john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    The Resurrection - It's all about Mary

    Bridestowe, Lydford and Germansweek Easter Day Communion Services

    John 20.1-18 (Read from Walter Wangerin: The Book of God)

    If you haven't heard the story of the resurrection for a long time, or even if it is familiar to you, I wonder if you've noticed, hearing it just now, who features most often in it, who is the character at the centre of the events. I wonder if you noticed, as I did when I came to prepare for today's talk, that Jesus himself, the reinvigorated victim, the defeated one now risen from the dead, only features in a brief cameo, albeit a very important one. But the person who the gospel writers place at the heart of these extraordinary, world-changing events, is Mary Magdelene. The resurrection - it's all about Mary.

    And this is notable because placing Mary Magdelene at the centre of events makes her the chief witness to the resurrection. Which is not what you'd expect. We can assume that God could have chosen anyone at all to witness to Jesus Christ rising from the dead. A reliable witness, at least. Mary, of all people: she seemed the unlikeliest witness of all.

    For one thing, Mary was a woman, and in that society women were thought of as unreliable witnesses - they couldn't testify in a court of law.

    And for another thing, Mary was a woman with a history of mental illness, ok, a madwoman, known for her odd behaviour and shouting strange, provocative messages sometimes bordering on the rude or obscene.

    All her life people Mary knew had treated her like dirt, avoided her, laughed at her. All her life people in authority had written her off; told her she was no use, a menace to society. Care in the Community. Down there with the druggies and the Big Issue sellers. Crazy Mary, they called her.

    We may know people like that ourselves, people who everyone else condemns. We perhaps feel like that ourselves at times. When people avoid or mistreat or sideline or condemn us. Sometimes Christians feel like that, misunderstood, misrepresented, our motives mistaken in today's society.

    But the good news is this. God, through the gospel writers, put Crazy Mary at the heart of the resurrection story, made her the chief witness to the events of that morning, when Jesus put death to bed by rising again.

    It's good news because it's one more indication, should you need it, that the story must be true. Any gospel writer wanting to establish beyond all doubt that the story was true, that Jesus was risen, would surely not have placed the most unreliable witness at the heart of the story. They'd have a lawyer, or Pilate, or the chief priest, meeting the risen Jesus. Their word proving beyond doubt the acuracy of the story. But that the events were reported by Mary Magdelene has the ring of reality about it - when you're familiar with the many other stories in scripture where God seems to speak through the peripheral ones. It's so unlikely that it must be true.

    And it's good news that God made Mary the chief witness to the resurrection because Mary is someone we can relate to. We like her, the imperfect one. We are like her, in our imperfections.

    But how did Mary know it was Jesus, talking to her there in the garden? What made her realise that it was her love, her Lord, alive and in front of her? She hadn't realised at first. It was when he did something specific that she knew. It was when he spoke her name. "Mary". Her heart missed a beat, because that was the voice of someone who was close to her. That was the voice of someone who loved her. That was the voice of someone who knew her name. "Mary".

    So here's the good news - God chooses the unlikeliest people to share his good news with. His good news is the unlikeliest sort of news we'll ever hear. The news is, God loves us. Jesus saves us. His coming-back from death means an end to death for those who believe; and an abundance of life instead.

    And here's the good news - just as Jesus knew Mary by name, Jesus knows us by name too. His voice is the voice of someone who is close to us. His is the voice of someone who loves us. His is the voice of someone who knows our name. And will call us by our name as he did Mary, if we go looking for him.

    If we go searching for Jesus as Mary did, we will find him. Even if at first, in our unbelief, we suspect that we're going to find a dead body: like she did, if we are searching from our heart then we will find him. Even if we're saddened because however hard we look we can't see anyone there for a while: like she did, if we are searching from our heart then we will find him.

    If you want to find Jesus, if you want him in your life, then he will come to you. He might come to you when you are least expecting it, or when you are most hoping it, and however it happens - in a time of prayer, in a church service or on a country walk, through an unusual encounter or in conversation with someone you know very well, on a journey or in a familiar place - just as he did to Mary, Jesus will call you by your name. It can happen every morning if you open the ears of your heart to him.

    Jesus calls you and me by name. Everyday people like you and me get caught up in God's crazy vision. We love the story of Crazy Mary, Mary crazy with God's good news. Mary who recognised Jesus when he called her by her name. We understand that because he chose her, means he chooses us too. He chooses us to tell others that he is risen and alive today.

    We might feel like unreliable witnesses to his wonderful love at times. But he chooses to share it with us anyway. He speaks our name in the garden of our hearts. And when the joy hits us - the joy of realising that because Jesus has come back from the dead, life need no longer be deadly to us - then we find the impetus to dance and sing the good news at those around us, like Mary did.

    The resurrection - it's all about Mary. It's all about you and me. And that's why at Easter we can't help saying, Alleluia!

    [1] This talk reworks some of the material in my earlier sermon, Mary - Easter Witness 11/4/2004.