Behold, a mystery.

The women.  The women come back from their early morning trip to the tomb with shocking news.  Their breathless report adds alarm to the already deep despair; “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”  One final indignity.

The men, being men, and desperate to appear to be doing something – Peter and ‘the other disciple’ take off running, to confirm or refute this hysterical report that the tomb is empty.  Having been reduces to helpless observers by their fear of the authorities and the shock of seeing Jesus treated as a criminal, this looks like a problem they can solve.  Calm the women; find the body.

Sure enough, the tomb is empty – the grave clothes are neatly folded. Rumour confirmed,  John’s gospel reports that both saw, and believed…the women, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

So home they went – confused.

It will take a long time before the men do anything with this disturbing information.  The men whose names we know – whose lives we follow in the pages of Scripture – gather together; afraid, uncertain, unable to function .  Their world has been overturned.  Their main task – to follow and learn and question Jesus – has been taken from them with the death of their teacher.  The men have been little more than background noise, and the women have too often been portrayed as even less than that – object lessons, or unwelcome intruders.  But now, the women lead the way.

Mary.  Faithful, beautiful, devoted Mary.  Mary has seen it all.  Jesus in the villages; Jesus at the temple; Jesus arrested; Jesus tortured; Jesus killed.  For her, the mystery begins with an empty tomb, but seeing what she has seen and knowing what she knows, Mary stays.  Mary waits.  Mary mourns.

She knows that friendship demands more, so she stands unafraid in the middle of this mystery.  And this is not without risk.

The men, ever practical, may have chosen the safest path.  Imagine, being found at the empty grave of a convicted enemy of the state.  The men keep a low profile – waiting for the dust to settle.

But Mary stayed with her grief – her questions – her memories, because that’s what you do.  That’s how you mourn a friend.  And her bravery – her devotion is rewarded.  Mary will find the beginning of an answer in an incredible encounter with the Risen Jesus.

A mistaken identity.  A whispered question.  Her name, and that wonderful moment of recognition as a friendship is honoured with another, deeper, more wonderful mystery.  The mystery of Jesus words – Jesus presence – of Jesus resurrection – will turn the world upside down…again…for all of his friends. So what has the mystery done for you?

Because this isn’t just another long weekend, or another chance to get together with family and friends – no matter what your plans; no matter how you came to be here this morning, at the bottom of it all these ‘Holy days’ that have become holidays are rooted in mystery.

The mystery of existence – of life and death – meaning and purpose.  All of these things hang in the air and dare us to respond.  The mystery of the day is always connected to the work of God, because God is always at work.

And the choice we are given is always the same.  We can offer a quick surface examination of the facts – a stroll past the tomb, the cross – a passing glance at the landmarks of faith that satisfies our need to be busy and look like we’re involved.  Or we can go further.  We can run the risk of meeting God at work – of being recognized.  We might stand still in our confusion and curiosity long enough to be called by name, and drawn in to the work that God is doing in the moment.  Mary choose to meet mystery head on – all her questions, all her fears – and she was radically changed by her decision.  God works like that.

Our churches were once imagined to be places where the mystery of God’s presence was honoured and celebrated.  Certainly at times like this they still are.  But we are in danger of turning them into places to hide.  We come to feel safe – to inoculate ourselves from the misery and uncertainty that plagues our lives.  Perhaps we imagine that if we play our cards right, our patience will prevail, and the problems of the world will pass us by.  If we deny the grief that is ours as part of the human family – grief that wounds the heart of God and stirs the Spirit to action – if we hold ourselves in splendid isolation, with just the right music, and just the right ideas, we will be granted immunity for the difficult work of redemption.  The men discovered that strategy would not work.

The work of God broke into their closed circle.  Jesus broke down their barriers, and met them with the mystery of faith – he is Risen!  The grave cannot contain the mystery of God.  Locked doors cannot keep it out.  Hardened hearts will be shattered by it – and lives will be changed.

Our task in worship – the work of faith for every generation – is not to make others believe; it is to make ourselves vulnerable to the work of God, that meets us in the mystery of grief and joy – or sorrow and celebration.  God has done the work.  We need only put ourselves in God’s path.  And so begins our new journey.  Amen


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