’t know.

        After Peter and John have checked out her story and left the scene, Mary stays.  And she weeps.  She weeps for the loss of the most important person in her life.  She weeps for the added indignity of the desecration of her Lord’s body—removed from its tomb.  Put God knows where.  Oh no, maybe unwrapped.  Maybe subjected to even more ridicule and mocking and cruelty.

        Mary is afraid.  Afraid of the absence.  Afraid of the emptiness.  Afraid of what life, what a sad, miserable life it will be without Jesus, without the one who had turned their lives around, as well as upside-down, without the one who they would have followed anywhere (and some of them had), without the one who they, she, had loved.  And so Mary weeps alone.

        And then, she bends and looks in the tomb.  Expecting, I am sure to see nothing, or to see what Peter and John have reported, the linen wrappings, the head cloth, strewn around.  But that’s not what she sees.  She sees two angels in white.  And in what must have seemed like a dream they ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  Now we don’t get her scream of terror.  The angels don’t start off with “Do not be afraid” the way they always do in the presence of humans.  Mary doesn’t even have the ability to sarcastically say, “Surely you know what has happened here.  What do you mean, why am I weeping?”

        No, she has one thing she wants—she wants to locate the body of her Lord.  “They have taken away my Lord, and I, I do not know where they have taken him.”  This is pretty bold for it doesn’t really answer the question.  She’s not weeping just because Jesus’ body is missing.  But maybe the answer to “Why are you weeping?” is just too long a story to tell, a life-time in fact.  And in this single-threaded state, she doesn’t linger with these extraterrestrial being.  She turns away and finds herself facing someone in the garden.  He asks the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  And then a different one, “Whom are you looking for?”

        And now the answer morphs as Mary responds to this supposed gardener, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  She is getting more sure of herself.  From “we do not know” to “I do not know” to “tell me, and I will take him away.”  Maybe her voice has more pleading.  Maybe it has begun to have a trace of steel in it.  Maybe there is a little anger seeping into her panic and fear and confusion.

      Maybe she even reaches towards this person in the garden with her, to shake him, to make him tell her the truth.

        And then she hears, “Mary.”  It is as if the sun has come up over the horizon.  It is as if her eyes have been opened.  It is as if she has drunk living water, as if she herself has been liberated from the tomb of despair and grief.  In that one moment, that one hearing of her name again, in those tones that must have been familiar, she knew.  She knew what it meant that the stone was rolled away.  She knew what it meant that there was no body.  She knew why there were angels nearby.  Most of all, she knew that her Lord was alive.

        “Rabbouni,” Teacher.  And I can only imagine that she flew to him, encircling his body with her arms, the body that just a little while ago had been so cold, that she had helped wrap in cloths and perfumed for burial.  He was alive.

        And she was alive again as well.  All the tiredness and weighted-ness of grief were gone.    Gone too were all the thoughts of the cruel stretch of lonely days, months, and years without Jesus.  Gone was the dim shadow of a grey life.  Gone was the weeping and the fear.  For she was in his presence once more.  She was with her Lord.    

        Now the gospel of John, with all its secret twists and turns, with its long-winded and hard to understand Jesus, when seen through the lens of this story, is really a gospel about one on one encounters.  Nicodemus in the night.  The Samaritan woman at the well.  The blind man.  Martha and then Mary near Lazarus’ tomb.  These are not stories of community interactions—although they are told to the community.  These are personal, face to face meetings with Jesus.  Full of time spent wrangling with the deeper questions of life.  It is almost as if the writer of John wants us to see that that is what we are called to as well.  We are to have nightly moments, we are to meet Jesus by the well.  We are to let Jesus help us see.  We are led to see Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. 

        And here, in this ultimate moment, John suggests that not only is Jesus the Resurrection and the Life, but that we too are called to be part of resurrection.  Not just long, long into the future, not just as earthly life comes to an end, but here and now, this day, this moment.  And as I thought about this Easter morning story, it seemed to me that John was suggesting there were stages of being a part of resurrection. 

        Absence.  Weeping.  And Presence.  For you have to start out knowing what you don’t know.  You have to recognize that there is something missing.  If you never go to the tomb in the early morning, before dawn, you might miss that the tomb is empty.  If you never take the time to really look, really see, what is going on in the world, what is going on in people’s lives, you might miss that there is something missing.

        In our world, in our country, in our state, in our town, in our very lives, do we have eyes to see?  Are we up in the early morning?  Are we willing to glide through the shadows, trudge through the dim light, to think about, talk about, the entombed problems all around us?  It is hard work.  It is slow work.  It is important work.  For it presents us with the absence of what should be.  It is the beginning of the road to resurrection. 

        But in John’s gospel, recognizing the absence isn’t enough.  Or it doesn’t get you to the finish line.  Oh, you can stoop in and see that the body isn’t there, you can even believe in resurrection in the abstract.  But if you want a close encounter of the spiritual kind, you have do more than just witness the absence.  You have to be willing to sit with it.  You have to be able to weep.  Not to get lost in your weeping.  Not to become an immovable puddle.  Weeping lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning, says the Psalmist.

        Weeping is a way of acknowledging that someone, something has meant something to you.  Weeping is a way of participating in the sorrow of a world that is not yet right, in the anger of the terrible things that we do to one another, in the frustration that we just don’t know what to do, just don’t know where to turn, just don’t know if it will make a difference.

        Many of us were heart-broken and disgusted when the Tennessee legislature expelled two representatives—Justin Jones and Justin Pearson (the two black young men of the Tennessee three).  They expelled them because they had done exactly what we are called to do—and what they were elected to do as representatives.  They heard the voices of their constituents (especially the groundswell after the most recent gun violence at an elementary school in their state).  They wept with them, and listened to their pleas.  They joined in their protests, and brought their voices to the floor of the legislature.  And this infuriated some people so much, along with the audacity of their youth, and their blackness, that they had to be expelled.

        The story of the Justins in Tennessee is not over.  But it is a reminder that to get to resurrection you may have some hills to climb.  To get to resurrection, you have to know the absence, you have to be strong enough to weep, and you have to be tenacious enough to never stop moving, pushing towards your goal.  You have to be ever ready to heed the calling of the Spirit that your goal might need to change.  (In Mary’s case, from looking to retrieve Jesus’ body, to running to tell the news, and stepping into a new life).

        Absence.  Weeping.  Presence. 

        “Jesus is risen, Christ is risen indeed” is an easy thing to say.  We say it every Easter.  But to stand face to face with Jesus is another matter.  To allow the absence to break us, to allow the weeping to mold us, to allow Jesus’ voice to break through all others, that is resurrection.  That is knowing that Jesus is alive.  That the one who was dead is alive for ever more.

     That death has lost its sting.  That the victory will always be God’s, no matter how dark it seems, no matter how much it looks like evil has triumphed.  Thine be the glory, risen conquering son, endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won. 

        Let us not get too caught up in the world-wide excitement of flowers and Easter bonnets and bells ringing and happy singing and even the lightness of heart after weeks of Lent and the grind of Holy Week.  The gospel of John narrows all that into a personal story.  And asks, have you participated in resurrection?  Have you met Jesus in the garden?  Have you heard Jesus call your voice?  Have you ever metaphorically run into his arms?  Have you moved from the fear of God’s absence to the joy of God’s presence? (from seasons of the Spirit).

        And now we discover that there is one more step.  It isn’t just absence, weeping, presence.  But absence, weeping, presence, and our own resurrection.  Jesus’ “don’t hold onto me” is a gentle reminder that we can’t stay in the garden with him for the rest of our lives.  We can’t hang out in the club for two, or even the club for just a few of us.  In the light of resurrection, holding onto that moment is forgetting what has happened.  Holding onto that moment means getting frozen in the last 100 yards of the first race.  Holding onto that moment is not the end of the story.  No, we are sent back to tell others.  We are sent out to change the world.  We are asked to live into our own resurrection, our own rebirth.

        We will stumble, and might even fall.  We will be tongue-tied and out of breath.  We may get distracted for a moment.  But the way is clear.  The message is sure.  We have seen the Lord! And that sends us out once more into the world of so much absence, a world in need of so much weeping, a world pining for a glimmer of God’s presence, a world waiting for resurrection.


        May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.


Before light of the candle  (close eyes)


You are in the garden.

begin with the sounds of late night

rustling, calls of birds waking,  


Next, slow footsteps, gasp, running feet

“They have taken the Lord…”


Then more running feet,

        two sets of feet together.


Confusion, the smell of earth.


Imagine Touching cold hard stone.

Hear Water dripping in a cave.

More feet on their way home.


A woman weeping, Angels asking “Why are you weeping?”


And finally a conversation and that incredible moment “Mary”




Let us light the Christ candle hearts/homes/this place