Say Something

John 20: 11-18

Inside the funeral parlor, air thick with the pungent smell of formaldehyde, the mourners stand single file to offer their condolences. Some readjust their ill-fitting suits; others reposition their fishnet veils, and most check their watches. Until they reach the ravaged loved ones left behind standing in front of the polished casket. Inevitably, someone pays their respect by saying, “If there’s anything I can do, please, just ask.”

No one was waiting to console Mary Magdalene on that terrible Sunday morning. She arrived alone, clinging to the darkness because grief doesn’t fully express in the light. Without a task list- no monogrammed shroud to embroider, no obituary in the Jerusalem Times to write, no granite headstone to carve- she simply came for proximity. If she couldn’t be with him, his body then.

But the body snatchers must have raided the tomb minutes before. When she leaned in, Mary found only folded linens, inquiring angels, and a burst of tears. Blurry-eyed, she searched for a tissue as the gardener pushed his squeaky wheel barrel out back. Composing herself for a confrontation, she said, “You in the coveralls, where is he? Take me, now. After the torture the Romans inflicted, he deserves a peaceful burial.”

Knowing resurrection initially gets overlooked, Jesus bypasses the conflict, instead saying, “Mary!” Gobsmacked, slack-jawed, thunderstruck, stupefied, beyond comprehension, Mary, after hearing her name, recognized her Lord. In this text of death and life after death, what does Magdalene teach us about Easter?

John 20:11-18 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Congregational Responses:

New life begins in absence, emptiness.

The men betray, deny, abandon, and go home on Easter morning to consider their options.

Easter is heard first.

While some were in wheelchairs after a career vulcanizing rubber at the factory and others were still standing but lost in the Alzheimer’s labyrinth of their minds, the members of Faith United Methodist were rapidly graying. After being appointed in Waynesville, Ms. Winchester told me to be waiting in the church parking lot come Thursday morning. In an Oldsmobile 88, with a biscuit on the dash, she picked me up and chauffeured us about, stopping at every rest home within 20 miles. Once we had delivered diabetic candy, neighborhood gossip, and consecrated communion, we arrived at a memory care facility in Sylva, where Lorena lived. Confusion mixed with suspicion, her cloudy eyes searched mine until she pointed an interrogating finger. “What’s your name?” she asked. “Brian,” I said. “Where are you from?” “Charlotte.” “Who are you?” “I’m your new pastor.”  Forgetting her previous questions, she asked them again on repeat. Kindly redirecting us by reaching for the bookshelf inside the therapy room, Ms. Winchester flipped to page 302 and placed the hymnal in her dear friend’s lap. Transported back to her choir days, Lorena’s posture straightened, her gaze sharpened, and her voice strengthened. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia!.”1Flipping to page 310, “He Lives, He Lives, Christ Jesus lives today!”2 Over to page 322, “Up from the grave he arose.”3  And on it went, Lorena belting out each lyric in perfect pitch, recalling every verse as the nursing aides did a double take. Although she couldn’t remember anything else, when it came to Easter, Lorena had a song to share.

Like the other three Gospels, John believes discipleship only becomes Christian if exercised. Work up a sweat kicking over the money changer’s tables, interrupting their religious scheme to defraud the poor. Wrestle the stones out of the Pharisee’s clenched fists, intervening on behalf of the adulterous woman. Climb a ladder, sharpened shears in hand, to prune the vine, knowing today’s cut is tomorrow’s fruit.

But being a follower requires more than just physical exertion. Reflecting on his pastorate, Fred Craddock observed, “The most common thing said to me in this church… is: ‘Don’t ask me to say anything.’ I’ll do anything, but don’t ask me to say anything. I’ll climb up and change the light bulb, but don’t ask me to say anything. It’s not enough to walk the walk. You’ve got to talk the talk. Because the most difficult and most effective and most profound thing you’ll ever do for Jesus Christ is to say something.”4

Before levitating up to glory, Jesus gives one final instruction. As Mary Magdalene clutches for his waist, understandably wanting to bury her face in his robe, take in his beard and breath for the rest of her days, He stops her short with this commission, “Go Mary, and tell.” If you don’t raise your voice, then the deafening silence of death will. Quickly wiping her eyes and tightening her sandals, she rushes out of the boneyard screaming in every direction and no direction at all, “I have seen the Lord, I have seen the Lord!”

In her elevated praise, Magdalene teaches us that on this day, God doesn’t need us to strap on the tool belt and do something but rather to pick up the microphone and say something. Say something of spiritual consequence about Love refusing to be embalmed, that a benevolent force is now loose among us calling names and emptying graves, that God is relentlessly taking up residence among the living.

While I’m sure Mary and Lorena were terrified of public speaking, they must have believed even more in the power of the resurrection to manifest through the spoken word. Despite the reasons to live out faith in hushed tones, the world is leaning in like never before, desperate to hear your witness.

Disinterested in quiet worship, many Black Churches in the South have an Amen Corner, a group of fervent women in the pews offering their affirmation with AMENS! On this 3rd day, we’re the newest members of the Easter Corner. People of new life, let’s get to practicing by repeating after me:

The tomb is empty!

I have seen the Lord!



Charles Wesley, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, 302.

2 Alfred Ackley, “He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, 310.

Robert Lowry, “Up from the Grave He Arose,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, 322.

Fred Craddock, The Collected Sermons of Fred Craddock (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 140.