Faith Like Mary

       Three days ago, while we gathered in this church to pray the Solemn Collects and remember Christ’s brutal death on Good Friday, there rose tension and violence in the Old City of Jerusalem. Political unrest is not unknown on that holy land, but this weekend there has been an increase in violence as thousands of pilgrims gather to be present as the religious holidays of Passover, Ramadan, and Easter coincide. Innocent people have died, and violence seems to subvert the intentions of each of these three religion’s holy days as extremists take advantage of the events of the past few days.  Violence, very often at in the name of religion, has become a terror in our world. And we do not even have to look across the globe to see it; weapons of war and violence of policy reign terror in our own country. Again and again, I find myself saying, “it can’t get much worse than this.” And then it does. The darkness around us seems to deepen, and hope begins to seem fainter than ever.

       And this is why I’m so grateful that our gospel narrative on this holy day starts not with banners and trumpets heralding the good news, but it starts in the dark. For most of us, Easter is a time of bright joy that swells over into many parts of our life, but I am grateful that on that first Easter morning we see the reality of Holy Saturday, that Christ is dead. Mary is weeping and grieving and overwhelmed with the pain of loss. Yet she is so compelled by her faith that even when the other disciples went home, she stands weeping in the empty tomb.

       And as Mary stood weeping, we can see that Good News doesn’t always seem like good news at first. The tomb is empty, Christ is not there, and we know that he is risen! But all Mary knows in the moment is the violence destroyed her world three days earlier; Mary’s grief wells up in her and she begins to mourn again at the empty tomb. She weeps not because she laments the resurrection, but because she assumes that the wrath of humanity that nailed Christ to the cross would also steal Christ’s body from the tomb. And when one lives in a world colored with violence, it is not unreasonable to assume that violence will continue, that things will continue to get worse, and that hope be fragile.

       But Mary wasn’t fragile; the first person to proclaim the resurrection, Mary began to go to her other disciples and share, “I have seen the Lord!” You can almost hear the desperate sense of life being breathed back into her tender hope. “I have seen the Lord!” It’s not just a proclamation of her experience, it’s a visceral cry that announces that violence did not get the last word. That the violence that despised Christ’s teaching of radical peace and the wrath that tried to silence his preaching of overwhelming love will not be the end of the story. Violence is not the end of the story. “I have seen the Lord!” It’s a proclamation of God’s work in the world, not just in the resurrection of Christ, but also in his life and death as well; it’s a proclamation that Christ’s admonition to love at all costs is worth following, even if it means giving up the life you know.  “I have seen the Lord!”

       The Easter hope on this morning, just as on that first one, is not just that Christ was resurrected. The Easter hope is about how our lives are changed by the hope that Mary first experienced in that empty tomb. The Easter hope shows us how violence may be part of our lives, but it when we are willing to let our lives be shaped by the cross, violence will never be the end of our story. And this is the bold hope that Mary proclaims that early Easter morning when it was still dark and the echoes of violence still filled her ears– “I have seen the Lord!” May we be like Mary, willing to risk everything to have our lives changed by the empty tomb. Because Christ is risen! Alleluia! Allelulia!

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Easter Day 2023.

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