Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
Happy Easter! The Lord is risen! Alleluia!
It is so good to say these words again, isn’t it? Our Lenten journey is now over. Throughout this season we walked with Jesus through the desert; throughout this season we walked with Jesus as he journeyed toward Jerusalem, where he finally entered last week with people waving their palms and cheering. And we walked with Jesus throughout the week, through Holy Week until he finally exited Jerusalem, carrying his cross with those same people mocking him and jeering. Each leg of the Lenten journey got harder and harder, darker and darker, until last night when we sat in the darkness of the vigil, the darkness of the tomb. And then the lights came on, and we shouted our Alleluias and sang our Glorias. Our Lenten journey is now over.
But that is only because we have hindsight—2000 years of hindsight—to know where this story is going, knowing that that empty tomb is good news. On that very first Easter, the disciples did not yet know that their journey was over. On that first Easter their lives remained in the darkness of Lent. As we just heard in the Gospel, early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark the disciples were still in their darkness. Not just the darkness of the morning, but the darkness of their grief and sorrow and their pain and their fear. In this darkness, Mary Magdalene had the courage to go down to the tomb. Remember, courage is not the absence of fear, but a willingness to act in spite of it. And so she goes down to that tomb, to the scene of the crime, in spite of all her concerns and all of her worries and all of her fears—those fears that made almost every disciple abandon him—she went down to the center of the darkness while it was still dark.
And things only got worse when she arrived and saw the tomb empty. Again, with hindsight, we know that the empty tomb is good news, so we can say, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” But for Mary, this darkened her already dark world, added insult to injury: what had happened? Who had done this? She went and got Peter and the beloved disciple, and they came and they, too, only found confusion. As we learned later in the Gospel, they remained in their darkness, too.
The darkness is a little bit confounding, because Jesus had said time and again the he would have to die and rise again. We have heard that passage many times, it is repeated over and over. But communication is two parts: one is said and one is heard. And for some reason they didn’t hear it. As happens so many times for us, they probably so filtered what he was telling them through own hopes and their own expectations, that they missed the simplicity of his message: he would die and rise again. A message, a truth that we still struggle with today: that through death we find life; through Good Friday we find Easter, and like us, they hadn’t heard it.
So there she Mary Magdalene in the darkness, alone and weeping, and in this darkness she encounters Jesus. She does not recognize it at first, but he was with her. She confused him for a gardener, because she was still allowing her own expectations to get in the way, but Jesus broke through that. Jesus shattered her own expectations and broke back into her life. For that is what he does, for her and for us. He breaks into our lives.
We may be celebrating right now because Lent is over as a Liturgical season, but the reality of life may be very different for some of us. The Lent of our lives may continue. Whatever grief or pain or loneliness or challenge we face, the Lent of our lives do not fit neatly packaged into a forty day Liturgical season. And even if it is not right now, Lent will come around again expectedly as a Liturgical season in ten short months: Valentine’s Day, 2018. Mark your calendars now; that will be Ash Wednesday. And Lent will come unexpectedly into our lives as we face death, or illness or loss, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month or a decade, but Lent will come into our lives when we least expect it and we least need it. And when it does, there will be Jesus to light the way, there will be Jesus in the darkness, the risen Lord shining forth in our lives.
Do you remember how John’s Gospel begins? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through Him. And what came into being was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Light bookends John’s Gospel: light in his Incarnation at the beginning, and light here today in his Resurrection; light in Creation, and light in the New Creation. There in the darkness in the garden, the garden of that first Easter, and here a darkness that we may face or will soon face, the light of Christ can shine on our path. Sometimes that will require us to get out of the way and to let go of our expectations so God’s expectations can come in. Sometime it will require us to let go of our dreams so that God’s dream can come alive. But here he is: for us, with us, in us. Our lives are hidden in his, as the Epistle puts it. We, who by virtue of our baptism, not the virtue of anything we have done or deserve, but by the pure grace of God’s gift, find our lives intertwined with his, dead with him, and raised with him in new life. Since our lives are so interconnected with his, that light shines into the world. And that light that shines from him is our light to shine, also. To bring Christ wherever we may go: to all of the dark early morning gardens of this world, to bring hope to a world in despair, and grace to a world that feeds on fear. We are to join him.
This was what Mary was sent to do: go and tell the others, go and share the good news and shine the light, shine my light, bring hope, bring grace, bring love. And that is exactly what we are sent to do today.