Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:1-2, 14-24; Col 3:1-4; John 20:1-8
Readings here: https://
The Sunday of the Resurrection is supposed to be the most joyful day of the Christian year … usually filled with church choirs singing, flowers and chocolates to share, and smiling hugs everywhere. At least we in Victoria are enjoying a sunny and blossoming springtime; and we can hear the birds joyfully singing – more clearly and strongly now that the sound of road traffic is much diminished. So ‘tut, tut’ we should not complain, right? As many folks online keep pointing out - we who live with such security and overall abundance are so much more fortunate in this pandemic ‘lockdown’ situation … more fortunate than most people on earth.
And many of you saw a photo on our Facebook and elsewhere – of the open tomb with light shining through, and this message: “Maybe, for once, we celebrate Easter differently. Maybe, we celebrate the Resurrection just as the Disciples did: Alone, in the silence, hoping the faith outweighs the fear.” (Casey Kerins). It was nice to see that the Cordova Bay United Church shared that image from our page to theirs – definitely an attitude worth our consideration and respect.
That photo of the open tomb with the light shining through is certainly iconic for our celebration of the resurrection. If you looked at the readings you saw that there were several choices, but I almost always pick John 20:1-18 for the Easter gospel – so much there for our spiritual reflection and feasting. It starts out kind of silly or confusing with the detailed description of Peter and “the other disciple … whom Jesus loved” following Mary Magdalene back to see the empty tomb. One of my top ten questions I’m going to ask God, if I make it to heaven, will be: What did that mean that we hear several times in the gospels: ‘the disciple Jesus loved’? Didn’t he love all of them? The imagination can run wild, but let’s leave that aside for now. Meanwhile back at the tomb, after the two men have been in and out of the tomb, and gone home, Mary stayed and wept outside the tomb. Then when she bends over to look into the tomb again, there are two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had previously lain, and they ask her: “Woman why are you weeping?”
This becomes a popular question, as we’ll see again shortly, but it’s worthwhile noting that when we are suffering, God and the angels are concerned about us. In fact that’s likely the main reason why God sent Son Jesus to earth to experience a human life, ending in a death of much suffering – so that we can be assured that God understands our suffering, and weeps with us. God sent Jesus to show us how deeply we are loved. As Archbishop Mark MacDonald wrote in this month’s Anglican Journal: “One of the clearest statements Jesus made about the character of the time before his return is … the love of many will grow cold …” (Mt 24:12):
If love is the unmistakable … character of the movement of Jesus (Jn 13:35), this prediction would say that a lack of love -- we might say, the lack of compassion -- is one of the clearest markers of the advance of evil. Though love is the pre-illumination of the World to Come, the lack of love signals the forces associated with the breakdown of the integrity of the web of life. Of final conflict between the forces that rebel against God and the forces that announce the dawning of the age of justice and peace. (p. 5)
Certainly Mary Magdalene staying behind to weep at the tomb was a visual and visceral expression of her deep love for Jesus. And as soon as she tells the angels that she’s looking for her Lord, we read that “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” Let me digress briefly that the worst sermon commentary I’ve ever heard on that line was that it’s because she was so sinful that she did not recognize him! This from a high-ranking RC priest who just might have been trying to pull her down from the high position Jesus places her in, when at the end of today’s gospel he sends her to tell his brothers that he is alive! That’s a solid definition of preaching, wouldn’t you say, to go and tell people that Jesus is alive? Here Jesus gave that job to a woman, and not to the two men (including the one he loved) who were at the tomb so recently. With them gone, Jesus shows up and asks her the same question as the angels: why are you weeping? Let’s be careful here – there’s nothing to suggest that this is a critique of her being emotional, but rather that the loss she is mourning is not an actual loss, since ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’ (Alleluia!!). As soon as he says her name, she recognizes him. Even that little detail is rich in heavenly blessing – God knows us and calls by name! As Psalm 139 made clear: God knows and loves us infinitely and deeply … God the ‘Knitter’ even ‘knitted us together in our mother’s womb’ (v.13).
And finally a verse that even relates to our Covid 19 circumstances of no hugging. When Mary automatically reaches out to hug Jesus (which we know because of what he says next, and which indicates the warmth and closeness in their relationship) – Jesus says: “Do not hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” What that exactly means we can’t say -- although he was visible in his earthly form, he was in some kind of in-between state. I guess you had to be there to fully get it, but it reminds me of a friendly illusion you may have seen recently making the rounds online -- to help entertain homebound children of all ages: 3D life-size projections of lions, tigers and other animals right into your house or yard https://www.theverge.com/
Back to the garden – as you may know the beloved 1912 hymn “In the Garden” or “I come to the garden alone” is actually about Mary Magdalene, or at least it works well to view it that way. I’m not a gardener but I sure appreciate all the blooms of spring, and the greenness we usually enjoy all winter – so much new life all around us. Even the fungi are good resurrection symbols as Dawna Wall explained in her recent Diocesan Post article – I did not know that there are fungi growing in Chernobyl that can convert radiation to energy. As she writes: “Resurrection means that new life can come out of death in unbelievable ways. … If mushrooms can evolve to a place where their existence transforms radiation from a death force to a force of life, how might we use our gifts to reflect resurrection and renew the face of the earth?” Given publication submission deadlines, this article would have been submitted before Covid brought such huge changes into our everyday lives. So here’s another way to ask the question today: If Covid 19 can bring so many silver linings despite its strong capacity to cause illness and death, how might our response to these times reflect resurrection, and renew God’s good Creation in an ongoing way? Happy Easter my friends, and may new life flourish in our midst, despite these undreamt of circumstances and constraints, Amen.