Tear back the comfort of that sweet story and we know with unblinking certainty what that second place is. It’s not a garden. It’s a graveyard. It’s not Eden. It’s the emptiness of death and loss. It’s not a place where things are planted; it’s a place where the dead are buried.
Maybe more than in any other year of our lives, we know this difference with a grim, absolute certainty. Last year, at this very moment, we were adjusting to the first disorienting weeks of confinement. We were realizing with growing discomfort that there was a disease stalking the world that was much worse than our inconvenience.
Last Easter we weren’t even able to gather here. By God’s grace, this year we are. But we have changed. We have been changed, by all we have seen and experienced. Since all this began, nearly three million people have died from this disease. Three hundred and twenty-seven thousand of those deaths took place in the nations of Europe in which our church is present. More than half a million of those deaths were in the United States.
Western culture is elegantly talented at shielding us from the fact of mortality. So much of our cultural output for at least the last two generations has sought to deny the reality of death—by fanciful stories from misguided spiritualism on the one hand, or by the glorification of violence on the other.
But our culture has utterly failed in its effort to shield us from this reality. We have seen it all around us.
And not just in the graveyards. Even worse, we’ve seen it in our streets. In our closed cities. In our empty shops. In our neighbors’ lost jobs. In the once-in-a-lifetime moments we couldn’t be present for. In the mourning we couldn’t gather for.
Brothers and sisters, a year after this all began, every one of us has fallen into a grave. A grave of fear, a grave of despair, a grave of loss, a grave of uncertainty. Each of us. All of us.
Mary Magdalene has fallen into a grave. She has not just lost a friend, not just lost a teacher; she has lost her hope. Before, she had no dignity. As one of the people around Jesus, she had dignity. Before, she was disrespected and degraded. Because of Jesus, she had purpose and presence.
This man who had taught that all people are worth God’s love, even her—even us—he had been taken from them and destroyed by the brutality of authoritarian power. Everything she had believed in had been lost—even her ability to believe in herself.
When you hear those words of hers from John’s gospel, you should hear the voice of a woman at the breaking point. You should hear the voice of a woman in a Rohinga refugee camp. You should hear the cry of a woman desperate for a child lost to a bullet. You should hear the inconsolable screaming of a woman who suffers the abject abandonment of all the love she had ever known.
She remains there by the empty grave while Peter and John run away. She is left utterly bereft. Jesus’s grave is empty. But her grave, the grave of her hopes, is not.
You can understand why she confronts those strangers in the tomb. They’re not angels to her; they’re thieves. And when she turns around, there’s another stranger. She thinks it’s the gardener. She doesn’t really care who it is. She just wants answers.
She wants her hopes back. She wants her dignity back. She just wants to come out of her grave.
What accomplishes that isn’t a bright flash of light or a heavenly host of angels. What brings Mary back to life is just one word from the God who has loved her all along and who loves her still, a single word that calls her out of that grave: “Mary! ”
And what happens? The next thing we know about that broken woman are these verbs: She went and she announced. She is alive again—alive in possibility, alive in hope, alive in faith, not in denial of death but in defiance of it.
Today is not just the church’s Easter. Today is our Easter. Today, here, now, everywhere—not just in our church, but in all of our lives—today is the day that the voice of the Lord who has loved us through all of this comes cutting through our desperation and fear, our uncertainty and loss, and bring us out of our graves and back to life again.
Our Easter is Mary Magdalene’s Easter—not an abstract promise of life after death—yes, that, but not just that. Our Easter, this Easter, an absolute, unyielding insistence on life before death, no matter what graves we make for ourselves. Today brings a call to each of us by name from the God of love and source of life, a call to the fullness and abundance of this life we have been given. That comes today.
What will you do with that life? Will you come out of your grave? Are you willing, are you ready?
Will you go, and announce? Will you seek and serve? Will you share, and give thanks?
All of it, I hope. But above all, even in this moment, even in this time of trial, when we come out of these graves of ours, it is our business to rejoice. This our Easter. Christ is risen—and so are we. Alleluia! Amen.
See you in church—