The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Sunday, Year C, 2016 – Isaiah 65:17-25; John 20:1-18
We are surrounded by flowers today: these lilies given for love; the altar flowers given to the glory of God and in memory of a beloved brother. We come from a wintry week to a church that has burst into bloom. This house has become a garden on this Easter morning, and we are glad.
And this is as it should be, for Mary Magdalene came on that first Easter day to a garden.
Only note this: we come in sunshine, rejoicing. But she comes in the darkness, and she stands in the garden in tears.
Very early on the first day of the week, John’s gospel says, while it is still dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb.
This is where Easter begins: while it is still dark, in the place of death and tears.
Mary comes, after all, from the cross. John tells us that she was standing at its foot on the day Jesus died, standing—as Cimabue paints it—with her long hair wild and her arms thrown up in a cry of agony to heaven. Mary comes from death and the suffering of the cross.
When, therefore, she finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, she weeps. It is the only possible reaction in the world as she knows it. “They have taken my Lord away,” she says to the other disciples, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary weeps to find the tomb empty because she has seen death in the flesh, the body laid in the grave. She has seen death’s finality, and she has seen sin’s power. She has seen the harm that people do, the persistent capacity to betray and destroy that is revealed, in Christ’s cross, as the denial of God.
Here is the groaning of creation, in this cross, in this tomb; the futility that stands over all things in the world turned away from God. Shall it end here? All the beauty of the earth, joy of the child new-born, all things great and small and wise and wonderful, starfish and stars, the wonder of love; shall it end here, on a cross, in a tomb? With every fibre of its being creation cries out against it, and we do too—even as we nail God’s son to the cross. This is the grief of dying, the real and not only fear-driven protest from the depths of our being against the harm that maims our world and that we do with our own hands.
We come to Easter in the darkness before dawn, and our eyes have seen terrible things. Mary comes—we come—in grief, from a broken world to the tomb.
And there she finds the stone rolled away, and she hears an angel voice.
“Woman,” the angel says, “why are you weeping?”
In the darkness, the divine question, the word of God in the Easter dawn. Woman, why do you weep? For look: the stone is pushed aside, and it is a garden in which you stand.
Now the sound of God’s love rises over the weeping of the world. Why do you weep? For I am doing a new thing. I am about to create new heavens and a new earth. The cross you gave me I will take, your hatred and your fear. The death you deal out; on my shoulders let it be, this whole world’s pain. You give me a tomb, says the heart of God in his Son Jesus the Christ. I will take it, and I will give you life.
Now against every grave a question stands, the divine question, the promise of a different end.
Will you turn away? God says, at the empty tomb. Will you abandon me to the grave? Will you hurt and destroy on my holy mountain, though you so long to love? Nevertheless I shall love you, and the cross you raise over the world will not be the end.
I shall love you, though you do your worst, and take you to myself. I shall love you in my son, who suffers for you all things. In my son I shall set a question-mark against the truth the cross speaks, against the power of death.
For the tomb is empty on this Easter day.
Out of the darkness light shines and the glory of God in Jesus the Christ rises over the world even at the grave.
Woman, why are you weeping? For God is doing a new thing. Christ is risen. Alleluia! Christ is risen, and the world will never be the same. In all times of suffering, in all places of darkness, even and finally at our grave, God is with us. God is with us in Christ, with us to love and to save.
I will create Jerusalem as a joy, God says through the prophet Isaiah, and its people as a delight.
That the world may be again a delight in God’s eyes. This is the first promise of this day. That there may be a city where they do not hurt or destroy, God’s city, the people of Christ. This is the gift given us, in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. That we as a people may turn again to God; that we as a church may turn again to each other, living Christ’s suffering love. Here in this world Christ is risen, so that there may be in it a people that is a delight.
That we may be formed in Christ, his body ours, broken and most whole, given in each Eucharist; our life his.
That Christ’s church may be a city that is a delight, stretching out its arms as he did for love of the world.
This is the first great joy of Easter, this promise of a people in whom a new earth dawns.
But there is one thing more. On this day, Christ speaks to each heart.
Mary turns from the empty tomb and sees the gardener. (I am creating a new earth, says the Lord, this world as a garden again.) Sir, she says to the gardener, seeing the world still through tears, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him.”
And Jesus says to her, “Mary.” He calls her by name. Jesus calls Mary by name and she knows the risen Lord. It is not only the world that God restores, on this day of the resurrection. It is each one of us. It is not only the world that God loves and longs to draw into his life. It is each one of us. That, too, is the joy that is given us on this day. I have called you by name. You are mine. Each one of us God loves, and longs for and chooses, in Jesus the Christ. To each one of us God stretches out his hands, in Christ crucified. And in the risen Christ, he calls us by name.
It is not just our world, not just our church, but our hearts that may be changed.
That Christ now may be my vision, Lord of my heart. This too is the promise.
That I may see the world no longer through tears.
For Christ is risen, my light and my life.
May each of our lives be an ‘Alleluia,’ in every moment, one unbroken hymn of praise to him who has called us in the risen Christ by name.
Be Thou my vision, we sing.
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night.
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.