“Tomb or Womb?”

John 20: 1 – 18Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

An 80 year-old woman married her 4th husband. A reporter asked about the occupation of her new husband. She replied that he owned a funeral home.

Curious about the other husbands, the reporter also asked about their occupations.

The woman stated, “Well, my first husband was a banker. The second one I was madly in love with and he was a circus master. The third one was a minister.”

Puzzled by her answers, he replied, “None of these people have anything in common! Why did you marry these particular men?”

With a smile on her face, she said, “I married number one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go.”

If you like that joke, there’s more to come…next week. Next week is Holy Humor Sunday. For centuries in the Eastern Orthodox Church, a Holy Humor Sunday was observed the Sunday following Easter. A day of joke telling as we celebrate God who played the ultimate joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.

Will you join me in prayer? O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Funeral homes. Funerals. Tombs. Death. Despair. Disappointment. Tombs. We have lived not only through Holy Week, but really we have lived through Holy Year. Earlier this morning, I preached to real live people at church instead of a camera. It had been 391 days since our worshipping community last gathered together. Oh, we know all about tomb dwelling.  Death. Illness. Racially-motivated violence. Mass shootings. Loneliness. Isolation. Parents stressed. Young people struggling with mental health. The George Floyd murder trial. Stay at home orders. We know about tomb dwelling. We have lived not only through Holy Week, but Holy Year. Three hundred and ninety-one days. A year that threatened to keep us stuck in the tomb of Good Friday, even as we longed for the dawn of Easter Sunday.

In our scripture passage this morning, Mary comes to the tomb while it was still dark – what had been three days probably felt like three hundred ninety-one. She is heartbroken. She is grief-stricken. Her Jesus is dead. When she comes to the tomb, she sees that the stone had been rolled away. She believed that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. Mistaking Jesus for the gardener…and I love that she mistakes Jesus for the gardener for indeed, Jesus is the divine gardener. As Jesus walks with Mary in the garden, so too, we remember God who walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. This is Eden resurrected! Mistaking Jesus for the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him so I can care for his body.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

She looked at him and said, “Rabbouni,” which means “Teacher.” And suddenly she realizes that this darkness she is experiencing is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb. It’s not a tomb, it’s a womb! This is a moment of new life, new hope, and new possibility.

And, of course, she wants to throw her arms around Jesus, this man whom she deeply loves and cherishes. She wants to hold on to him for dear life and never let him go. We can understand this, yes?

And Jesus says something peculiar, he says, “Do not cling to me, Mary.” What? Of course, we are going to cling to you Jesus. You were dead and now you are alive. We don’t ever want to let you go again. But Jesus says, “Do not cling to me, Mary.” I have had several church folks over the years ask me why Jesus would say something like this. I believe Jesus is saying to Mary and to us, “Do not cling to what was, but journey into what can be.” Rather than keep Jesus with us where we are, may we let him take us where he is going. Better we should let him hold on to us. Better we should let him take us into the Holy Mystery of the Divine, the presence of God, who is not behind us but ahead of us, every step of the way. Do not cling to what was, but journey into what can be for the darkness we face is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I lived with my parents. After a year of struggling with metastatic cancer, but my mother died. On the day that my mother died, my father threw his hands up in the air literally and walked into his bedroom and shut the door. It was as if he had given up on life. For the next year, for the next three hundred and ninety-one plus days, my father mostly stayed in his room. We lived under the same roof, but I hardly saw him. Some days I would keep vigil outside his bedroom door and I could feel his sadness, his grief, his loneliness, his heartache. He had thrown in the towel. It appeared as if his life was over in a very real sense.

But one day when I came home from work, his bedroom door was open, the stone had been rolled away. His room, which I thought had become a tomb, was really a cocoon. My father emerged. I hardly recognized this man. There was a lightness to him. He began to go the Jocelyn Senior Center three times a week for aerobics. He was the only man in the class, but he didn’t care. He cared about his health. He volunteered two times a week at the hospital. He began to go on dates. Every time I listened to the answering machine, there was a different woman’s voice on the machine, calling for dad. He was the new hot eligible bachelor in town. I wondered, “Who was this man?” Like Mary, I found myself asking, “Where did you take him?” As the saying goes, “Just when the caterpillar thought life was over, he became a beautiful butterfly.” My father had gone through a complete metamorphosis. My dad ended up falling in love with a woman he met in aerobics class – a lovely woman, Phyllis. They had ten wonderful years together before they passed from life to Life within a month of each other. New life. New hope. New possibilities. What seemed like the end was only the beginning. He embodied the Easter story.

It’s no accident that Easter is tied to the dawn, the beginning of the day. It’s no accident that Easter is tied to Sunday the beginning of the week. It’s no accident that Easter is tied to Passover the beginning of that great journey into freedom. It’s no accident that Easter is tied to spring the beginning of the season of new life. Easter is the first ray of light. Easter is the first step toward freedom. Easter is the first crocus of spring. Easter turns a grief-filled room into a cocoon. Easter transforms a tomb into a womb.

If you find yourself in the midst of Good Friday, there is hope and new life.

If you are struggling with grief, there is hope and new life.

If you are facing illness, there is hope and new life.

If you are in a bad relationship, there is hope and new life.

If you are in throws of addiction, there is hope and new life.

If you are laid off, unemployed, in a job you don’t like, there is hope and new life.

If you are struggling with mental health challenges, there is hope and new life.

For our awesome God transforms a tomb into a womb! Alleluia and Amen.