Fasting on God's Gifts, Feasting in Sorrow
Presbyterians for Earth Care Lenten Devotional 2012
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 toward 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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.
The first proclamation on that early Easter morning was not “Christ is risen!” but “Jesus is stolen!” The empty tomb, Mary feared, bore all the signs of a body-snatching.
But fear turns to wonder when Mary encounters Jesus, whom she initially takes to be the gardener. The confusion surrounding Jesus’ identity is not a simple case of mistaken identity, however. Rather, it is a case of double entendre. Unbeknownst to her at that moment, Mary is well on her way toward acknowledging the one standing before her as divine. Mary’s first impression of the resurrected Christ is not a false one: it contains a seed of venerable truth about God’s redemptive work in the world. Gardeners are by definition cultivators of life; they work with the soil to raise up new life. God, according to Genesis, was the first gardener.
Resurrection is hands down the most miraculous act of cultivation, a bringing forth of new life from out of the soil that is our flesh. “How are the dead raised?” Paul asks. The Apostle considers the seed, which must die before it bursts forth with new life (1 Corinthians 15:35-36). Perhaps that is the best way to understand the resurrection. Resurrection is organic, and the results are beyond measure. Without the seed there would be no mighty cedar, no majestic redwood, no mustard bush. New creation emerges out of the shell of a seed, out of the ground of refuse and decay. No wonder Paul describes Christ’s resurrection as “the first fruits.”
There is something boldly bodily about Christ’s resurrection. And there is something quite cosmic about it as well. As our living bodies reflect the evolutionary legacy of life in all its interdependence and as the molecules of our bodies become dispersed in death and shared with future generations of life, then resurrection cannot be limited to the raising up of human life.
Resurrection’s scope includes all of life, for resurrection is the forerunner to the new creation, to the cosmic banquet by which all life will be sustained. The empty tomb is not empty. It is fully charged with the renewing, transforming, healing power of God at work out in the world. The empty tomb points to the feast of grace.
O God, in whom we live and move and have our being, we give you thanks for the miraculous gift of resurrection, of the new creation that is already at work in Christ. May we be healing agents of your creation, which suffers and groans by our own hands. Make us practitioners of resurrection’s wonder here and now in all that we do. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Dr. Bill Brown is Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary He was the plenary moderator and worship leader at the 2011 PEC Conference in Highland Camp and Conference Center. He is author of Seven Pillars of Creation.