April 13, 2022 | An Easter Message from Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” -- John 20:15-16
The Gospel for this Easter morning as recorded in John opens with Mary Magdalene arriving to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Not completely grasping what has transpired, she runs to tell the other disciples what she has seen and what it might mean for their beloved Teacher. As the disciples, one by one, hear her report and begin to wrestle with its implications, they run to the tomb. They arrive breathless and begin surveying the scene -- the stone is rolled back, the linens that covered his body are present, the cloth that once covered Jesus’ head is now rolled into a ball -- but Jesus is gone. As the disciples entered the tomb, they believed Mary’s report that the tomb was empty, but they were yet unable to grasp its full meaning for their lives and for the world. The Gospel states,“for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”
But Mary remained. Mary did not leave with the disciples. Mary lingered a little longer. She wept just outside of the tomb as she looked in and felt the fullness of the emptiness. As she lingered there, two angels appeared, occupying the places where Jesus’ head and feet had been lying. The angels inquired about her tears and she explained that she did not know where Jesus had been taken. As she spoke, she must have felt a strong presence because the scripture says she turned around. She did not recognize who it was, but she lingered a little longer. Asked once more why she was weeping, she stated that if she could be taken to Jesus’ body she would gladly care for him. The person before her spoke her name, “Mary!” The voice, now familiar in her hearing, led to her to exclaim, “Rabbouni!” (which means teacher in Hebrew). Mary now understood that her beloved teacher and friend stood before her, risen from the dead. Jesus told her that she could not hold on to him because his mission was not yet complete, but she must go and tell the other disciples that he was going to fulfill the scriptures and ascend to his Father. Mary, having received this greater understanding, was able to go and share the good news.
Beloved, there is so much swirling around us; so much that at first glance appears overwhelming and final. We cannot break completely free from the restraints of the pandemic, violence looms at home and abroad, rancor and vitriol fill the halls of Congress and our churches and separation seems inevitable. Even though Easter is here, for too many it still feels like the wilderness, and we can’t quite grasp the full meaning of what we’re seeing and hearing. The inclination may be to return to our proverbial homes, but perhaps we need to linger a little longer.
If we linger a little longer, we may gain greater clarity. If we linger a little longer, we may hear a familiar voice. If we linger a little longer, there may be a conversation that restores our hope. If we linger a little longer, we may find an opportunity for reconciliation and healing. If we linger a little longer, the myth of the bad news may be overcome by the truth of the Good News. If we linger a little longer our faith may be restored!
In our desire to move quickly, gain immediate answers and get on with the business at hand, what are we missing? What might be within our reach that now feels just beyond our grasp? I have long felt that in this season of perpetual delay there is a message for us as United Methodists. What blessing might there be if we are willing to linger a little longer in the presence of Jesus?
May the story of Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus as she lingered at the tomb encourage us to receive the blessed assurance that God’s promises are true. Even when what we see with our eyes appears to tell one story, our Risen Savior still always brings good news, hope, restoration and salvation if we linger a little longer. I can hear the elders singing:
Done made my vow to the Lord,
and I never will turn back,
oh I will go, I shall go,
to see what the end will be!
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church