A Sermon for Easter Day – April 5, 2015
Louise Browner Blanchard, Associate Rector
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. – John 20:1-18
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s the oldest and most important feast of the church year, a day of beloved traditions. Families and friends gather together for the holiday weekend. Easter baskets appear with the sunrise. We attend church and take comfort in saying familiar prayers, singing familiar hymns, and hearing familiar scripture – we say and sing Alleluia for the first time since the season of Lent began over 40 days ago! We marvel at the beautiful flowers in the windows and delight in the children’s procession to the cross with their blossoms. The energy and speed of the children’s Easter egg hunt may have left us breathless, yet it’s hard to imagine today without it. In so many wonderful ways, the familiarity and predictability of our Easter customs are a large part of what makes today such a happy occasion.
All of which makes it easy for us to forget that the first Easter was anything but familiar and predictable. In fact, it was the culmination of week that was dizzyingly chaotic, a week that no one could have predicted that it would turn out the way that it did.
The chaos began with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. All those people who were proclaiming Jesus as their messiah had a lot of different ideas of what messiah actually meant, and most of them were bound to be disappointed. The ecstatic expectations of the crowds that greeted Jesus had nowhere to go but down, and the Jewish authorities and Roman rulers were on guard from the get go.
The chaos didn’t end with the parade. Over the next few days, Jesus’s appearances in the temple created even more ruckus. The temple wasn’t merely a place of worship for the Jews; it was the center of life for Jerusalem – the village green of its place and time. As people from near and far gathered to celebrate Passover, Roman authorities and Jewish leaders grew more and more tense about the possibility of unrest, and Jesus infuriated them with his turning over the market tables and provocative teaching. The attitude of the crowds who had hailed Jesus swung wildly as some began to realize that he might well bring them more trouble than less. Increasingly, Jesus wasn’t the savior many of them been expecting after all, and their cheers turned to challenges.
By Thursday, the authorities were determined to arrest Jesus to quell the potential of unrest. By then, as well, the chaos of the crowds had seeped into the consciousness and subconsciousness of Jesus’s closest followers. Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him, and most of the rest of his disciples would flee from him…As he gathered them all together for a farewell meal, it’s safe to say that the disciples understood neither the import of what he tried to tell them nor what was about to happen. Even when Jesus prayed in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples who went there with him could not stay awake.
The final hours after Jesus’s arrest continued in chaos. He was mocked and beaten. His disciples had scattered, and his fellow Jews demanded his excruciating crucifixion. By noon, Jesus hung on the cross, and by 3:00 on Friday, a mere five days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was dead. The disciples apparently were in hiding; only Mary Magdalene and one or two others remained at the cross. By the end of the night, Jesus was wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb. The chaos of activity was finally subsiding, but the chaos of devastating loss was just beginning.
Many of us have known a similar chaos. The shock of losing someone whom we never imagined living without, the sense that the world has turned upside down and inside out in a way that will never make sense again, the staggering numbness that begins to give way to unbearable pain. The aching for what has been lost and what might have been. The overwhelming desire to have things be the way they used to be, and the realization that they will never be that way again.
And this is where our story merges with that of Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s other followers. Because the God who created the whole world out of chaos is the same God who transformed the chaos of Jesus’s death into eternal life. He promises nothing less for us.
It may not always – or even often – be immediately apparent. Like Mary Magdalene, we are often left weeping by the events that upend our own lives. And like Mary with the gardener, we often do not immediately realize the presence and promise of the resurrected Christ in our own lives. It can be a long time before we’re able to hear Jesus call our name. But God’s patience is as infinite as his love. And like Mary Magdalene, we begin to understand that one promise of Jesus’s resurrection is that our grief and mourning will be transformed in ways that we never dreamed possible.
Of course, Jesus’s resurrection from the dead is worth celebrating in and of itself. But without remembering it in the context of the days leading up to it, we miss the greater story. They remind us and ask us to trust that no love is ever lost, and no loss is ever futile. Whether it is Jesus’s crucifixion or the many crucifixions small and large that play out in all our lives, God’s redeeming love has already begun to transform whatever has broken us or broken us open. The seeds of new birth, new order, and a new way of seeing have taken hold before we can even perceive of the possibility.
So maybe on this day of beloved traditions, we acknowledge that we don’t know what to expect after all. But our observation of Easter traditions year after year can remind us of God’s neverfailing love and presence in all our lives. And however you observe this glorious day, Jesus’ resurrection proclaims to you that nothing, absolutely nothing, is stronger than God’s power to bring new life to it – no habit is too ingrained, no illness is too overwhelming, no relationship is too poisoned, no heart is too broken. God is at work in your lives in ways more wondrous than you can begin to imagine.
Just ask Mary Magdalene.