Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin April 4, 2021 Easter Sunday John 20: 1-18 “Welcome Happy Morning,” Indeed “Early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to tomb and saw that the stone had been removed. . .” Unlike Easter last year when we were newly entombed by the pandemic, this Easter, the stone has just been rolled away from our tombs. Like Mary, we stand just at the threshold of moving from one deadly reality to a new reality that we cannot predict. Fear and expectancy – with perhaps a dash of hope for good measure – comingle.
Easters of the past have always felt familiar to me – I don’t remember when I first heard the resurrection accounts, but they have been a part of me for so long that I have come to take them for granted. Familiar Gospel passages, soaring music, spring dresses and new shoes, lilies and daffodils abound in my memories. I expected to feel much the same this Easter Sunday.
But – I did not realize just how much the experience of the long Lent we have been living since Covid-19 over ran us would make new and real Mary’s experience on that day of resurrection so long ago. It must have been an intensely terrible week for Mary and Jesus’ other disciples. The experience of God’s presence in their lives had always held the promise that a Messiah would come to restore God’s glory to the nation of Israel. His disciples and those he had healed, fed and loved believed that the Jesus they knew was the fulfillment of that promise. He enters into the city on a donkey – making a mockery of Roman processions – not kingly at all. Yet, the disciples and the crowd hail Jesus with their “hosannas” as they wait to see what happens next. They are confounded by what follows; the authorities search for Jesus to arrest him. Judas arranges to betray him. Expectations are turned upside down – a woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. She anoints his feet with oil – when Kings are anointed by oil poured on the head. They gather for a final meal together where he washes their feet as though he were a servant. They accompany Jesus to the garden to pray. Judas kisses him, Roman soldiers arrest him, Herod and Pilate try him and then Mary and the other disciples watch in agony as Jesus is crucified and then dies. All of the disciples flee. Whatever their expectations might have been, this was not how their journey with Jesus was supposed to end.
And so Mary comes to the tomb to do what women did at the time of death – she brings what is necessary to care for his dead body. She finds the tomb empty; the body gone and once again, expectations shatter. So many thoughts and emotions must have run through her mind and heart. What she knew and loved is gone. Only an empty tomb remains.
How different from her experience is our experience as we stand at the threshold of our Covid-19 tomb? The last year defied all of our beliefs about who we are as a people. Our government lied to us and did not protect us. Racism reared its ugly head as the most vulnerable among us suffered the most. Human beings deliberately put other human beings at risks by not wearing masks, refusing to practice social distancing and inciting violence directed at those trying to keep citizens safe. The biggest economy in the world came to a standstill as our neighbors, family members and those we did not know died agonizing and lonely deaths. Whatever we expected as citizens of the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world, this was not it. Like Mary, we are left heart-broken and grieving. Our tombs are empty.
But Mary does not remain facing the tomb, she turns from the emptiness and after telling the male disciples Jesus’ body is gone, she retreats to grieve and continue her search for the body. Perhaps blinded by her tears and grief, she assumes the man she meets to be the gardener. It is only when she hears him call her name that she realizes the man before her is the risen Jesus. She races to tell the other disciples “I have seen the Lord!” Expectations are again overturned and suddenly, as the morning breaks, a whole new life of possibility opens up to those who seek Jesus. What has been a horrible morning following a devastating week, has become a happy if perplexing one. Unexpectedly, new life has arrived.
This Easter morning feels that same way. After a devastating year, vaccines are rolling away the stone that has kept us entombed. It is no less than a miracle; brought to us by scientists living their calling through their God-given gifts. As did Mary and the other disciples, we cannot forget all the hard truths we came to know during our time in the tomb. Just as Mary and the disciples are invited to live a new way of being in the transformation of the resurrection, so too, are we. The world around us may look much the same as when we left it. But WE have been changed by all that happened – and as a result, Jesus may no longer look familiar to us in this new light of this happy morning. But Jesus is here to surprise us with the gift of new life. As our risen Lord, he calls each one of our names as we listen for his voice.
The truth of the Christian faith preached for centuries is that because of Jesus’ resurrection, new life is always waiting for us no matter how long we have been stuck in our tombs or how broken we and our society may be. This particular Easter celebration of the resurrection is especially resplendent in so much possibility. As we emerge from the darkness of our tombs into the light of spring life bursting out around us, the resurrection is our invitation from Jesus to join him in making all things new again; to participate in recreating the world revealed in the Beatitudes we explored in Lent.
The hard lessons of the pandemic will – and must – remain with us and our search for the resurrected Jesus will continue to challenge our expectations, calling us to work for justice and healing, to care for one another and for the earth; to follow Jesus wherever he leads in ways we may not have understood before. There is a new urgency to our lives of faith that demands we boldly engage in undoing the human brokenness and suffering revealed to us during our time in the tomb.
We have been changed by our time in the tomb, but the world has not. As the Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris often reminded the Church, “We are an Easter people in a Good Friday world.” To be an Easter people demands that we be light for the world, bringing love, hope, reconciliation and peace into a world that so badly needs our witness and our participation. We, too, have met the resurrected Jesus and because of his presence with us, today we are able to welcome this happy morning, secure in our hope and trusting that we will make a difference in the holy work of re-creating the world. With Mary, we boldly proclaim “[We] have seen the Lord!” “Welcome happy morning, indeed!” Alleluia! Amen.