March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday – Breaking the Cycle – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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The first witness to the resurrected Christ was Mary Magdalene. On the day after the crucifixion, Mary and all the other disciples had stayed at home the whole of that terrible Sabbath day. They must have been overwhelmed with grief, and I imagine them talking together about all the horrible events of the past day, reliving it over and over as people often do when they are coming to grips with a great loss. But when the Sabbath was over, they lost no time in doing what they could still do for their Teacher and Lord and friend. They gathered together all the spices and oils and anything else that would be needed for the proper anointing of Jesus’ body, and before the sun had even risen, while it was still dark, they headed to his grave. Mark tells us that as they came, the women were discussing the problem of how they would manage to roll aside the stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb.
But, of course, they didn’t need to worry about that, because when they got there they found that the was stone already rolled away, and the tomb itself was completely empty, except for the graveclothes that had been neatly rolled up and set aside, no longer needed. Finding the empty tomb, Mary’s first thought was that someone must have come and stolen Jesus’s body. Until Jesus spoke her name, it never occurred to her that maybe the tomb was empty because the man’s dead body that they had wrapped in cloths and laid inside it wasn’t a dead body anymore, but a living man, and not just resuscitated, brought back to life for a while, like Lazarus – but a man so full of life that he would never die again. Nobody recognized the Resurrection when it happened on that first Easter Day. Mary doesn’t even seem to have been able to believe it when the angels told her. It took everyone – every last one of them – by surprise.
Peter and John came running to see for themselves when the women came with their wild story about the tomb being empty. John, typical young man that he is, tells us he was faster than Peter, and got to the tomb first. And when he stooped and looked into the tomb, John says he believed – but that doesn’t mean he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, not yet. What he means is that he just believed, having seen for himself, that the women weren’t crazy after all, and he and Peter just went back home, wondering what on earth was going on.
We like to imagine, I think, that the women and the apostles came eagerly to the empty tomb on that first Easter morning and were just so full of joy that they burst into a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, shouting “He is risen indeed!” as they ran through the streets, handing out Easter lilies and tracts with Bible verses on them so everyone else would believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. Or something like that, anyway. But the resurrection was much more bewildering and earth-shattering than that. The first witness to the Resurrection stood at the entrance to the empty tomb and wept her heart out to think that she had lost everything – even the dead body of her Lord and friend, which was all she had left of him.
It wasn’t that they hadn’t ever heard about the Resurrection. When Jesus had supper with the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the night of the Resurrection, he pointed out to them how the Hebrew Scriptures – our Old Testament – foretold everything that had happened to him. And Philip the Evangelist showed the Ethiopian Eunuch that the prophecies of Isaiah were talking about Jesus himself, who died and rose again. And we know that Jesus had been teaching his disciples very directly what was about to happen. “The Son of Man must suffer and be killed,” he told them many times, “and on the third day he will be raised up.” It doesn’t get much plainer than that, but it was all too strange and impossible a thing for them to take in until they had actually seen Jesus for themselves.
Not one person looked into the empty tomb and thought, wow, Jesus must be walking around somewhere, well and strong and infinitely alive – not until Mary, standing and weeping by the cold tomb in the first rays of that Easter morning, heard his voice speak her name. Then, at last, as unthinkably impossible as it seemed, Mary knew that Jesus was really and truly and solidly alive again – not a ghost, but the farthest thing from a ghost – not less than alive, but MORE than alive, unquenchably, incorruptably, indestructably, unendingly alive. Then at last she did cry out for joy, and embraced her beloved Teacher.
Nobody expected the Resurrection, because it was something completely new. If you read science fiction, it was something like a wormhole that opened the way into an new and different reality – the way Paul puts it is that “God delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” At Eastertime people often like to talk about symbols of the Resurrection like butterflies that hatch from caterpillars, and springtime that follows the darkness of winter, and eggs that contain the germ of life within them. But the truth is, the Resurrection isn’t like any of those things. The Resurrection isn’t any part of this world’s unending cycle of life and death. The Resurrection was the breaking of that cycle, once and for all.
When Jesus walked out of the tomb on the First Easter morning, divine life began, that very moment, to break in upon this sad, tired world. Sin and death are not the boss of us anymore. We don’t need to fear judgment, because our sins are left behind on the cross, and we have received grace and forgiveness. We don’t need to fear death, because we will live with him forever, and see again all those whose loss we feel so deeply now. When the earth shook and the stone rolled away from the tomb, light began to infect the darkness of this world at once. Healing has begun. And all who have the Spirit of the Risen Christ dwelling in their hearts are ambassadors of that healing. We are carriers of grace and mercy and hope, even as we ourselves are being transformed day by day into his likeness, through the power of the one who was dead, and now is alive forever.
It was the last thing in the world anyone expected.
Alleluia! He is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!