After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
John 20: 1-18
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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
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.’” May Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.
As the people of God, we have become accustomed to Easter celebrations being loud and joyful. We know what to expect from our Easter services. We know we will play triumphant and joyous music. That we will sing and dance. That we will raise our voices in celebration and declare Christ is Risen! Yes, Christ is Risen indeed! We know that Easter means gathering for a small sunrise service or for breakfast. Doing Easter egg hunts. Having a large meal with family. We come together in the familiar and the comforting year after year, with the promise and hope of resurrection being declared joyously.
We mourn the loss of that this year. We mourn the loss of our normal. We mourn the disruption. We mourn that, despite our greatest hopes, we cannot gather together for Easter. We mourn this change and this difference. And I certainly don’t want to take away from that mourning. I don’t want to gloss over the disappointment and sadness we feel in this moment with a veneer of theological interpretation. We are right to feel grieved over the disruption to our beloved traditions. I certainly am grieving the fact that my first Easter as your pastor, I have to speak to you through the internet. That the sermon I hoped to do, the celebration I hoped to have, couldn’t happen.
It feels strange, doesn’t it? That our lives have been so disrupted, that our way of being in the world has changed, and yet…
…it’s still Easter.
Though it may not feel like it, Easter has come. Without pomp and circumstance. Without witnesses filling the pews. Without joyful hymns blaring from organs. Without flowers adorning the sanctuary. But it’s here.
I don’t know about you all, but to me it feels like Easter snuck up on us this year. Like, in the midst of all the worry, all the wondering, all the unknown, Easter is here. And it feels a little out of place, does it not? A little like this particular holiday should be delayed until we know everything is alright and we can truly celebrate. How can we be celebrating life right now? When our lives are so radically shifted? So radically changed? It doesn’t feel right.
But then again, I’m sure the resurrection felt out of place as well. Jesus’ followers, his friends and disciples, have just had their lives utterly altered. Their beloved teacher, the one whom they clung and followed, who gave them the hope of God’s kingdom, was brutally killed. His voice silenced. They were sad. They were scared. We read Peter’s denial of Jesus. We read about the tears of the women. We read about how the disciples locked themselves away, for fear that they would be next. Their lives have suddenly changed. In the course of a few days they went from being greeted with palms and shouts of Hosanna to being scattered. They went from sharing a meal together around a table to being broken up. Judas betrayed them. Peter denied them. Jesus died.
Their world was utterly, completely, drastically changed. Much like when Jesus first called them to follow him, their lives were upended and uprooted. But this time, they didn’t have the hope of God’s promise and God’s kingdom to hang onto. They thought some of Jesus’ final words were true: It is finished.
But then comes the resurrection. What’s so interesting about the resurrection is that it doesn’t come with pomp. It doesn’t come with celebration. It doesn’t come with great shouts of “Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!” In fact, we never see the exact moment of resurrection happen at all. We aren’t privy to that part of the narrative. There are no verses that say, “And then early in the morning, trumpets started to blare and angels started to sing. Jesus took a sharp inhale and opened his eyes. He took the burial clothing off and stepped out of the tomb.” No. We don’t see that. We come in after Jesus has been raised from the dead. We come in with the women going to the tomb with burial spices, to continue tending to the body. And we, with the women, discover this strange, almost unbelievable truth. The tomb is empty!
And then, depending on what Gospel we read, we either get the news of the resurrection straight away, like in Matthew, or we follow women deeply grieved announcing to the disciples that the body is missing, like in John. But, either way, we end up with the same news in the end. Jesus has come back! He is risen!
In the middle of all the pain. All the sadness. All the darkness. All the grief. All the feelings that the world is drastically changed and will never be the same. The sense of normal being shaken. We still have the resurrection.
I love the telling from the Gospel of John, when Mary Magdalene stands by the tomb, weeping, because she thinks they have taken the body of her Lord, her teacher. And Jesus comes up to her. And whether he looks so different that she does not recognize him, or she doesn’t look up in her grief, or she thinks the resemblance uncanny, but can’t allow herself to believe, we don’t know. But she mistakes Jesus for the gardener and says “Just tell me where you put him.” Jesus, not making any big show of who he is, just speaks her name. “Mary.” That’s all he says. “Mary.” And in that instant, she knows him. She clings to him. “Rabbouni. Teacher.” She says.
It’s a tender, silent, moment shared between two friends. A quiet, intimate moment of being named and being known. Mary doesn’t break out in dancing or song. She just clings to her Savior.
There’s no celebration. But it’s still Easter.
This is our Gospel, our good news for today: Jesus didn’t need loud declarations of Hallelujah to rise. Jesus didn’t need trumpets and pipe organs. Jesus didn’t need a massive celebration. All Jesus needed was to rise. And he did. Quietly and silently on the morning of the third day, in some way that we don’t get to see, Jesus rose from the dead and stepped back into the world. Life and light slipped into a world marred by death and darkness. Hope tiptoed its way through hopelessness.
Resurrection comes. Resurrection comes quietly. It comes silently. It slips into the world, whether we feel prepared for it or not. Resurrection breaks into our world even when we are surrounded by darkness. Resurrection comes even when we are afraid. Resurrection comes even when we are locked inside, separated from one another. Resurrection comes whether we are there at the tomb to greet it or not.
Resurrection doesn’t need our celebration. Resurrection doesn’t need our hymns. Resurrection doesn’t need our shouts of Hallelujah! And Christ is Risen! Resurrection doesn’t need for us to be gathered together. Resurrection doesn’t need our “normal.” Because even when our world is turned upside down. Even when it feels completely unknown and unreal. Even when we feel off-kilter and off balance. Resurrection comes.
And it’s still Easter.
Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed. Hallelujah.