I'm spending this week in Atlanta, Georgia at the 24th annual Festival of Homiletics, a workshop/conference by, for, and about preachers and preaching sponsored by Luther Seminary in Minneapolis. The opening worship service was held Monday evening at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, a 7700-member church with a beautiful campus and lovely, state-of-the-art facilities.
The preacher was Anna Carter Florence, the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary. She took us into the resurrection narrative in John 20. In fact, the entire liturgy was structured around Easter - we sang "Jesus Christ is risen today", the gospel was festooned with Alleluias - and it was odd to have a liturgy structured for Easter morning the day after Pentecost. But as Anna explained, the week we were embarking on was less about continuing education than about resuscitation for preachers (which drew applause); hence the emphasis on resurrection.
So into that early morning on the first day of the week she took us, explaining that Mary Magdalene is the real preacher in this account, just as she is the apostle to the apostles ("she's the one who shows up; she's the one who was sent"). But first, she simples has to be there, weeping and sitting with her grief. Anna played with the scenario of the "missing" body of Jesus in light of change, of new ways of looking at some of our dearly held habits, customs, interpretations. On Mary's desperation at finding the tomb empty, and interrogating first the angels, then the gardener (wink, wink): "when the Jesus you know doesn't stay put, someone is to blame."
Of course, when the gardener speaks Mary's name and she recognizes him as Jesus, she wants to embrace him, cling to him. Anna calls Jesus' response -"do not hold on to me" - the first post-resurrection teaching. It's a lesson for all of us who seek to proclaim the gospel in new ways for different contexts, as we struggle not to hold on to and pass on comfortable messages, but go from our own encounters with the risen Christ to share the radical hope of the gospel.