Easter and Death

Near the beginning of the Thanksgiving over the Water in our Baptismal Rite, the priest says, “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection.” Last night we welcomed two new Christians into this life of death and resurrection, and their baptism took place at the Great Vigil of Easter, where the interplay of this Christian life between darkness and light, or better put, death and resurrection, was a little more obvious than the brightness of this glorious Easter morning. I love Easter; I love the striking white lilies, the beautiful brass and holy music, and the chance to finally give rise to all those Alleluias we’ve done our best to suppress throughout Lent, but in the pomp of such a glorious day, it’s easy to forget the depth of darkness through which we just walked during Holy Week.

This is why I appreciate that our gospel lesson for today starts while it’s still dark. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark and found that the stone had been rolled away; Mary, fearing the worst ran to tell Simon Peter, who with the other disciple ran to the tomb to see for themselves. When they got to the tomb, they saw the burial linens wrapped neatly, and then they returned to their homes, but Mary stood weeping. When she looked in to the tomb she saw two angels sitting where the body of our Savior had been laid. “Why are you weeping?” they asked her. “Because they have taken my Lord”, she responds and turns around and Jesus was there and asked her the same questions that the angels posed to her, “Why are you weeping?” But it’s not until Jesus calls her by name that she is able to see that it is not the gardener that she is talking to, but to her Rabbouni, or teacher. She grasps him, overwhelmed with the whirlwind of events, but Jesus tells her that he has not yet ascended, and that he must go. Then Mary Magdalene goes and announces to the disciples “I have seen the Lord” and told them the things that Jesus had told her.

“I have seen the Lord!” You can almost imagine Mary proclaiming this with a desperate, joyful voice to the disciples as they sat in their grief. A vital part of this iconic Easter passage is the role that Mary plays. And, it’s not just in John’s gospel that Mary plays a critical role: Mary is the only disciple present at each of the four accounts of empty tomb in the individual gospels. The point of this isn’t to name that the first person to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ was a woman, though it should be noted. The point of this raw power of the transformative witness of Mary as she proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!” Before she gets there, though, Mary stands outside the tomb weeping; Mary stands outside the tomb crying over death and sin, and in so many ways, even on this Easter morning, Mary is each of us.

When the risen Lord sees Mary crying outside of the tomb he asks her why she is crying; and we can tend to read a bit of sarcasm in Jesus’ words to Mary, but that’s only because we read it thousands of years later. We read this account of Mary outside the tomb with the Jesus that she doesn’t yet recognize in full knowledge of the resurrection and the ascension, which hasn’t even happened yet. I think Jesus’ words to Mary were less sarcastic and more tender. What we see unfold after this is something so intimate, that the joy is hard to contain. When Jesus calls Mary by her name, she knows that her Lord has not been stolen from the tomb, but has indeed risen, the Lord has risen indeed! Mary is transformed through this personal experience of the resurrection. Not the generic version of the resurrection, mass produced to illicit some general feelings of hope, but the actual, real relationship that walked through literal death to still find hope – it’s the relationship that she had with Jesus changes her.

Easter is personal for Mary, but it’s not just for her. Easter is personal for Mary, and then she goes out and spreads the good news of God in Christ, an example for each of us to follow. Easter is personal for many of us, and maybe it’s not the glory of this beautiful Nave on Easter morning that holds the truth of Easter for you, maybe you’ve most experienced Easter in a hospital room or at the grave or in the early dawn after a restless night. The thing that we learn from our gospel passage today is that Easter and death occupy the same space.

Easter and death occupy the same space, and while this may seem contrary to what is generally thought about Easter, it is certainly true. Because Easter doesn’t happen without Good Friday and the crucifixion. We see it here in our gospel passage today, that Easter and death occupy the same space, and we see every time that out of the midst of tragedy comes some glimmer of hope.

Easter and death occupy the same space in the ashes of Notre Dame and the loss of part of their sacred space, Easter and death occupy the space in the three historically black churches burned in Louisiana in a hate crime three weeks ago, and Easter and Death occupy the same space as just hours ago our fellow Christians in Sri Lanka were attacked during their own Easter worship. No matter the situation, Easter and death occupy the same space because death is the only place where Easter is needed. Easter certainly didn’t come last week as Jesus triumphantly entered the Jerusalem, no rather, Easter came in the dark of the empty tomb amidst a wave of grief.

Just as Easter and death occupy the same space, Christ has conquered death and death has no more power, but this isn’t to say it won’t be painful. Death is so very painful, sin causes us to inch ever closer to the darkness of death in our lives and it is without a doubt difficult, but on this glorious morning, we know that death is not the end of the story. We know how this story ends. We know that Jesus rises and we know that at each and every grave we give rise to our cries of Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

So, go out today and follow Mary’s example, because it’s not until she shares her own story of Easter and death that the others know what is true. You can even borrow her own desperate and joyful words, go out and proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” Because it’s not until we go out and tell others what we believe that they can know why we make our cries of, “Alleluia!” when so much of this world is dark and painful. Because it’s only in the light of the resurrection that this world makes any sort of sense, and the only way forward is to hold on to the glorious hope that the Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, April 21, 2019. 

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