A homily given this morning at the Ecumenical Sunrise Service on Compo Beach in Westport. Our text for the morning is from John 20:1-18.
As the title of this homily might imply to you all, I am not a morning person. Nor have I ever been a “morning person.” Generally speaking, in fact, any time before 7am is, for me, a strictly theoretical concept: those hours of the day might exist, hypothetically speaking, and it is at least theoretically possible that one could do things at such times, but without a tightly controlled laboratory environment such conditions can’t be reproduced.
So maybe its just me, but I think that I sense something of that unwelcome, early morning groggy-ness and confusion going on in Mary’s experience. We know she was at the tomb very early, before even the first light of dawn. We know neither she nor the other disciples understood what was happening that morning. We see her, in this story, walk into the tomb, see two angels, ask them a question, and then immediately turn around and leave before they have a chance to answer, which is pretty much on par with my experience of “communication before caffeine” most mornings. Then when Mary sees Jesus, she doesn’t recognize him, assumes he’s the gardener, and says “tell me where you put that body you found over there and I’ll take it with me.” Now, a) cemetery gardeners are clearly in the business of moving around buried bodies to confuse those coming to pay their respects, and b) what exactly was Mary going to do when this guy produced a three-day old body and just handed it to her? I feel like we aren’t all the way awake yet, here. I mean, for the love, it is 6am! Where’s the nearest Dunkin’?
Why do you think Mary was awake so early that morning?
My guess is it wasn’t because she was a morning person and just naturally got up, though I suppose that’s theoretically possible (and maybe why some of you are here today). My guess is that Mary didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. Still overwhelmed at having watched her teacher and friend betrayed and put to death two days earlier, Mary pushes through a sleepless night and finally says, “enough. Its 6am, no sleep is happening tonight. I’m getting up!” And so when we find her arriving to this confusing scene in the garden, is it any wonder that she’s behaving as though she’s walking through a dream?
Have you ever been dreaming, woken up, and thought you were still in the dream for a few minutes? Or is that just me?
If I’m Mary, I’m hoping against hope that the last few days are going to turn out to be a dream, a nightmare, and that I’m going to wake up, soon. And so when Mary finds the tomb empty, two angels sitting in it, and a gardener who is clearly a grave-robber, I’m imagining that she is really, really hoping that she’s going to wake up any minute now, it will actually be a reasonable hour, and Jesus will be standing there pointing out to Peter the logical flaws in his latest scheme.
And that’s about the moment that Jesus calls her name.
Now I don’t know about anyone else here, but there are some mornings when my alarm clock is about as effective as a silent blinking light three doors down: it might as well not be there.
And there are some mornings when my brain somehow incorporates the noise of the alarm into whatever it is that I’m dreaming about and the story-line of my dream suddenly turns into discovering what that beeping noise is before something blows up.
But there are some mornings when that alarm might as well be a fog-horn going off in my room that jolts me awake as though the whole world were falling down.
When Jesus calls Mary’s name, its like that fog-horn went off right next to her. She whirls around and yells “Rabbouni!”
The text makes a point of telling us that this is in Aramaic, which was one of the major language of the ancient Middle-East. Parts of the Hebrew scriptures are written in Aramaic, and while many Jews in the days of Jesus probably learned Aramaic at home, by the time of Jesus, the most common language of the Mediterranean world was Greek, which is what the New Testament is almost exclusively written in. As Mary meets these strange looking angels and this grave-robbing gardener, my guess is she’s probably speaking to them in Greek, the common tongue, not sure what other languages they might speak, but now in her shock she reverts to Aramaic, blurting out her surprise in the very first words that come to mind:
“OMG!” Mary is yelling! “What are you doing here?”
Mary is wide awake at this point, the heart pounding kind of awake, but this isn’t a normal wake-up call. Mary isn’t waking up to realize that the last few days have been merely a dream. She’s waking up to something even more powerful than that. Everything that has happened was real: Jesus really did die, they really did bury him here in this tomb.
But he’s not dead anymore! He’s risen, he’s back, the absolutely unexpected and unbelievable has happened!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!)
We proclaim this not just because its happy news but because its profoundly shocking news. It’s not just that we are waking up from a dream. It’s that we are waking up to a new reality. It’s not just that the nightmare is over. The nightmare was real, but now the entire world has changed in an instant.
Mary was the first among us on that morning 2000 years ago to see that new life had sprung forth where there was death before, but new life is breaking forth for each and every one of us. As we stand together on this beach, a new light is breaking out and shinging in the world. And as we gather today we celebrate that the whole world is being transformed by the grace and the love and the power of our God.
Allelluia, Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!)