The Sabbath was over. The festival had ended. And very early in the morning just as the sun rose, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (sa·luh·mei) bought spices so they could anoint Jesus’ crucified body. They had followed Jesus from Galilee, marched on Jerusalem, and supported Christ’s kin-dom with their prayers, presence and pocketbooks. (Mark 15:40) They had seen Christ crucified. They heard church leaders joke about Jesus’ suffering. They knew how Joseph of Arimathea, ‘a prominent member’ of the very council that executed Jesus, asked the governor for Jesus’ crucified body. Magdalene and Mary watched as Joseph took the Crucified One down from the cross, wrapped Christ’s body in a linen blanket, and laid Christ’s body in Joseph’s own family mausoleum. In heaven, did the angels fall silent or sing dirges long into the night? How many tears did Magdalene cry? How deep was Peter’s silence? How angry was James? Were the Bible experts, priests, and elders satisfied that they had ended a blasphemous heresy?
Very early on the first day of the week just after sunrise, Magdalene, Mary, and Salome carried spices, towels, and pitchers to the tomb so they might properly wash Jesus’ body. In moments of staggering grief and stunning injustice, such compassionate acts may be all we can do. We bring flowers to the crime scene. We say their names – George, Breonna, Martin Luther King, Jesus. We carry a covered dish to a grieving neighbor. Such small acts of humanity open our hearts to God’s healing and bring God’s justice to earth. What can we do? Magdalene, Mary, and Salome could not fire Pontius Pilate. Signs posted on the temple walls barred these women from any pulpit or church council chamber! We Methodists only started taking down our gender-restrictive signs in 1956, and we are not done. Christ is risen and going ahead of us.
Magdalene, Mary, and Salome carry pitchers, towels, and fragrant oils to wash the Crucified One’s body. They remembered how Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water in a basin, and washed the disciples’ feet. Amid their grief these three clergywomen stay on mission remembering Jesus’ words, “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life away. A new commandment I give you: Love each other as I have loved you, so you must love each other.” ( Mark 10, John 13) Love is the commandment. Love heals the world. Love heals us.
Along their Easter journey, they asked who is going to roll the stone away from the entrance? It was a very large stone. They will not seek Joseph of Arimathea’s approval or ask the council or governor if it is okay to break the church’s official seal. (Matthew 27) Love flips over unjust tables. Love marches into restricted areas. Yes, Love tenderly washes wounded feet, but Love also requires righteous resistance to evil.
Arriving at Jesus’ tomb, Magdalene, Mary, and Salome see that the stone was rolled away. They are startled. Going into the tomb, they see a young man in a white robe seated where Jesus once laid. Mark does not mention Luke’s shimmering heavenly light or Matthew’s Easter earthquake. Mark’s more human messenger brings the same Good News. “Do not be afraid! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One. Christ isn’t here. Look, here was the place they laid Christ. Christ is risen. Go, tell the disciples, especially Peter, that Christ is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see Christ there, just as Jesus told you.”
I almost left out Mark’s 8th verse, “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” You can’t take verse 8 literally. We know that Magdalene, Mary, and Salome told someone, or we would not have their story today! Luke tells us that “they returned from the tomb and told the good news to the eleven. Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and other women with them told the news to the Apostles. And the Apostles did not believe them.” Matthew tells us the women ran to preach Easter sermons, but Jesus met them and greeted them. They drew near, grabbed hold of the Crucified One’s feet, and worshiped. Then Jesus commissioned them as clergy women, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my siblings that I am going ahead of them to Galilee, Damascus, and Nashville. They will see me there.” Magdalene, Mary, Salome, and Joanna are not just the first Christian preachers, they are Apostles, as surely as Peter and more qualified than Paul. They told their Resurrection stories. Mark wrote them down.
The Resurrection is the heart of Christianity! Life overcomes death. Boundless forgiveness takes the place of human frailty and sin. Love’s self-giving sacrifice overcomes systemic injustice and oppression. Christ is risen. Christ is with us. Christ is already way ahead of us. We will see Christ as we break bread, wash feet, feed hungry people, flip over unjust tables, and forgive seventy seven more times.
So bring your pitcher of water to Jesus. Give a cup of cold water to a neighbor longing for justice; make it holy with your tears. Wash the feet of an immigrant. Bring clean water to an enemy’s village. Help wash away the sins of this world. Carry those towels to the Crucified One. Bandage up the wounded. Provide healthcare for all. Unfurl that towel, and make a banner. Call out for justice, equality and love. Say their names. With each name, remember our Crucified Lord and the terrible costs of evil, injustice, and oppression. Take that towel, and lay it over the shoulders of those weary from fighting to be heard. Take those spices and feed hungry crowds. Season your words with grace, compassion, and justice. Be the salt that preserves this world. Carry your basin, towel, spices, and join Jesus in washing away the wounds of the world.
And behold- when you look up from your work, you may notice that Christ is risen. Christ is with us. Christ appears again in every act of mercy and every step towards justice. And Christ is already way ahead of us, even when we think we have arrived. So let us follow the Crucified One who saves us and heals our world. Amen.