Easter Day, 2022
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
The tomb is empty. Jesus is not here, for he is among the living, not the dead. This is the ultimate good news – that death no longer has dominion over us. This doesn't mean we aren't affected by death, because we are. It's hard for us to lose a friend, family member, or someone we love and respect. What this means, though, is that life is changed, not ended.
We see this in today's beautiful gospel story of Mary Magdalene going to the tomb. We all know dead people don't leave their tombs, so it was perfectly natural for Mary to confuse Jesus with the gardener. She was mourning the loss of her friend and teacher, and now she's in shock because the body is gone. But in a very intimate and touching scene, Jesus speaks her name. In that instant she knows he is alive. She knows death has lost its sting. She knows life is changed, not ended.
But the movement from mourning to shock to joy is a process, sometimes a very slow process.
All four gospels tell a resurrection story – that's the point of a gospel. But all four have their own particular spin on it. Matthew has Mary Magdalene and another Mary at the tomb, an earthquake, an angel, a meeting in Galilee, and some doubting disciples. Mark has our resurrection window: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and a young man. He also has the women running away saying nothing to anyone. Luke has Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, two men, a story told to the male disciples, and disbelief. John has the story we just heard.
I bring this up, or point this out, not to discredit or cause doubt about the gospels or wonder why none of the stories match other than the inclusion of Mary Magdalene and a risen Christ. I bring them up to show that each story has a different way of telling the story, and in no story is the belief in the resurrected Christ instantaneous. There is joy, yes. But there is also doubt, caution, and even fear. This resurrection thing was good news. It is good news. The question is: How will we approach it?
If you have been attending the Triduum services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, you will recall that I spent a lot of time comparing those services to the COVID pandemic. Maundy Thursday recalls the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples left separated, alone, and being stripped of that which had bound them together. I recalled the onset of COVID, our last Communion meal here, and how we were left separated, alone, and being stripped of that which bound us together as COVID took over.
Good Friday recalls the Passion, crucifixion, and death of Christ. It reminds us that Jesus died without his friends close by, but surrounded by a few women keeping vigil at the foot of the cross. I recalled it was during COVID that people were dying, unable to be with family and/or friends, but being surrounded by a few nurses keeping vigil at the foot of their beds. On Good Friday we are faced with the death of Christ. On this Good Friday we were faced with the death of thousands of people due to COVID.
But the good news is that there is resurrection. There is new life. Life is changed, not ended.
In the four resurrection stories we see joy and doubt and caution and fear. When Mary understood who was calling her name, she joyfully reached out to hug him and joyfully told the disciples he was alive. Thomas (most famously) and several other disciples doubted the story of Jesus' resurrection. Peter goes to investigate the empty tomb, but then returns home being cautious not to stir up trouble. Women run from the tomb in fear, saying nothing to anyone.
We are hopefully coming out of the COVID pandemic. As we do, we see joy and doubt and caution and fear. There is joy in being able to see all our faces and sing freely. There is doubt that the green phase we are currently experiencing can hold. There is caution that we shouldn't move too fast (as evidenced by our continued request to wear masks) because you never know how bad the next variant might be. There is fear that by relaxing safety protocols we open ourselves up to another shut down and more deaths. But there is hope.
The resurrection of Christ is THE point of the gospels. The resurrection promises that life is changed, not ended, that sin and death no longer have dominion over us, that Satan is finally beat down, and that we are alive in the Lord. This is the story of the gospels – that life wins. But even with those promises, even with the witnesses to the empty tomb, even with seeing Jesus appear in a locked room or on the beach, the men and women who followed Jesus express different emotions and need to come to terms with the resurrection event in their own way and in their own time.
The resurrection is good news, but it still took some time for people to process that good news and get to a point where they freely proclaimed that news. It took time, but they eventually got there. Belief came. Resurrection was proclaimed. New life grew.
As we come out of COVID we are seeing in any number of ways that life is changed, not ended. Despite what we have experienced over these past two years we are finally seeing that COVID no longer has dominion over us. But even with the positive things we've seen lately – lower case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths – we all have different emotions and will come to terms with all of this in our own way in our own time.
These past two years have been one, long extended Holy Week. Alone, isolated, we have witnessed the death and burial of innocent people. We have mourned their loss. But now, hopefully, there are signs of new life and resurrection. As we come out of COVID, know there is new life; but also know that we will each process this journey differently.
We have all been touched by COVID. We have also all been touched by the resurrection. There is no going back to before COVID. There is no going back to before the resurrection. In moving forward from both there is joy and doubt and caution and fear. With respects to COVID, may we come to a place where we once again experience joy in our lives. With respects to the resurrection, may we come to a place where we can joyfully proclaim that good news to the world around us.
In the past few weeks, I have seen faces of joy as the hoped-for end to COVID seems within reach. Today is Easter, the Day of Resurrection, and I see faces of joy as the hoped-for promise of new life is proclaimed. May this be the time we are able to find joy in lives changed. May this be the time we move from a fear of what was to the joy of what will be. May this Easter allow the suppressed joy of the past two years finally break free upon the world in a loud shout
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!