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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What a difference a year can make. One Easter morning, a father was teaching his son how to drive on their way to church when out of nowhere a rabbit jumped on the road. Slamming on the breaks, the son said, “I nearly ruined Easter! I almost ran over the Easter Bunny.” His father replied, “It’s okay son—you missed it by a hare.” Last year I was driving in snow on Easter, not to church of course. Churches were closed and most people were attending serving on-line. Few people were sporting their Easter finest that day. Still, neither snow nor the pandemic could prevent us from telling Easter jokes to family members by Zoom. My children and grandchildren appreciated these little tidbits. Why was the Easter Bunny wearing a hat while delivering his baskets? He was having a bad hare day! Or what do you call a line of rabbits walking backwards? A receding hare line.
This year, however, Easter is different – even if many people are still forced to stay home for a few more weeks and masks are still a part of our daily accessories, the promise of hope in the air. This year it can be said, “Easter is the one time when it is safe to put all your eggs in one basket.” But how do you move ahead when you know there is still a great stone waiting to be rolled away?
That is what the woman were wondering as they journeyed to the tomb early on the first Easter morning. It was the one step they had completely overlooked in preparing for the sad ritual of anointing the dead body of their teacher Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James as well as Salome bought spices, but as they went to the tomb, they began to say to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
Jesus had died on that long and heartrending Good Friday afternoon, and within each woman something died as well. They heard his lament, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” And they cried with him. They watched his body as it breathed its last. It felt as if they had breathed their last with him. It was an awful, horrible, gut-wrenching death. All their dreams and hopes had ended. And then as silent observers they watched as their own joy, hope, strength, peace, and confidence were buried with Jesus in that tomb.
Perhaps that is how you have experienced life this past year. Certainly nothing as dramatic as a crucifixion, but something died within you. You found yourself often wondering how and when you would move on. Surely, we have all had days when the burdens we carried if not for ourselves then for others, chafed our shoulders and weighed us down. It was on such heavy days that all you could do was hope that someone would roll away the stone, so that you could move on to the sad task of offering a final farewell. That was often what we were waiting for this past year- closure- to a postponed wedding, a funeral, a graduation celebration, or to hold a newborn child. Even a rather silly Easter card would sum up our experience, “This Easter I just need some bunny to love.”
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, and Salome weren’t expecting a surprising new beginning that first Easter morning. No, they were merely hoping that they would find someone to help them roll away the stone. But as they neared the tomb, they looked up and they saw that the stone had been rolled away! Inside they were greeted by an even greater surprise. A young man dressed in a dazzling white robe, sitting on the stone, said to them, “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Go tell his disciples and Peter that is he going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” It was no wonder that terror and amazement seized them. Then St. Mark records the least trustworthy line in all of scripture. He writes that after hearing the word of the young man, “(The women) were so afraid, that they said nothing to anyone.” The history of the church, however, tells us the three women did not remain silent long.
What happened on that first Easter morning is for us a sacred mystery. Jesus’ resurrection defies medicine, logic and science; and yet it affects the whole of human history and our own story.
Duke Divinity School Professor and Bishop Emeritus William Willimon once wrote, “There are so many ways to ‘explain’ the resurrection. The point is, we can’t explain the resurrection. As Christians-The resurrection explains us!” So how does the good news of Christ’s resurrection change the way we see the world and your life?
The good news of the resurrection begins by touching you personally. The disciple Peter experienced this first hand when Jesus’ message came to him through the three women. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to the Galilee.” How that message must have cheered his heart. Peter had been tortured with the memory of his denial and disloyalty, and suddenly there came a special message for him. That, my friends, is characteristic of our risen Lord Jesus. Not only does he roll away the great stones that separate us, but he also offers a word of comfort and hope for you. Your past doesn’t matter to Jesus. Our resurrected Lord is far less concerned with the wrong that you have done, than the remorse that you are undergoing. He is far less concerned with your sins, than with your forgiveness. He is far less concerned with the punishment, than the promise of abundant life. That is his personal word to you.
The good news of the resurrection is so earth shattering that it becomes a story you have to share. Unfortunately, that is difficult for many of us to acknowledge. It is far easier for us to speak about the glories of springtime and the delight of the chocolate bearing Easter bunny that to tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection and how it defines our lives. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome may have been frightened, but they could not be silent long. In God’s hands, tragedy and disappointment do not need to define life. And ever since then, no mystery of divine love has so inspired the world as Jesus’ resurrection. Whole civilizations have been changed because men and women dared to believe and trust Jesus’ promise. They have clung to the Risen Christ, and he has clung to them, and together they have reshaped the hopes of the world.
Finally, the good news of the resurrection promises you that that there is something even more wonderful waiting out there. The Indian Nobel Prize winning poet and essayist Rabindranath Tagore once wrote, “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Many men and women fear death. And out of the fear of dying, they scurry about collecting and gathering. They do not care who they hurt in the process. They may not be dying on the outside, but they are certainly dying on the inside. The resurrection invites you to see death in a new perspective. You can live with the certain hope that the loved ones you have lost, you will see again. Those whom Covid has taken, and to those whom no farewell was spoken, you will greet again. Death is not the end. It is the beginning of Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
What a difference a year can make. When I was young, my grandparents would discuss every spring whether Easter was late or early, so much so, that I wondered what would happen if Easter ever came on time. The good news of the Christ’s resurrection, however, is that it is always timely. My friends, God is rolling away the stone and unleashing the power of a new life now, and like the disciples, we are left with a choice. Will you be overcome with fear and confusion and keep this life-changing news to yourself, or, will you tell all the world? You’ve had a year of lock-downs to meditate on that message. “Do not be afraid; Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.