Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
20:1“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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:1-18, NRSV)
Let us pray: Living God, on the first day of the week you brought to birth a new creation through the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fill us with the hope and joy of new beginnings, so that we may share the good news of your liberating, life-giving power with all the world. Grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one God, now and forever. Amen.
If I went around the sanctuary and asked some of you to tell the story of Easter we all might tell it a little differently. Some of us would tell of Mary Magdalene and others of the disciples running back and forth. Some of us might remark of how the stone had been rolled away or that the gardener appeared and called Mary’s name. We would all have our way of telling the Easter story.
The Gospel writers did as well. There are basically four different accounts of the resurrection, all with their own nuances and details and focus. Matthew says there was an earthquake. Mark ends so abruptly that we have to fill in the details and provide our own ending. Luke has a group of women that see the angels in dazzling clothes. John has the gardener who ends up being Jesus. Some accounts have Mary alone, some with other women. Some have one angel, some two. It gets a bit confusing with all the discrepancies.
But if you think about it, isn’t that confusion all part of the Easter story, all part of our faith. There are lots of differences, there is skepticism, there is doubt, and there is faith.
Then it hit me that is how belief or faith is. Sometimes our belief or our faith is so strong that our hearts are beating furiously and we can almost see the hand of God. Other times our belief or our faith is small and faint and we must rely on others to do the believing for us. Sometimes we run to the tomb and are certain that Jesus is not there. Other times we meander slowly there and aren’t so sure all this resurrection stuff is not some fairy tale. Sometimes we shout loudly “I believe”. Other times we whisper quietly, “I believe, but Lord help my unbelief.”
So, with all those mixed up feelings and thoughts and wonderings, we come to worship this Easter Sunday. We come longing for this resurrection story to be true, to be far more than a fairy tale. We come wanting to believe, wanting to be transformed, wanting for this Easter to mean something, to change our lives, to bring joy and hope and faith to the forefront of our living.
In many ways we are just like Mary on that first Easter morning. Mary knew all about death, she knew that death was the end. She knew that Jesus was gone and life would never be the same. With his death on the cross, her hope died too. Mary had to face reality and reality told her:
Death is final
Some situations are truly hopeless
And now her hope is gone.
Likewise, with us there is all kind of evidence that we are wrong to believe in the Resurrection: There are school shootings and drunk drivers killing innocent people, there is war and more war, there are divorces and depression and hopelessness. There is all the evidence in the world that death is final, that some situations are hopeless and that we are all alone.
We all know that death is never pretty. But what we learn on this Resurrection morning, what we learn from traveling to the empty tomb is that Easter is not about death – it is about life. Yes, Jesus died but today he is risen and that changed everything.
We so easily use the statement, “This changes everything,” to describe so many events in our lives. Things that change us like: Marriage changes things in our lives. Having children — or not having children — changes things in our lives. Divorce changes things. Cancer changes things. The death of loved ones changes things. September 11th, 2001 changed things. However, none of these really changes everything for all of us. There is really only one thing that truly changes everything. It is the reason that we have gathered here today… Resurrection.
We stake our lives on the resurrection and that is enough to send us out into the world to live each days with hope, a hope that we don’t completely understand, but a hope that we can trust, that we know that God is working, that life even comes out of death.
William Slone Coffin, chaplain, social activist, preacher and prophet died several years ago. He wrote a book before his death entitled “Credo” and the last chapter is “The End of Life.” Reflecting on his own impending death he wrote:
“As Job said, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. That does not mean that God is responsible for every death. What that means is that before every birth and after every death there is still God. The abyss of God’s love is deeper that the abyss of death. Paul insists that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even if we don’t know what is beyond the grave, we know who is beyond the grave.” (Credo, p.167-171)
We all know the reality of this world. Reality of pain and death and grief. But Easter, the empty tomb, and the Risen Lord there is another reality. There is reality that says death is not the final word.
That is the great mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and a new reality that says you just never know what may happen or what the future may hold.
We are people of life.
We are people of faith.
We are people of hope.
We are people of resurrection.
It is enough to send us out from here to tell others that He is risen. He is risen indeed. That is the truth of Easter.
Thank be to God for it.
Let us pray: