Why did Mary Magdalene visit the tomb of Christ? Was it simply an act of sight-seeing? St John doesn't tell us, and St Matthew does tell us that 'Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb', but the other two Gospels add the detail that the women went to anoint the body of Jesus, taking the first opportunity to do so once the Sabbath was ended. So of course this was no act of mere curiosity, but an act of love. Mary's love for Jesus did not die when he died on the cross, and like all true love, Mary's love drives her to serve the one she loves in the only way she now can, by an act of tender reverence towards the body of Jesus.
This is the same instinct that impels us not only to pray for those we have loved who have died, but also to give them a respectful funeral, and to tend their graves. We do not pretend that death is nothing at all - it is a profound tragedy, but our love is stronger and deeper.
Mary comes, then, to perform that act of love for one who is dead. But she discovers the strange, hard to grasp truth that stands at the centre of our faith - he is not here, he has risen. The tomb is empty. This empty tomb that once held the corpse of our Saviour and our God is the place that roots our religion in the world of history, the created world that God so loved. Jesus was buried there, but he is not there now. The Lamb once slain now lives for ever.
As yet, Mary does not understand what the empty tomb means. How could she? Her conclusion that his body has been stolen makes the best sense of what she sees, and so her love seems to be frustrated; it has reached a dead end. But we know what will happen next - she will encounter the risen Christ in the garden, and he will call her by her name, and she will understand. When this happens, she will know that her love for Christ is not blocked but re-directed.
It is not that Jesus's body no longer matters. On the contrary, it matters all the more, for now it is not only a living but a life-giving body, a glorified body that must be served in new ways. The oils and spices can be left behind, for the loving service that Mary Magdalene must offer to the body of Christ is one that will impel her far from this garden of the dead, to serve Christ in a new garden which is the Church.
'Go and find my brothers and tell them', Christ will say to Mary. He calls her by name to a new act of loving service, one that has given her the title the Apostle of the Apostles. We too are called today and every day to go and find Christ's brothers and sisters and tell them - tell them of our encounter with the risen Christ.
We must indeed tell them of the empty tomb. It matters that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, it matters that he died on the Cross and was buried in that tomb two thousand years ago. And it matters that the same tomb which could not hold him was empty on the morning of the third day.
But if these historical truths are to prove to us what we so desperately long to believe, that love is indeed stronger than death, then it matters too that we have encountered the risen Christ. It matters that we who find that encounter with the risen body of our Lord in the life of the Church should go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News: he is not there, he is risen, alleluia!
We so often view temptation as something to be fought and resisted at all costs, but perhaps one of the main problems with temptation is that it is sometimes difficult to spot. Temptation can be subtle and attack us in our most vulnerable areas, so that we are caught up in sin long before we are aware of it.
Jesus himself was perhaps most vulnerable to playing the role of the wonder-worker. From the Gospels it is evident to even the most hostile observer that Jesus had amazing powers, which he used mostly for healing the sick. But we are told that Jesus performed other miracles as well, so his powers were way beyond those of any other person. How easy it would have been for Jesus to cut short the laborious process of teaching and preaching, by simply performing a few extra impressive miracles.
It is difficult to understand quite why it would have been wrong for Jesus to use his powers in that way. When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread he refused, quoting from Deuteronomy, saying that human beings need spiritual food rather than just material food. Yet later, when Jesus was on a mountain with five thousand hungry people, apparently he had no qualms about multiplying bread and fish in order to feed those hungry people. Why was the creation of bread a temptation at one time but perfectly acceptable and even commendable at another time?
When Jesus climbed a mountain during his wilderness experience and saw all the different kingdoms spread out beneath him, he knew that he could rule over them all if he played along with the worldly powers, yet he recognised this as a temptation and the wrong path. Later he happily used his astonishing powers to enable him to walk on water to reach his friends’ boat. There does not seem to be any particular reason for performing this miracle. Although we are told that the wind was strong and the disciples were having a tough time of it, there is no suggestion that they were in any immediate danger or needed rescuing. So we can only assume that Jesus wanted to reach them and took the quickest route. Why was it all right to use his powers to do that when it was not all right to use them to rule the earth, since the earth would surely have profited by being ruled by Jesus?
Jesus resisted the temptation to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple, trusting God to save him from harm. But three years later he allowed himself to be crucified. Perhaps his cry of dereliction on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” marked the finality of his rejection of the constant and overwhelming temptation to abuse his own gifts. As he had done throughout his life, even on the cross when he was dying, Jesus refused to use in the wrong way the powers he had been given.
Perhaps it is only when we are close to God that we are able to discern our own temptations and to know that something may be wrong in one context but right in another. Some temptations are very obviously wrong: to murder, steal, abuse others, but other temptations can be more subtle. Resisting temptation can be a time of getting to know ourselves better.
For instance, someone who has been brought up since childhood with the idea that to be idle is the height of sin, may spend an immense amount of time and energy always being busy. What may be important for that person is to be quiet and still before God.
Another person who has been warned against the sin of pride since earliest days may have a low appreciation of their own gifts. Such a person could easily underestimate the love of God who has given them such gifts and perhaps waste them through ill use.
Temptation is far from simple, as Jesus discovered in the wilderness. So this Lent, let us ask God to help us recognize sin when it tempts us and at the same time get to know ourselves better.