Easter is like Christmas, in that there is a great temptation to cram in the entirety of Christianity 101 just because you have all these people in front of you who aren’t usually there.
The additional problem of Easter, however, is that it is the emotional conclusion to a story that the liturgy has been building to for the past few days, and 90% of the congregation hasn’t been there for it. So their emotional base is going to be different–even apart from the usual mishmash of the variety of baggage people carry into church.
Me, I decided to double down on what God’s redemption means, and how we see it in the world. I wanted to give people who might be walking in our doors for the first time to have a real taste of who St. John’s was, and the sort of Jesus we talked about around here–not a spiffed-up one for Easter morning.
Also, I really wanted to work in the line about the disciples’ starting the continuing tradition of disbelieving women.
Here’s what I said.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 21, 2019
Easter Day, Year C
I drive by this one corner on Cayuga Street every day on my commute to work, where there’s this forsythia bush—a big one. And every day, for the past few months, I’ve sort of glared at it, as I’ve passed. I stare at the twisted branched intently, kind of slow down a bit each time, squinting to see if I can make out any hint or teeny sign of something that might be called a blossom. Hoping by my force of will, that I can produce spring, just by snarling up traffic and glaring intently at some bare twigs.
Spoiler: this doesn’t work. I do not, through my random acts of stubbornness, have the power to make the weather warmer, or speed up the cycles of nature. However, this knowledge doesn’t stop me. I still stare at the forsythia bush each time I see it, wanting to catalogue all the tiny changes that announce spring’s arrival, out of the barrenness of winter. But really, I am aware it arrives without my help at all. I didn’t produce it; I just witness it.
I don’t know what Mary Magdalene expected when she ventured forth, early on the first day of the week. I don’t know what she was hoping to find. Perhaps she was consciously trying to keep her expectations limited—caring for the bodies of the dead was (and is) very important in that time and cultural context, and Jesus, after all, had been executed at the whim of the Roman occupiers. It was both vitally important that someone friendly care for him after death, and very likely that his humiliation had continued through his burial. So Mary Magdalene raced to bury him properly. Anoint him properly. See what a horrible job the disciples had done of their ONE JOB, maybe. No one had had time to do this between the terror of the crucifixion on Friday, worry about being arrested themselves, then the Sabbath, and now.
So she went, to attend to her friend and teacher’s burial, to witness whatever new indignity life had in store now.
And just as she is overcome with tears, at the prospect of losing even Jesus’ body, she encounters Jesus himself, alive and well, calling her name.
The resurrection sneaks up on her, this inbreaking of God’s reign into the depth of Mary’s despair. Of course she didn’t expect it—who would? Finding someone who was dead having come back to life is not in the course of human experience. And yet—there it was. God bringing new, triumphant life out of horror and sadness. Jesus, calmly looking at her, same as always, and yet entirely, unspeakably different. God’s powerful love bursting out of that tomb, and proving to be stronger than all the injustice and humiliation that even the Roman Empire can throw at it.
So, she races back to tell the other disciples—I have seen the Lord! He is risen! And the disciples, standing in a troublesome tradition that continues to our very day, cheerfully disbelieve the woman’s testimony.
And I joke, but again—it’s not all that surprising. Because, like the Spanish Inquisition, the resurrection is something no one expects. It is not in our vocabulary in this life. Our vocabulary, the disciples’ vocabulary, was and is shaped by the empires we inhabit—so the disciples expected, like Mary Magdalene, that Rome had stolen the body to further humiliate it. (He was a political criminal, after all.) The disciples expected that they would be arrested any minute as fellow conspirators, they thought that their best bet was to stay indoors, locked away and hidden because that was safer, and they thought that this woman must have lost her mind—because that’s what the empire had taught them. That some voices are more important than others, that some lives are just more valuable than others, and so justice, right and wrong, all the rest, will be played out on these terms. There’s no point in hoping for anything more.
Perhaps that’s why, then, Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb, early that morning. Perhaps that’s why she only can convince Peter and John to go after she tells them her news. Perhaps the other disciples were still too reluctant to hope, too hesitant to want to risk witnessing either something amazing, or something heartbreakingly disappointing.
But—when Peter and John are brave enough to go, they, too, witness the Resurrection. They,too, find, in place of the disappointment and grief they have learned to expect, God’s new life bursting forth. Once they summon the courage to venture forth, and look.
Resurrection is decidedly God’s action. God makes it happen, and only God can bring something good out of the wreck we make sometimes of this world. God alone can redeem our messes, and yet on Easter, that’s just what we proclaim that God has done.
Our job, then, is to be brave enough to go out and determinedly look for resurrection, even when it seems unlikely. Even as the world around us seems constantly trapped in a state of Good Friday, even as we seem perpetually stuck in a cycle of hatred, injustice, oppression, and division, today, we see Jesus emerge from that tomb, and recall again that no matter what is happening in our world now, that God has already assured us that none of the forces that plague us will have the final world. God alone will have the final world. In Christ’s resurrection on this day, God has sealed the deal—the forces of evil, the forces of death: the forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, poverty, hatred—these will not haunt us forever. God will defeat them in the end. As followers of Christ, we need to cling to that empty tomb, and be brave enough to witness it. Be brave enough to venture out to the tombs of our world—the places with the most hurt. Be brave enough to go out in the early morning with our spices, hoping to do a little good, bring a little comfort. Be courageous enough to watch and wait, and do what we can, until one day, through our patience, and witness, we, with Mary, will see the glory of God blazing forth triumphant, and all creation will give back the song—Alleluia, Christ is risen!