This is the third in a series of sermons: Palm Sunday, Good Friday and now Easter Day, written during the period of COVID-19 when we as a nation have been directed to shelter in place. On this Easter, the greatest, most joyous day of celebration in the Christian community, our church buildings are quiet. Much like the early church, her members are scattered across the face of the planet in a way not experienced since the days of persecution in the early centuries of Christianity. And yet, we are still one mighty community who will this day give thanks to Almighty God for the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Alleluia! Christ IS Risen! The Lord IS Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Let us pray.
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life. Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen
For all Christians living in a post-resurrection world, we can only partially understand what Mary Magdalene was feeling as she walked to the tomb on that first Easter morning. The disciples and followers of Jesus were feeling profound loss after his brutal death on the cross. How could it have happened this way? All Jesus did was teach of love and relationship with God and all people. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead. He was a compassionate, loving, giving person and for that he was beaten and killed.
We can understand that kind of feeling. People known to us have lost loved ones in the most horrible and brutal ways. Think of those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. Think of those who have lost children, spouses, in wars across the globe where their bodies have been dragged through the streets before being set on fire. Think of those killed in tragic accidents. Think of those now dying of COVID-19 isolated from those they love, with no one to hold their hands as they breathe their last. Think of not being able to say goodbye in person to a parent, spouse, child. We understand Mary Magdalene’s deep grief and sorrow as she slowly made her way to the tomb. Mary had a last duty to perform. She needed to finish anointing the beaten, bloodied, cold body of Jesus: teacher, friend, companion. Before the Sabbath a hasty job was completed. Now the purification process needed to be done properly. I remember reading in high school a statement that an anthropologist made. It was during my Egyptian and Native Cultures time of study. Whoever this anthropologist was said, and I have always remembered it, “You can tell much about a people and culture by the way they treat their dead.” We can tell much about the depth of Mary Magdalene’s love by the actions she was undertaking.
It is here we can only begin to partially understand Mary’s horror when she finds the tomb violated and the body missing. When we bury a loved one, we have a very solid assurance that the body will remain there and not be disturbed. We don’t live in the time of Dr. Frankenstein and body snatching.
Every fiber in Mary’s body had to be screaming, “Why this? Could things get any worse?” Very likely dropping what she was carrying, Mary hurried back to the disciples with the shattering news.
They could not believe what she reported and had to see for themselves. A short time later they discovered it was as she reported, and they returned to their rooms to discuss the matter further. Who would commit such sacrilege and why? The Temple leaders? Very possible, because they hated Jesus deeply. The Romans? Not very likely, as to them Jesus was just an annoyance and rabble-rouser. Regardless, where was the body? We find the answer in the following Easter passage from St. John’s Gospel.
John 20:1-18 20:1 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. 20:2 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.” 20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 20:12 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. 20:13 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.” 20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 20:15 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.” 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 20:17 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.'” 20:18 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.
The Word of the Lord.
Because Mary stayed to weep and grieve, she became the first witness to the Resurrection of Christ. Her faithfulness to the Lord Jesus whom she loved, listened to, followed, very likely fed, believed in, and now grieved the loss of, made possible this life changing event in her life. Mary’s eyes were opened and instead of seeing the gardener, she realized she was looking at Jesus, raised from the dead.
Mary ran back and spread the word to the disciples. They in turn witnessed the Resurrection of Christ, personally. They talked with him, walked with him, broke bread with him, all proof again and again of his Resurrection. They spread the word. Others spread the word. Across the centuries and around the globe the word has been and continues to be spread.
This is why we now celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. We may not have seen him in the same way that Mary and all the disciples and countless others were privileged to have seen him, but we know he lives. Because Christ lives, we too are granted life everlasting through our baptism into the death and risen life of Christ.
It is a time to celebrate. It is a time to tell others what we believe and know to be the truth about Jesus. No other religious leader in all earth’s history can make these two claims. First, to be the one and only Son of God, Creator of all that has been, is, and ever shall be. Second, and this is truly the most important part for all of us, because God raised Christ from the dead, through baptism we have been granted the promise of being raised from the dead and having life everlasting as well.
In this day and time, when people are losing loved ones to diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, to wars, to COVID-19, what better message is there than that their loved ones are now healed, made whole and reside in the presence of the true and living God?
They are in that place where there is no pain, suffering or sorrow, only life everlasting. This is the message we receive and celebrate this day. This is the message we have to give to the world. This is the message that strikes down fear and hopelessness. Rejoice and give thanks for this message and make sure others receive it as well.
As I said in my Easter letter, which is posted elsewhere on the web site, we will long remember this particular Easter. Because of the pandemic sweeping the world, it will be different from all other Easters we’ve celebrated. That being said, the truth is that Easter is still and always will be Easter: the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ the Lord. We are joyful because God raised His Son Jesus to new life and gave us life as well.
Be Glad. Christ the Lord lives.