Last year, in the middle of Lent, we were just beginning to be isolated at home, frightened by this unknown virus and how it might affect us. My Lenten practices were forgotten as I was much too freaked out to work on my spiritual life. Easter came and went with all of us at home and isolated. It was such a quiet, solemn time. Then the long slog of the year came and frankly, it felt as if Lent never ended. When Lent started again this year I felt as if we were just continuing a yearlong season of penitence. I’m ready for Easter to put an end to this Lent!
Now the skies are brightening with the hope of enough people getting vaccinated to put COVID out of business. God willing, the end of this nightmare is at hand. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal and the whole world is ready for it. So, I say: This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! Alleluia!
Christ is alive. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Let’s go back to the day we first learned that:
Just as the sun is rising on Sunday morning, we find Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb to care for the body of her Lord, Jesus Christ. She comes to the tomb full of sadness and incredible grief. She comes to the tomb expecting to find it sealed with a huge stone, she comes worried about how she will move that stone so that she can do her sad work. She approaches the tomb as some of us approach life, filled with dreadful expectations of the worst possible outcome. What does she find?
Surprise! The heavy stone is rolled away. She is shocked! What has happened here? Who has been here? She is so frightened by this sight that she runs breathlessly back to where the other disciples are hiding and cries, “They have taken the Master from his tomb. I don’t know where they’ve put him.” She must have thought that grave robbers had come to steal his body.
Mary follows Peter and the other disciple as they take off running as fast as they can. She waits as they burst into the tomb. They don’t see the body of Jesus, but they do see the linen cloths that had been wrapped around him, lying there, neatly folded. What does this mean? The men aren’t sure what to think. Has Jesus indeed risen from the dead as he said he would? The two men go back into hiding with their friends. They don’t tell anyone what they have seen.
Mary is now left there all alone by the empty tomb. She sobs, filled with fear and distress. She finally kneels to look into the tomb and through her tears sees two angels sitting there. They ask her, “Woman, why do you weep?”
Don’t you think this is a ridiculous question? Let’s see... Mary has witnessed the horror of the cross where she lost the one person in her life who had loved her just as she was and now, she fears grave robbers have been at work. Mary is a bit cranky as she answers the angels, “They’ve taken my Master and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
She turns away from the tomb and almost bumps into a tall stranger standing near her. She doesn’t know him. He must be a gardener. The stranger speaks to her, asking, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?” Mary bravely demands, “Mister, if you took my Lord, you tell me right now where you put him so I can care for him.”
The stranger looks at her with immense love and murmurs one word: “Mary.”
She knows that voice. It’s the voice of Jesus! The world opens up with that one word. Easter happens with that one word. Mary turns to him and gasps “Rabbouni”, teacher. She reaches for his arm to hold him, maybe to keep herself from falling over in her shock.
Jesus says, “Don’t cling to me for I have not yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene goes out into the world to do the work Jesus has given her to do. She announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she shares the whole story with them.
Mary Magdalene is the first preacher. She is the first person to meet the risen Christ. She is an eyewitness to the mystery that is central to our faith. She is the first person to celebrate Easter!
This is so remarkable. You see, in that day and age, women were powerless. They couldn’t own property and were not allowed to testify in court. Yet Jesus charges Mary with testifying to the world that he is risen. Isn’t it just like Jesus to choose the least among them to carry the glorious news of his resurrection?
The men who followed Jesus are in hiding, filled with fear. That Friday, that Saturday, they didn’t know that Easter Sunday was coming. To them it was all over. Jesus was dead and that was that.
They didn’t want anyone to know that they were friends of this Jesus who had just been hung up on a cross as a convicted felon. Would any of us have acted differently? But the first thing that Jesus does after he has risen from the dead is send Mary Magdalene to his friends to tell them the good news. In doing so, Jesus forgives them for not standing by him. As Jesus forgave them, he also forgives us for being flawed and frightened.
Jesus didn’t choose perfect people to follow him. He chose people like us, normal people, not saints. Jesus chooses us, as we are, with all our failings. Never forget that Jesus forgives us and loves us as he loved Mary and the disciples. He loves us now, this moment, just as we are.
We’ve been through a most horrible year. Today, we need to hear this Easter story to remember that God works amazing miracles, and this is the most amazing. God raises Jesus up from death.
Remember that God also raises us, each of us, to sit by his side, to glory in his vast love.
Jesus Christ is risen today. Like an egg cracked open, Mary finds the stone rolled away from an empty tomb. Because Christ is risen, he is no longer of our world. He is no longer just a great prophet who taught wise things long ago. Because he rose, because he IS risen, he is here with us today. He is here in our lives with each of us, every moment of every day.
Please join me in prayer: Lord, you are with us today. May we hear your voice when you call our name. May we see you; may we know you, and may our hearts be filled with faith and hope and the joy of the Resurrection. Alleluia!