Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Ps 118 | Col 3:1-4 | Sequence, Victimae paschali laudes | Jn 20:1-9
This death is different.
Her dear friend just died a dreadful death. Hours earlier, Mary of Magdala watched as Jesus cried out from the cross and breathed his last. Now she returns to the burial site to mourn. It doesn’t take long for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of early morning, and what she sees astounds her. The stone that sealed the tomb—the stone that separates what was, from what is—has been removed. How? The stone seemed impossible to budge. Why? Because the stone was meant to mark an ending. It was supposed to permanently block anyone’s access to the body. This is why we weep at death—not just in grief but in a kind of existential frustration.
But this death is different.
The cascade of emotions coursing through Mary’s body at this moment had to have been torrential. Shock—what’s happening right now? Anger—who had the audacity to take the Lord from the tomb? Despair—these days have been horrifically sad, and now this? Grief—I’d give anything to have my friend back.
These are heavy emotions. It doesn’t get much harder than the loss of a loved one. Mary’s body easily could have crumbled under the weight of grief. She could have passed out. She could have stood still. She could’ve sat down. Instead, she does the very opposite. She runs!
Because this death is different.
She runs to Peter and the Beloved the Disciple. Between gasps of breath, she preaches what will soon be called the Good News. Apostle to the Apostles, she says: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” Similar emotions and questions must have coursed through those men, too. And like Mary, what do they do? They respond by running!
Both get to the tomb—with the younger of the two arriving first—and they see the burial cloths still inside. If anyone had removed the body of Jesus, would they have stripped it before doing so? Or if anyone had stolen it, would they have taken the trouble to remove the cloth, roll it up, and lay it in a place by itself? (Unless you’re Dexter, they would’ve just taken the body as it was.)
On this account John tells us, by anticipation, that the body of Jesus was buried with much myrrh, which actually glues linen to the body, even more firmly than lead. So, when we hear that the linen wrappings lay apart, we don’t endure those who say that the body was stolen.
Because a thief wouldn’t have been so foolish as to spend so much trouble on an unnecessary matter. Why should he undo the clothes? And how could he have escaped detection if he’d had done so? Not only would he have spent a ton of time doing so, but he likely would’ve also been found out by delaying and loitering.
This death is different.
Of course, Peter and the Beloved the Disciple do not yet understand the Scripture that “[Jesus] had to rise from the dead.” Who would believe such a bizarre claim? It makes no sense. It defies everything thought to be true about human nature, about the fragility of life and the certainly of death.
As darkness turns to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala, Peter, and the Beloved the Disciple find themselves at the threshold of love’s greatest mystery. After a morning of seeing, running, telling, bending down, and believing, these weary witnesses must now wait for what comes next. Remember: they have not yet seen the risen Christ. They have not yet heard him calling their names. They have not yet touched his body that lives and breathes once more. At this point in the story, they don’t know much. But they absolutely know one thing: this death is different.
We gather here today to celebrate this same truth—and then some. For with the benefit of hindsight, we know that happens next. We know that no one stole the body of our Lord. We know the tomb was never meant to mark an ending. Rather, it was meant to mark a beginning.
Our God makes the unbelievable happen. Our God transformed a tomb, a place of death and decay, into a womb, a place of possibility and new life!
At every committal over a grave, you hear your priests pray:
Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection
even as it claims our mortal bodies.
God raised Jesus to new, everlasting life. Our Lord ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Almighty. He continues to intercede for us. He remains closer to us than we are to our very selves. He continues to be made known to us in the word and in the breaking of the bread.
Each one of us, the baptized, gather here to testify to the Easter victory. So, do our lives reflect the reality of our baptism, when we died to self and rose with Christ? Do people see something in us that makes them want what we have? Because if we believe what happened on that first Easter morning, it changes everything!
How are you when conversations turn political? What comes out of your mouth when you speak of President Biden, or President Trump; because, guess what? Jesus loves them as much as he loves us; and he endured the agony of the cross for them, as much as he did for each one of us ... and everyone who has ever lived, and will ever live. Are we the light of the world and the salt of the earth? Are we seasoning this life, do we give it flavor by the witness and manner of our lives … or, are we just like everybody else? That's the thing about salt: it makes something better that's already there. (Ina Garten will tell you that.)
Death is now forever different. It doesn’t get the last word; it doesn’t have the last say. Death no longer wins, because Jesus destroyed death. His death that we acknowledge and celebrate today was so different, it has changed our death and those we’ve loved who have gone before us.