Easter Sunday: Witnesses to the Resurrection

Easter Sunday: Witnesses to the Resurrection

John 20:1-18
John–Acts 10:31-43

Grieving is painful. It is de-centering. When I have lost significant people in my life, I have found myself reaching out to others to share the story and to take the first steps of walking through shock and grief. I have experienced the sense of oscillating back and forth between tears and numbness, seemingly randomly. It is, perhaps, a good thing that there are tasks associated with the passing of a close friend or family member—while they seem to take enormous energy, they frame the initial process of grieving.

I suspect that all of this shaped the experiences of Mary Magdalene and Peter as they went back and forth between the place where the disciples were staying and the garden tomb that first Easter morning.

Shock at the empty tomb, inability to interpret what they were seeing, and unpredictable reactions show up in the story recorded in John 20:1-18. Mary reaches out to the disciples who come and leave after seeing the folded grave clothes. Mary, on the other hand, stands weeping. We know from the other accounts that she and the other women had expected to lavish loving care on Jesus’ body, and even this task was interrupted. She remained firmly entrenched in her new wave of grief even when seeing Jesus, repeating her assumption that someone had taken away the body.

It took Jesus speaking her name before she recognized him. And later Peter retells the story, saying, “we are witnesses…who ate and drank with him after God raised him from the dead.”(Acts 10:41) It was not the empty tomb, but the personal encounter with Jesus that he referred to. Like our personal experiences of the love of God and the assurance of God’s forgiveness, these events reframed their grief, animated their faith, and gave them a way to see that stones and seals and death itself cannot overtake God’s loving purpose.

Grieving Today

Today, we may be grieving the passing of beloved people, or perhaps we are grieving because of the suffering of people seeking refuge and asylum in the United States, or people who are grappling with the aftermath of flooding and storms, or the ever-growing number of victims of war and violence. Or perhaps we are grieving the acrimony in our beloved church and are anxious about how God will lead us in the future.

I wonder if we might look at Mary’s example and stay with our grief, just a little while, seeking to see God’s presence anew as she did. When we do, perhaps we will get a new “assignment,” like the charge to her to “Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them…” (John 20:17) I wonder if we, like Peter, leave the scene, we might still expect that God will reconnect with us, allowing us to affirm our relationship (Do you love me? You know that I do.) and call us in to God’s mission in the world in a new way. (Feed my sheep…. Follow me. John 21:15-19)

May this Easter season be just such a time for us, when God’s loving purpose for the world is manifest beyond all the limits we perceive, and may we “go” and “follow” in resurrection power.

Harriett Jane Olson is General Secretary and CEO of United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 4/18/2019 12:00:00 AM