These two women witness to you that Christ is your resurrection and life now, not just a promise of life in the world to come.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Resurrection of Our Lord, year C
Texts: John 20:1-18, with reference to Martha in Luke 10 and John 11
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This day could change everything about your life. Today. Easter Day.
This could just be a day to remember historic truth – Jesus’ resurrection – and our promised future – life in the risen Christ after we die.
This could just be a day to play with our emotions. We’ve walked through Jesus’s suffering and death this week, and in some ways experienced that pain. Today could be the emotional payoff: be glad, be joyful, the story has a happy ending.
But there are women who were there 2,000 years ago who can tell you that today, Easter Day, could change your life. Fill your heart. Reshape everything you know about who you are and what God is doing in your life. There are two witnesses whose lives were forever changed by Christ Jesus and the power of resurrection life that flows through Christ into the world.
If you could be so changed today, wouldn’t that be worth hearing?
Listen to Martha of Bethany.
She isn’t named as one of the women who came to the tomb. Her vital testimony comes a few weeks earlier. Martha’s the loud one who speaks her mind. Whether it’s about domestic arrangements or Jesus’ failure to come and save her brother’s life, Martha bravely tells Jesus exactly what she thinks.
Many of us have prayed the grief she shouted at Jesus after her brother died. But listen carefully: Martha believed in the resurrection, that Lazarus would live again in the last days. But her grief and pain were real right now. She laid it all at Jesus’ feet: her anger, her sadness, her helplessness, and said: you should have done something.
And Jesus offers himself to Martha’s pain. “I am the resurrection and the life, Martha. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this, dear Martha?”
Jesus claims she can know his resurrection life right now, in her grief and pain. With no promise of a miracle for her brother. Jesus can be life to her, hope to her, healing to her, right now. And she leaps into trust: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” The greatest testimony about Christ in all the Gospels.
Martha trusts Jesus’ resurrection life before she sees any sign of it, and with no expectation he would raise her brother. And her life is changed forever.
Now hear Mary of Magdala.
She gives us the first Easter proclamation, the foundation of all proclamations: “I have seen the Lord!” She is the first apostle, the first believer, the first to announce that everything had changed.
But Mary Magdalene’s life was very different from Martha’s. The one thing we know about Mary’s history is that Jesus healed her of seven demons.
It could literally have been demonic possession. Some demonic possessions in the Gospels also sound like epilepsy. Still others manifest like mental illnesses we know, maybe bi-polar, schizophrenia, or multiple even personalities. “Seven demons” sounds like she was tortured deeply in her mind. No stable household with beloved family like Martha, no dinner parties for her beloved Master, just life in torment. That’s the unspeakable suffering Jesus took away from her. He literally saved her life. And she clung to him ever after.
Now the only one who gave her life any meaning, the one who had been God’s love for her and had transformed her whole existence, is brutally taken from her. But there was no running away, no locked room for Mary. She had to go to the tomb as soon as day broke, to be close to her beloved. Other women did, too, but John only mentions Mary. All the Gospels know Mary was there.
And like Martha, Jesus meets Mary in her pain and offers himself. She grasps at straws in her grief, talks to the man in the garden in the half-light of dawn, maybe he knows where the body is. And then, that moment that stuns us every time: Jesus says her name. “Mary.” And life begins for her again.
Can you hear these women? Can you believe them?
Martha tells you this morning that whatever pain, anger, or grief you have, Christ will take you seriously and offer himself for healing. Offer himself as your resurrection life right now. Your depression, your anxiety, your fear. Your doubt, your frustration, your suffering. All these, Martha says, Christ will take into God’s own heart and return life and hope and healing. Martha says you can trust the One who embodies God’s love, even without any proof. And you will find life.
Mary tells you this morning there’s no such thing as an outsider when Jesus, the Son of God, is here. You might feel alone, abandoned. You might feel assaulted by demonic forces, addiction, or mental pain. You might be lost and not know where you are going. You might feel as if no one cares, as if you don’t matter. Mary says, believe me, you matter. Christ will find you, drive out your demons, and give you your life. And Mary says you can wait for God, even in your darkest hour, when you are certain even God has abandoned you, and you will hear the risen Christ calling your name.
Martha of Bethany, Mary of Magdala, knew Jesus was life, and that changed them forever.
That’s what’s possible for you this day. We walk through Holy Week every year not to artificially recreate emotion, and not to simply recount historical truth. We walk this week to hear again and again the power of God’s love in Christ, and hear these witnesses who knew life in Christ as a present reality that changed them forever.
Like us, they knew that in rising from the dead, Jesus destroyed death’s power. They believed, as we do, that this meant we will have our own resurrection after we pass through death. We cling to that promise. But there is so much life to live before the moment of our death, and these women testify to you that Jesus is resurrection and life for you right now.
This day could change everything about your life. Today. Easter Day.
Hear these women. Believe them. They’re the first of millions who have sung their witness through the ages. And they invite you to open your heart and your life to the wonder of what Christ the Resurrection and the Life can mean for you in this life.
Join them. Trust them. They won’t steer you wrong. They know the Christ, the Risen One, and the abundant life God in Christ can give. Let them take you by the hand and show you the steps to the dance that will fill your life with God’s joy and hope. Until you, too, grasp others’ hands so all may know God’s life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen