Easter Sunday, Year B, 2018 – Isaiah 25:6-9; Acts 10; Mark 16:1-8
A candle in the night, and a single voice rising. That is how Easter begins.
Before the sunshine, before the procession and the hymns and the Easter eggs; before the glad celebration of this Easter morning, there is a candle in the night, and a single voice. And the voice sings, “Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.”
Easter begins with the Exsultet, sung in the dark—at midnight, traditionally—by the light of the Paschal candle. We sang it last night in this church (Joel sang it, beautifully), and our song joined a chorus that sounds down through the ages, that reaches back 2000 years, to the very first days of the church. For 2000 years, one voice breaking the silence of the night, announcing in the place of darkness a mystery. The tomb is empty. See the place where he was laid.
This is how it was on that first Easter Day. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, these few women in the half-light before dawn, very early on the first day of the week, Mark’s gospel tells us. Very early in the half-light a few women come to the tomb. They come bearing spices so that they can prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Jesus, their Lord and their friend. Jesus, who was crucified. They come seeking a body, and if the sun is rising it is surely night to them, for they come from the cross. They come from the place of desolation, from his bleeding and suffering feet, his cry: My God, my God, why? Why have you forsaken me?
They come from a place we know. Easter starts in the night because there is a darkness that is real. There is a suffering in this world that is true and terrible.
There is a harm that we do. It is seen this holy week in the hands of Jesus nailed to the cross, and in the hands of the criminals crucified with him, too. It is seen in their dying agony, and as they die the jeering of those who stand around and watch. From this the women come to the tomb. There is a malevolence in the human heart that is summed up in the cross of Christ. “Then ‘Crucify’ was all their breath.” All their breath. “Why? What has my Lord done?” The great hymn asks. Why.
There is a darkness in the world to break the heart, and it was not only then. It is now too. Auschwitz. The Gulag. ISIS and the murder of children. The slower cruelty of the comfortable class that buys its coffee and its clothes on the backs of Asian and African and South American women and children working long hours for pennies a day. Rosa, in El Salvador, who works 16 hours a day in a compound enclosed in barbed wire making Liz Claiborne jackets; who gives her three-year-old daughter local coffee to drink because she cannot afford to buy milk.
There is a suffering in the world that is real, and we are complicit in it. Our hands too have pounded in the nails. Our Gospel begins in this place. Our gospel begins in the half-light, with three women at a tomb.
And it is here, right here in the place of darkness, here in the place where they have laid his crucified feet; it is here that the song begins. Out of the silence of the tomb, a single voice rises:
“You seek Jesus of Nazareth. He is risen. He is not here.”
Out of the great “NO” of our lives—NO to the love for which God has created us and in which God longs for us to live, all the suffering of the world and our
capacity to make it greater—out of our great “NO” and the death it buys us, here, precisely here, God speaks his “Yes.”
He is risen. He is not here.
Sing, choirs of angels! For this is the dawn. Here in the place of night, the new day rises. Do your worst, our hearts! Still the angels sing. They sing here, in the place of the tomb we have made. This is the love of God: that he should know our hearts to their depths, to the driven nails, and that he should walk with us still, that he should abide with us even to the tomb. This is the love of God.
It is the love that abides.
Even darkness is not dark to you, O my God, the psalmist says.
You have searched me out and known me.
You are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139)
O my God, my God.
Even at the cross, even at the grave we have made for ourselves and all the children, the grave we have made for the child of your own heart, even here thou art with me. Thy love abides. Here above all, God’s love abides. Here at the tomb, his love lives.
You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here.
This is the love that is stronger than death. Remember that. Love is stronger than death, this love of God in the body and blood of his Son Jesus Christ given for us. Love is stronger than death.
Where can I go then from your Spirit? The psalmist cries.
If I make the grave my bed you are there…
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”
Darkness is not dark to you;
The night is as bright as the day. (Psalm 139)
Out of the dark on that first Easter morning, an angel voice: Alleluia! Christ is risen. Let the heavens sing! For he is with us even here. Even here his hand will lead me, and his right hand hold me fast.
This is the Easter promise. There is nothing we can do that can defeat the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. On this Easter morning, let us sing. Sing in the good times and the bad, sing even in the knowledge of the dark places of our hearts, sing for the love of the Lord. Sing for his hand that holds us fast, his pierced and risen hand. Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
For the suffering of this world has become the place of the victory of our God.
His love abides. It is love that has the final word, in the hands of Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us sing, my brothers and sisters; with choirs of angels let us sing! Let us sing in the days of our lives. Where there is hatred, let us sing love. Where there is suffering, comfort and help. Hope; let us sow hope where there is despair. Sing and walk, walk and sing, St. Augustine said, day by day, day after day, in the midst of this yearning world. Let us walk in the love of the Lord.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.