Take him by the hand

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (transferred) – July 23, 2019 – John 20:11-18 – St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee

Today’s gospel lesson is the same one that was read at my grandmother’s funeral in April. As all good Episcopalians know, the rite of Christian burial is a service of resurrection. Grandma was a Methodist, but she knew it, too.

What made this lesson all the more poignant was the fact that her funeral took place in Lent, during the week before Holy Week. It was as though we had arrived at Easter a bit early. The arduous passion-tide of Holy Week had been supplanted by a vigil watch over the bed of a dying family matriarch. 

The events of her death and preparation for her funeral were, as all deaths are, a holy time. But it was also an extremely sad time, a time in which the promise of resurrection was desperately needed. 

That’s exactly where we fine Mary Magdalene today. She’s in the still, quiet garden just before dawn, and she’s desperately in need of some hope. Boy does she find it. 

She sees the angels in the tomb and then turns to find the gardener and questions him about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. “Mary!” he responds. Just like that she realizes that he isn’t the gardener at all, but the risen and living Lord.

We’ve all been to the garden before, perhaps in the dark days after the death of a loved one. We, like Mary, desperately needed some shred of hope. Maybe for you it was in the wake of a divorce, a job loss, or an injury. 

As Christians today, when we find ourselves in the garden we can rely on the well-worn promise of resurrection in all its 2000-year-old glory, but for Mary Magdalene it was all just beginning. She was the first one to discover this promise. 

There is a sense in which, even though we already know what awaits us on the other side of Good Friday, we too must discover God’s resurrection power for ourselves. 

My Grandma once told me that during the hardest time in her life, when she, like Mary Magdalene, stood weeping and alone outside of the tomb, “Jesus found me like a friend, took me by the hand, and never let me go.”

Her comment really puts things into perspective. Some Christians go on and on about how they’ve found Jesus, and they’ll ask you if you’ve found him, too. For Grandma it was the other way around: you don’t find Jesus. Jesus has already found you.

Jesus is already beside you. Even in your darkest hour, he’s there. Even when you might not see him very clearly, he’s there. Even when you mistake him for a lawn care professional, he’s there. 

Each of us may discover his presence in our own time, in our own way, but when that moment comes, it’s not that we’ve found Jesus, it’s that we are finally ready to take him by the hand.  

By God’s grace and God’s grace alone you are loved, forgiven, saved, and redeemed. God has been with you from the beginning, and God will never let you go. God even sent Jesus to take on your human nature, to show you how much you matter, and to take you by the hand.

In response to this amazing news, dear friends, you can come to the table again right now, take Jesus by the hand once more, and then go out and introduce him to everyone you meet.

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