Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
On the First Day of the Week
It’s Easter Sunday… and we are celebrating, as we should. But out in the world, it feels like time’s been stuck in Saturday’s darkness for quite a while now. “Holy Saturday” we call it, though it felt anything but Holy to Mary and the other disciples, grief and darkness overshadowed everything. Saturday was a day of paralysis, doubt and despair, when time stood still in lethal flatness. 1
We know what that feels like, what it is to wonder how long Saturday will last, or if it will ever end. We understand the Saturday of the disciples – the abandonment and anguish they felt following the crucifixion. We recognize it in all the worldly Saturdays of fear and violence since – the overwhelming heartache and hopelessness, the stunned paralysis.2 We recognize it now, when we are divided and despairing, turning on one another, in a worldly Saturday of our own making. Our news is filled with atrocities which are eerily familiar: of the posturing of empires; of people suffering because of war, famine, persecution and oppression; of a bloody and violent Palm Sunday; and of state sponsored executions.
It’s no wonder no one knows how long Saturday will last, or if it will ever end. For the world’s narrative of money and power and violence and control cannot save us;3 the world’s narrative authored this relentless nightmare in the first place.
We tend to respond to the lethal flatness of Saturday a lot like the disciples did. Some of us wander around in a state of shock. Some respond by focusing on the little things, the things we can do something about, like Peter and the other disciple who are overly focused on who wins a foot race to the tomb. Some hide our heads in the sand, and hope it will all go away, like the group hiding in the locked room. And some of us keep overly busy with day to day tasks, similar to Thomas who seems to be out and about a lot. Normal, human reactions to anxiety and/or despair. Reasonable responses – but not particularly helpful or hope-filled.
Except for Mary Magdalene, who is grieving faithfully; and willing to move toward it, willing to face the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and his tomb; willing to face his death and her anguish. Her courage is the key to Easter morning for us all.
Because Mary is willing to lean into the pain and grief, to bear the heartache, her heart is broken open, and she is receptive to this moment. She is the one to whom Jesus appears in the garden. She can hear him call her name. She is ready to receive the Good News of God’s love.
Because she is the one faithful to the end, even going to the place of death, because she persisted, when no one else did, it is to her the Good News is entrusted. She will proclaim it faithfully to those who did not go, to those whose courage failed them, and to those of us who were not able to be there, who fight to loosen the grip of Saturday’s despair.
Because Mary responds in love and faith, the world is changed forever.
Jan Richardson’s blessing about the moment Mary meets Jesus in the garden:
The Magdalene’s Blessing4
You hardly imagined standing here,
everything you ever loved suddenly returned to you looking you in the eye and calling your name.
you do not know
how to abide this ache in the center
of your chest
where a door
and swings open
at the same time, turning on the hinge of your aching
and hopeful heart.
I tell you
this is not a banishment from the garden.
This is an invitation, a choice,
This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge you cannot imagine choosing any other way.
So let the tears come as anointing,
let them go.
Let this blessing
gather itself around you.
Let it give you what you will need for this journey.
You will not remember the words—
they do not matter.
All you need to remember is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living call your name.
Mary has the courage and heart both to go to the tomb, and to open her eyes to new possibility. Mary, a woman of color, a woman who would have little to no voice even in our current culture, is the primary witness to the resurrection – she is the only consistent witness to the resurrection in all four Gospel accounts. Jesus, risen from the tomb, appears first and foremost, to Mary Magdalene. And because she responds in love and faith, we, too, have the same opportunity, the same invitation. As Richardson says in her blessing, this moment – “… is an invitation, a choice, a threshold, a gate.” For us.
Encountering the tomb, and finding it empty, we experience being overcome by something completely other. Beyond our expectation or ability to comprehend. A different truth than the world can offer. Which is a good thing, considering the state of truth in our world currently. This is God’s own truth. That is not ours to hold, grasp, control, manage or manipulate. It is God’s own – always. Offered to us freely as a gift that changes everything. That changes the very nature of our existence. That changes the very nature of all that is possible. A truth that makes us more, that builds up, that reconciles and redeems, that makes abundant life possible for all.
This moment at the tomb is an invitation, a choice…
We can choose to hear this Gospel and shrink the resurrection to the proportions of our own understanding (or dismiss is outright), and our Easter will be worldly and unresponsive, inert,
lifeless. Empty of any power. A day that could be any other day really, just dressed up in good clothes and proper behavior and piety.
We can choose to hear this Gospel and go back out the sanctuary doors, and let the world mark our days, imposing its narrative and its values upon our lives. Knowing for certain, that sooner or later, the Saturdays of the world will come. No matter how much we think we can insulate ourselves, or isolate ourselves, … the darkness of Saturday will come. If it ever really ended in the first place.
Or, we can choose to accept the invitation, and engage this moment before the tomb fully, and confront our fear, and the voices of our rational mind telling us don’t bother, there has to be a body in that tomb. And we can work up our courage and look in, and see what God has done.
The body is not there, Jesus has Risen. And with hearts broken open, hear him calling us from the garden, offering us this most amazing gift. On the other side of Saturday’s grief and despair – through it – there is new life, abundant life in God’s love. The first day of new life in a new world. A new way of being, a new way of living, here, and in the life to come.
In this moment, Jesus offers us this invitation, of God’s love, all we have to do is let ourselves believe and be changed by this moment. Really, what do we have to lose? Because let’s be honest, what the world is offering, is not going to get us anything other than Saturday’s unending darkness.
God has given us another choice, the first day of the week, the first day of God’s new creation, of new life, our new life. Of all that is actually possible with God.
As Martin Smith says: Something happens
“…on the first day of the week, powerful enough to heal every wound, to recover every waste, to break down every barrier, to unlock every prison, to forgive every transgression, to unite everything at odds. There is love enough to flood every heart, to raise everyone dead and lost …”5
My friends, this is the first day of the week, the first day of our new life, not just a moment of celebration after which we return to the ordinary drudgery of worldly days.
Accept the invitation, let the joy and hope, the magnitude and miracle of the resurrection affect you, transform you. Feel your heart open, releasing the fear and anxiety, feel the weight of the grief lifting from your shoulders. Hear the living Christ call your name, as you are made new.
All things are possible, all things are reconciled in this moment when God’s love wins once and for all. For all of us.
This is the first day of the week, of God’s new creation, of all that comes next: of all that is possible, with all of us together, reconciled and beloved, redeemed, renewed.
My friends, believe it – Christ is Risen. Alleluia.
1 Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own, (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, 2017), 92. 2 Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own, 92.
3 Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own, 93.
4 Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, (Wanton Gospeller Press: Orlando, 2015), 156-158.
5 Martin L. Smith, A Season for the Spirit, (Church Publishing: New York, 2004), 183.