Readings: John 20:1-18
One Easter morning, a Sunday School teacher asked her class if they knew the origins of this special day. One young man responded immediately, “It’s opening day for the Blue Jays.”
Not wishing to stifle creative thinking, the teacher responded, “What a wonderful answer! But I had something else in mind.”
A young girl then stood and remarked, “That’s the day we get nice new clothes and go find the eggs from the Easter Bunny.
“That’s right,” said the teacher, “But there’s something else just a little more important.”
A young man then jumped up and yelled, “I know, I know!! After Jesus died on the cross, some of his friends buried him in a tomb they called a sepulcher.”
The teacher thought, “I don’t believe it, someone actually knows.”
The little boy continued, “And three days later Jesus arose and opened the door of the tomb and stepped out.”
“Yes, yes!” said the teacher. “Go on, go on!”
And the youngster said, “And if he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of bad weather.”
Lent: A Challenging Journey
Well, I certainly hope this little boy is mistaken, because I don’t want any more winter! It’s been a long winter, made worse by all that has come with the pandemic, and it is in these circumstances that we began our Lenten trek. Lent is never an easy journey for it reminds us of our frailty. This Lent in particular, has been a dark journey as we’ve watched bombs shell Ukraine, Covid-19, flu, cold, and RSV knock down so many of us. Lent maintains that God has freed us from oppression, but this new ‘free’ life is difficult. We can relate to the Hebrew people as they wandered in the desert, wondering where they would find their next meal and shelter, we can relate to their feeling of helplessness…and, let’s be honest, when hard times befall us, it’s tempting to think that God has forgotten about us.
In our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, we took time to contemplate Jesus’ precious moments with his friends at the Last Supper. We heard of his betrayal by Judas, abandonment by Peter, and were horrified by the injustice of his trial and execution. Many of us were moved as we made our way to the cross, laying down a carnation at its feet as a gesture of surrounding our pains to Christ. We were reminded of the need to let go of those things we hold to so tightly, and to hold fast to the Man on the Cross who bears our burdens, and whose love ultimately conquered death and darkness.
Easter Starts in Darkness
Easter starts in darkness. The gospel reminds us that Mary set out to Jesus’ grave ‘while it was still dark’. She was trying to grieve in her own way, her preparations were not unlike our funeral services – they were giving her an appropriate outlet to mourn the loss of one she loved so deeply. Still in her pain, she stumbled upon a terrible mystery – the grave was empty! Like most of us, the thought of resurrection would not occur to her, she could only think about how her opportunity to mourn had been taken away from her. Deeply troubled, she returned to the disciples to give them the news. John & Peter rush to the tomb to see if it was true; and sure enough, they discover the tomb is empty.
But their pain, and unimaginative minds, keep them from perceiving a miracle. Instead of hoping for new life, they are dejected even more. But Mary lingers at the site, and is graced first by the appearance of the angels in the tomb, and then…then we can almost sense her excitement as she realizes the One she had mistaken for the gardener is actually her risen Saviour!
Called By Name
“Mary!” he calls to her. Immediately she recognizes the voice of Jesus, “Teacher!” she lovingly responds. The text is very intentional about letting us know the significance of Jesus’ addressing Mary. He speaks to her earlier, calling her ‘woman’ (a general description if there ever was one) and Mary responds to his questions in a matter-of-fact way, thinking he is only the gardener. But something happens when Jesus calls Mary by name:
“Mary’s closed world (and ours) is broken open when Jesus calls her name. Something illogical, impossible, and unnatural takes place. The One who was certified as dead (19:33) greets Mary. The established rules as to what can happen and how are overthrown. The old plausibility structure is left in shambles. It is a new day…The voice of Jesus calling her name shatters her customary world…and opens up a brand-new future. What she is to do is to grieve no longer, but to go to the disciples with the word of Jesus’ impending ascension.”
A Resurrection from Death
Jesus calls Mary by name, and his resurrection thrust her into a new way of life that included becoming the first witness of the resurrection. And this wasn’t simply a spiritual resurrection that took place, it wasn’t simply a fresh bout of enthusiasm that came over Jesus that allowed him to continue his work, it was a resurrection from the dead. Paul Ricoeur writes, “If the Resurrection is resurrection from the dead, all hope and freedom are in spite of death.”
All hope and all freedom are in spite of death. This is proclaimed at Christian funerals, when we gather not only to mourn the loss of loved ones, but also are able to celebrate life. We celebrate life because the Easter gospel proclaims that physical death is no longer the end for us! We are given the promise that in the end of days God will call us by name, transform our physical existence, make us perfect and pleasing in God’s sight, and re-create the earth for us to enjoy for all of eternity. This is the Biblical hope and promise we have received!
The Resurrecting Spirit is for Us
And the icing on the cake for us here today, is that we do not have to wait for the end of our lives to experience this life. The Spirit of Life was poured out at Pentecost fifty days after the Easter event. Paul tells us that the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us and gives life to our mortal bodies through this Spirit! (Rom 8:11) The life of God lives within us, and is all around us, yes, even in these days of pandemic and war and strife. Remember, all hope and freedom are in spite of death. Hope comes only after staring death and hardship in the eye and perceiving God’s resurrection life all around us.
We must have discerning eyes to see it, especially in these times. Martin Luther said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” With the sunshine and the promise of spring life coming upon us, can you perceive God’s resurrecting life? Can you see that for every loss, every sorrow you experience in this life there is also an opportunity for healing, for miracles, for new relationships and new opportunities?
Coming Together a Sign of Resurrection
Can you see, as one man said, that “Every parting gives a foretaste of death; every coming together again a foretaste of the resurrection”?
My friends, and fellow Easter people, let us rejoice and be glad today. We may relate to Mary in her grief, alone and hopeless and unsure of her future. But Jesus sees her, calls her by name, and she is resurrected from despair to hope. So, Christ sees us in our unique and challenging circumstances and calls us by name, and would raise us to faith, hope, and love. In God’s greatest act of love, evil and death have been defeated. The darkness has been scattered. So let us, as William Law says, “Receive every day as a resurrection from death, as a new enjoyment of life; meet every rising sun with such sentiments of God’s goodness, as if you had seen it, and all things, new – created upon your account: and under the sense of so great a blessing.” Amen.