The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day (Year 2)
April 12, 2020
O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through the same thy Son Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
At Morning Prayer on Google Hangouts Meet
Psalms 148, 149, and 150
At the beginning of the service, I felt a sense of uneasiness proclaiming the Resurrection. This is the first Easter morning in decades that I have not spent serving or celebrating the Eucharist and singing the familiar hymns. You are likely experiencing similar feelings; wondering how this can be Easter Day.
In a funny way, perhaps, that is how Mary Magdalene felt on that first Easter Morning. She certainly did not know or feel like it was Easter when she woke early and went to the tomb. Today at Morning Prayer we heard as our New Testament reading the magisterial opening of John’s Gospel. Had we been able to gather for Mass, however, we would have heard the story, also from John, when “on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1-18). Her first impressions were not of the glorious body of the risen Christ, but of what must have seemed to her the scene of a grave robbery. On arriving at the tomb, she just found more absence, more silence, but to such an extent that it sent her in terror running off in search of the other disciples.
When she finds Peter and the others, she tells them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him,” clearly assuming some unnamed enemy has absconded with Jesus’ body. They decide immediately to go and investigate further. Mary’s tale concerned them so much, in fact, that they all ran there, the beloved disciple clearly so agitated that, running ahead of the whole group, he got there first. They were cautious, though, when they arrived at the tomb. They went in gingerly. They saw the bandages with which Jesus had been wrapped lying in a pile on the floor and agreed with Mary’s supposition that their Lord had been the victim of grave robbers, “for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
Early on that first Easter morning there reigned confusion and fear. The men, believing there was nothing to be gained from staying at this place of emptiness, went home, despondent. Mary Magdalene, however, wanted more time at this place she still connected with the body of Jesus, a tangible geographical marker of his reality. She even went back into the tomb and it was there that she beheld a vision that had not been revealed to the men:
She saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Something was happening. Slowly, surely, out of the darkness, out of the absence, events were unfolding that would allow her to see with new sight. But not yet...
When she turned around, she beheld a man whom she did not recognise, who had not been there a moment before. She dismissed him in her mind, however, thinking that he was just the gardener. The man, though, in what seems a reasonable response to her visible distress, said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” He shows his empathy for her sadness and then asks her a second, perfectly natural, question: “Whom do you seek?” (John 20:15). Perhaps this should have been a tip off. These words are, in fact, an echo from the Passion narrative (John 18:7). Jesus had asked the same question of the band of men who came to arrest him in the garden, but this time, in this garden, the one who seeks Jesus is no foe come to arrest him, but rather someone who loves him very much and misses him.
So far, though, there is no spark of recognition, and as she can not even conceive what has really happened and who this person is, she persists in her assumptions about what she has found, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” And in a word all is revealed; a word of recognition, in which he calls her by name, just as the Good Shepherd calls each of his sheep by name, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” In turn, she names him by the title she must always have used to address him, as an equally personal mark of recognition, saying “to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”
It took a while, but she got there in the end; and remember it took the other disciples even longer. When we are in the midst of sorrow and suffering, when we are in the midst of experiencing loss and dislocation, time seems to stop (or at least to come to a crawl) and it looks for all the world that nothing will ever change and that we shall remain in our current misery. However, time does continue to move. God remains at work building up the Kingdom of God. Even in the midst of loss and dislocation of which we are barely able to make meaning, God still is there helping us, God is still there creating from the ashes of the present moment new things. Signs of life spring out of the dead earth, and the Resurrection of Easter Day pushes through the soil of our Holy Week, and blossoms. Jesus reveals himself and we recognise that he is not simply the gardener, our number one suspect in a body snatching, but our Lord, still bearing the scars of his suffering (just as we do), but made new.
Easter is here, now. The Risen Christ is here now, “And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.” The Risen Christ shows us that through suffering and death, God still knows and calls each of us by name, that God still loves us, even in the midst of our sadness and confusion, even as we continue to bear our scars. The Risen Christ is here for us today, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, and especially here at its heart, showing us that suffering and death, real as it is, painful as it is, will never have the last word.
This is shaping up to be an Eastertide like no other, yet we are together, a sign of the community of the Risen Christ, and in these days the Risen Christ sojourns with us, inviting us deeper and deeper into relationship with him and with each other. We will get through this and we will do it together and with our Lord as our companion in all things. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Wednesday in Holy Week, 8 April 2020
© 2020 Andrew Charles Blume