John 20:1-20 The summer between my junior and senior years of college, I bought a van. It was a 1984 Dodge Ram cargo van. It had two seats up front - the rest of it was bare. I bought it for two reasons: one, I wanted to have some transportation while on campus my senior year; and two, my band needed the vehicle to get to gigs. I loved that van when I first got it. It was a powerful machine. I sat way high up from the road. I think it got six gallons to the mile. I carpeted the back of it myself and added a couple of chairs from Goodwill. I once fit 26 people in it.
And then, the trouble started. I've never been much of a gearhead, but this thing completely baffled me. I had to drive it with two feet, because every stop at a red light meant it was likely to stall out, so I had to drop the thing in neutral and give it a little bit of gas while keeping my left foot on the brake. And the thing was in collusion with every garage I took it to, because it refused to replicate any of these symptoms in the shop. I would always get that "ran fine to me" shrug from the mechanic.
I had a band in Atlanta, though, and so we could lug our gear around in the van. That is, in theory, if we had ever had a gig. But finally, the stress of having a thoroughly unreliable vehicle got too much. I found a used car dealer that was willing to take it and give me cash. On the way there, the thing died again. I rolled into another dealer's lot, took whatever it was they offered me, and said, "Good riddance."
There are times in our life when it is time to move on. As much as I loved the van and the thought of it as a functioning way to get around, it could not have been clearer that it was time to get rid of it. I'd rather walk than have to change one more flat tire or block traffic while the engine wheezed and stalled. Did I mention I didn't even pass the emissions inspection a few weeks prior to dumping it?
I've been writing about times of transition for a couple of weeks now. First, we looked at letting go: how it is that we let some things hold us back; and how sometimes, we're the ones that won't let go and let ourselves be held back. Second, we talked about getting up - not so much the "dust yourself off" kind of getting up, but perspective: how it is that we can sometimes rise above our situation and see the path before us more clearly then. Last week (the blog didn't get posted) we looked at going in. Just as Jesus went into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday knowing what faced him, we, too, may need to face those things we are leaving behind in order to do what we can to continue with the next stage.
And now, we come to this scene at the Garden Tomb. Mary Magdalene has gone to tend to Jesus' body, assuming that she would find him still dead. But instead, the tomb is empty. The linens are there, but Jesus is gone. In a panic, she runs to find John and Peter. The come to the tomb and find the same thing; but even though the lesson says that "John believed," it leaves us with the impression that they simply didn't get it. They didn't understand, and so they went back home.
Mary hangs around for a while, speaking with the angels who appear. And when Jesus, the risen Christ comes, she doesn't recognize him at first, mistaking him for the gardener. It isn't until he calls her by name, "Mary," that she understands who it is that stands before her. And Jesus tells her to go and tell the disciples that he has risen, which she does. We're not sure how they received it, but it's clear that they're still gripped by fear when they have locked themselves into the upper room, when Jesus appears to them so that they can believe what Mary told them.
It strikes me that Mary had a choice. The text doesn't say so, but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to put ourselves in her place and imagine what it must have been like. She, as the other disciples, has ben shaken by the events of the days before. She has seen Jesus, her teacher, her Messiah, arrested, tried, tortured, killed, and buried. She has probably fled in fear, as the rest of the disciples did. She has come to pay her final respects, and found the tomb raided. And now Jesus appears before her? I am guessing that the urge to stay there with Jesus must have been strong; to go back and tell the disciples what she has seen, without any kind of reassurance from Jesus that he will appear again, must have been hard. Here he was, her rabbi, asking her to do something; she would want to follow his lead. But to do that would risk never seeing him again! But she moves on, finds the disciples, and tells them all that she has seen, perhaps out of panic, but also perhaps out of trust that Jesus would be as trustworthy now as he had been before.
When we our faced with a time of transition in our own lives, there is likely something that holds us back. Whether that's wanting to stay with Jesus a little bit longer or those fading dreams of rock stardom and memories of a super cool van that you've worked so hard to decorate just right, we may not want to let go. But there does come a time when we need to move on.
But that doesn't mean that what we leave behind is gone forever. Whatever it is we've come from can stay with us. It could be something as bittersweet as precious memories of something we've lost; or it could be a good thing to move on, a scar or wound in our past that needs to heal, but is not a good place for us to stay. But even so, lessons we've learned in the trying times can guide and shape us for the path ahead. For all the frustration we may have faced, we can still be grateful that we know how to change a flat tire.
For Mary and the disciples, they had three full years with Jesus at the peak of his ministry. From his baptism in the Jordan to his crucifixion in Jerusalem, Jesus taught them and shaped in ways that they would never, ever be the same.
And finally, when we are ready to move on, or even if we're not ready but sense that it's time, we can trust: trust that there is more ahead. We can trust that God goes before us into this unknown, uncharted territory that stretches on to the horizon. We can trust that there is grace, even if we are so afraid that we lock ourselves off from the world. The promise of resurrection, the gift of the risen Lord, will appear to us.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.