St. John's, Centreville
April 1, 2018
Easter Day 8 and 10:30 AM
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
On this Easter Day, the most important day of the Christian year, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It has been a long and intense week, filled with heartbreak and grief. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples and washed their feet as a sign of love and servanthood. He is betrayed by one of his own, one of his disciples, who gives him up to the Roman authorities. On Good Friday, Jesus is tried, convicted, beaten and hung on the cross to die. As we gathered to sit at the foot of the cross, we wonder what good can come out of all this.
But then, just three days later, as the women go to anoint Jesus' body with spices for his burial, they find that the tomb where he had been laid is empty. Jesus is gone. In John's gospel that we have just read, it is Mary Magdalene who first discovers that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. Mary Magdalene - Mary with the bad reputation, Mary the sinner, Mary who anoints Jesus with expensive perfume - she is the first one who finds that the tomb is empty. At first she is not thinking about resurrection, although Jesus had said several times during his ministry that we would rise from the dead. Her first thought is that someone has taken his body and put it somewhere else. She says this first to the angels who are now sitting in the tomb where only the linen wrappings remain. Then she turns and sees someone who she thinks is the gardener and she asks if he has taken the body. She does not recognize that this is Jesus himself, Jesus resurrected, until he calls her by name: "Mary".
We can just imagine what she is thinking and feeling as she sees Jesus alive and standing in front of her. Jesus has risen from the dead! She saw him die on the cross! She was there, at the foot of the cross with his mother Mary. We can imagine that she must have been speechless, but at the same time, wanting to ask so many questions.
But Jesus tells her not to touch him as he has not yet ascended to the Father, but to go and tell the disciples. What a message she has to tell them! She is probably so excited, so overwhelmed, that the words tumble out too fast and are almost unintelligible. "Mary, slow down," the disciples must have said. "I have seen the Lord!" Mary proclaims. She has seen Jesus alive, up close, standing right in front of her.
When Mary first sees Jesus, she does not recognize him but mistakes him for the gardener. How often do we NOT recognize Jesus even when he is standing right in front of us? How many times have we missed seeing Jesus in the poor, the homeless, the outcasts, our children or our family? How often do we not see Jesus because we are not looking for him, because we don't expect to see him?
Mary recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. Earlier in John's gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. "The sheep hear my voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I know my own and my own know me, Jesus says. So it is not surprising when Jesus calls Mary by name, it is her moment of recognition.
How often do we sense that Jesus is calling us by name, calling us out of the tombs that we are sometimes in, calling us out into the light of day, calling us out to be the people that God created us to be, to use the gifts that God has given us? How often have we realized that God is calling us to a particular action, calling us to help someone in need, calling us to prayer? And how have we responded?
Jesus called Mary to play a very important part in the resurrection event, at a time in history when women were not highly regarded. He calls her to come and see the tomb. Come and see what happened. Come and see God's miracle, that Jesus has overcome death and is alive! Then go and tell the disciples and spread the word. Jesus is risen from the dead!
We, too, are called to come and see the wonderful works of God. Then we, too, are called to go and tell. Go and tell others, those we live with or work with or go to school with. Go and tell others what God has done in your life and in the lives of those around you. Go and tell others about God's unending love for each and every one of us, God's forgiveness of our sins, God's promise of eternal life with God. Show others God's love through our actions as well as our words, through how we treat each other, how we forgive each other, how we see Christ in one another.
So what does the resurrection of Jesus mean to us? What does it mean to us that we are an Easter people? Jesus overcame suffering and death and has opened the kingdom of heaven to all who want to live with God in eternity. So we need not fear death. We need not fear suffering for God is with us. We know because of our faith, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus will carry us lovingly in his arms to the throne of God, as we pass from this life to the next.
If we think that Easter is a wonderful event that happened a long time ago and is now just something to be remembered, we have missed the point. Every Sunday is a little Easter as we share the bread and wine at communion, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, when we gather in community. Easter happens every day as God shows us new ways to live, new opportunities to help others, new ways to be the people that God wants us to be. It is through the lens of the resurrection that we can see the kind of world that God wants us to have - filled with love and peace.
Year after year, we proclaim the message of Easter, in spite of the awful things that go on around us - wars, terrorists, hate. In spite of what we see on the news every day, Christians are filled with hope and faith and love because of God's love for us, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us new life and new hope. We are not guaranteed an easy or pain free life. But the living God, the resurrected Christ, is with us, to walk with us through our pain and suffering, through the trials and tribulations of life. Through Jesus' resurrection, death has no power over us. We are free from the bondage of sin and death. And in that lies our faith and our hope.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!