Grace and peace from God our creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you always.
Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
Happy Easter, dear ones! He who was once dead is alive again! We who were once dead are alive again! Thanks be to God!
But let's step back a second. When we were last here together it was Lent. We were still in the dark. Y'all went on spring break, and some of us spent some of Holy Week together. I felt like it was a huge bummer that we didn't get to have Holy Week here together at the Belfry. We sort of leapt from Lent to Easter, without the all-important Triduum in between. And I think there's something really special about those three days. There is of course a reason why we call it Holy Week. There is, of course, a reason why every church across the world celebrates, in some fashion, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. This year I was particularly moved by Holy Saturday. And this year's Easter scripture still sort of sits in that Holy Saturday place of unknowing.
Let me try to explain. We don't have to try very hard to imagine the experience that the disciples had on Friday. We get a really good idea from the story about the pain of that day. We get vivid description of the action that happens between Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death. It's chaos. And all the gospels tell us about the Easter Sunday morning event. But what was happening on Saturday? On Saturday, Jesus was dead in the tomb. On Saturday, everyone wept. On Saturday, everyone grieved. On Saturday everyone wondered, “what's next?” On Saturday, everyone doubted.
Except, it seems, these women. The story tells us that “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” Because it was the Sabbath they probably didn't prepare them on Saturday, but they probably prepared to prepare them. On Saturday, the women busied themselves with what funeral practices, what rituals, still needed to be performed. On Saturday the women mourned the loss of their friend, their teacher, their son, by doing what women often do—the dirty work.
It is often the women in our communities who go about these behind-the-scenes activities that hold our communities together. In the midst of the confusion and terror of Jesus’ friends and family members, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women are mixing spices. They're mixing spices to take with them back to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body, because that is what Jewish women did when someone beloved died. They couldn't be sure of much in that time of turmoil, but they could be sure that their rituals were meaningful and necessary. So they mixed spices. And then they went.
But when they went inside the tomb, they did not find the body of Jesus.
Can you even imagine?
They’ve made this arduous trek, in the dark, alone. “The women who went to the grave of their beloved friend that Easter morning had done so at great risk to themselves. For it was the grave of a convicted political criminal. Guards stood watch, ready to report the identities of those who dared expose themselves as his supporters.”
When they arrived, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Imagine their panic. Imagine their heartbreak. Imagine their distress.
Lo and behold, “while they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’” (Luke 24:4-5).
With all the trauma and chaos of the last 48 hours of their lives, it surprises me, and it doesn’t surprise me, that these women hear this and trust it. They hear this and trust it enough to go running home to the rest of their friends and family and proclaim it as true.
When the women returned to where the rest of the apostles were hiding and told them of the wonder that they had just witnessed, they were met with rolled eyes and disbelief. Their words were taken as an “idle tale”, it says. [Quick aside: the testimony of women was not admissible in court during this time; this is why we have Peter running to the tomb as well, so that he could stand as witness.]
But, “it strikes me that the courage of those women is the first sign of a resurrection faith on that morning, even before an empty tomb is discovered,” and the words “He is risen!” have been uttered.
These women are the Easter people. And so, too, are we. Hear this, and trust me: Jesus the Christ is risen.
In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, “[the apostles] saw him, received messages from him, and were different because of it.” In these days following our celebration of Easter—for the season of Easter is 50 days long—where will you see the Risen Christ? how will you be different because of it? how will you explain to people still incredulous this fantastic story you know to be true?
Though you may be hung up on the mechanics and the biology of it all, do not let the historicity of the Resurrection be the first and last question you ask. “Jesus's resurrection is an event that is ultimately beyond the confines of our ability to understand or reason. As mystery, the only way we can hope to ‘get’ the resurrection is to live it. The empty tomb is thus not an ending, but a beginning, an invitation to each of us to birth and rebirth the Divine in the confines of our own lives and histories.”
As the Easter people we have work to do. “Easter people refuse to give in to the powers of darkness and death; they persevere against the seemingly overwhelming odds.” As you and I are the Easter people, we must continue the ministry that Jesus handed over to the apostle—the word apostle meaning “one who is sent”. So as they were sent, you are sent. To preach good news to the poor, liberation to the oppressed, freedom to the captive, life to the dead.
“Then and now powers and principalities to say no to resistance but God says yes to life. Death does not have the last word. Each new Christian generation has Easter experiences that demand the absurd proclamation, ‘He is alive!’”
Each week when we commune together, we say some ritually important words. Some liturgies ask us to proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. So as we live into this season of Easter, let us boldly proclaim it so. Let us live in the resurrection as we have been freed to live. Let us tell the story of God-with-us.
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!