Happy Easter! Here at St. Luke’s we have been getting ready for the past 125 years just so we can welcome you on this happy morning and share with you the joy of new life in Christ. The Church throughout the world has been preparing for over 2,000 years so that you might join the saints who have gone before, our brothers and sisters in every nation and the host of heaven in the great proclamation, “Christ is risen!”
Each year Easter is preceded by Holy Week, beginning with Palm or Passion Sunday. What was your Holy Week like this year? Did you experience with the earliest followers of Jesus the events and emotions of the last week of his life? Traditionally we enter into Christ’s passion through prayer, confession, foot washing, a holy meal, silence, and the adoration or Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. These are ancient practices that often don’t fit into our busy, modern lives. But even if you didn’t came to church this past week, you probably experienced something of what Holy Week is like.
Maybe this past Palm Sunday you woke up to images of Coptic Christian worshippers at a church and Cathedral in Egypt who had been killed or wounded by bombs that went off while they were waving their palms and singing their praise to God.
Or perhaps you heard about or saw images of Pope Francis on Holy Thursday washing the feet of prisoners as an act of humble service, inspired by Jesus’s final commandment to love others as he loves us. I have a lot of Christian friends in South Sudan, which is currently in crisis because of famine and a civil war. My Facebook feed had photos of my friend Cathy washing the feet of some of the many orphaned girls she has sheltered at her rescue organization, Confident Children out of Conflict, in a church with no windows and only dirt floors.
On Good Friday, you may not have had a chance to listen to the Passion Gospel read aloud or to spend time at the foot of the cross, but you probably heard that our government dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal in Afghanistan. Perhaps you were struck by the irony of calling this the “mother of all bombs” on the day when we remember the agony of Mary, the mother of Jesus as she watched her son die a horrific and violent death.
Closer to home, this Good Friday I stood by helplessly as two exhausted and homeless women took shelter in our courtyard. One of them slept on a bench, while the other simply passed out on our stairs. And even though we had fed them, offered to help find them temporary shelter and prayed with and for them, they continue to suffer and be in sorrow, fear and danger.
So how was your Holy Week? What condition are you in as you come to this Sunday of the Resurrection? How is it with your heart? What are you passionate about? What causes you to burn with anger or calls you to take new risks? Do you struggle with hopelessness, despair or confusion? Are you grieving? This Holy Week many of us looked for hope and life but often all we saw was death.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to that first day of the week, the first day of the resurrection overwhelmed with sorrow and with broken hearts. They grieved as those who had lost all hope. The love of their lives, the light of their world, the promised one had been brutally beaten and strung up to die in front of them. Everything they had expected and longed for was destroyed. Nothing had turned out as they had planned. Not only would Jesus be unable to change the government and reform society, but they were headed for a brutal crackdown on all they believed in. Their friends and fellow disciples were hiding in fear that they might be the next to be picked up by the authorities.
Early in the morning as first light was dawning, they went to see the tomb where the body of Jesus lay. Like many whose lives have been turned upside down by death, they needed to be as close as possible to the body of their beloved. Death had separated them. The power of the state and of the religious establishment had destroyed him. His own close followers had betrayed, denied and failed him. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary could not/would not let him go.
They came to the tomb as dawn was breaking. They came with no expectation, nothing to gain, their hope and faith in tatters. As Matthew tells the story, something upended them. Something turned everything upside down. Something made their broken hearts beat uncontrollably and blinded their eyes with its brightness. The ground shook, the stone rolled away and they were confronted with a being and message that they could not comprehend. “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
Nothing would ever be the same. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did what their hearts longed to do. They knelt down. They touched the damaged feet of Jesus.
They offered their service and their devotion to him as he had offered his love and service to his disciples in the washing of their feet. Joy and fear all rolled up into one bundle of emotion and energy, propelling them up and away to share the news, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!”
The Marys weren’t alone that morning. The Roman guards witnessed the exact same angelic being and heard the same message. They saw the same empty tomb and were just as amazed that the body of Jesus was gone. But, their reaction was different. They shook with fear. They became like dead men. The Mary’s hearts came alive wondrously at the message, but the guards nearly died from fear and dismay.
What’s the difference? Both the guards and the women were present at the empty tomb. Both knew that something seemingly impossible had happened. I love the simple truth that children often bring us. Just a couple of weeks ago when we heard the story of the raising of Lazarus, one of our super smart kids said, “That’s not possible.” No one expected this. No one looked for it. Two different groups experienced it and they each reacted differently. Why?
Love is the reason why. Love makes all the difference. Fear sees the impossible and falls apart. Love sees the glorious impossible and leans into it. After that horrendous final, Holy Week, after all the pain and sorrow and suffering, love sees and believes. As the light grows that Easter morn, faith and hope are made new in Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Only love believes the resurrection. Only love responds with joy and worship and the willingness to share the great good news.
On Easter we find what our hearts have been searching for. We behold the one who has loved us with an everlasting love. Love shines in our hearts so that we might love others. We see a tomb which has become the womb of new birth and we are willing to enter the dark places where despair and death dwell and to shine the light of life. We leave the Garden of Gethsemane where our weakness and fear have failed to prevent the injustice of the arrest of an innocent man and we are invited into a new Eden where love wins and we are compelled to speak truth and love to the powerful. We come to the end of life and find that death doesn’t get the last word and that love believes the resurrection, hopes the resurrection and trusts the resurrection.
God met the Marys where they were that Easter morning, but he didn’t leave them there. Love turned them around, gave them courage and boldness, put in them a new Spirit and sent them out to change the world. God meets us this morning where we are, but God doesn’t leave us there. We, too, are shook up, turned around, startled by grace and surprised by love. We are sent forth to bear love into the world and to be messengers of hope. This very day is the new dawn of life and love. Alleluia, Christ is risen!