The Mystery of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday, Year A, 2017 – Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

Very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

When our children were little we always had an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday morning; chocolate eggs cunningly hidden all over the house (their Dad was a master egg-hider); the kids charging up and down the stairs before church; happy chaos of the hidden eggs very early in the morning on the first day of the week. Easter began in our home with hiddenness. And this is as it should be. It is as it was on that first Easter day.

Very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

The first Easter day begins in darkness and in the shadow of death. That day of the resurrection was not like this day. We come here in gladness and in the light; we go in procession around the church and shout Alleluia! to the risen Lord. Mary comes to the tomb while it is still night, grieving her crucified Lord. She does not find him there, and this is for her no good news, but a fresh despair. “They have taken my Lord away,” she says, weeping, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” The first response to the empty tomb was not joy, but grief and confusion. “My Lord is gone; I do not know where,” Mary says. She runs to the disciples; they run to the tomb; they run back to the other disciples; Mary comes back to the tomb and lingers there in distress. Chaos and confusion and distress at dawn on the first Easter Day.

And this is curious. This resurrection narrative is, as Nicholas said to me, a bold move on the part of the evangelists. For if you want to tell the world that the Messiah has come and that he is the Crucified One, that Jesus who died on the cross is risen, that the man the world has condemned and killed lives and reigns above all worlds, surely this is a strange way to do it. Surely you would want Jesus to burst out of the tomb like lightning, to stand like a Titan on Golgotha and say to the whole sorry world, “I am he.” Surely you would want to make the fact of the resurrection clear.

And yet this is not what the evangelists do. No one sees Jesus at first. They see only an empty tomb. And they do not know what they are seeing. Mary does not know Jesus is risen even when he is standing in front of her.

As a telling of The Resurrection it is so lame, in fact, that it seems it must have happened this way.

And so the question is “why”? Why this kind of resurrection? Why this kind of Gospel? Why does the great good news of Easter begin in hiddenness?

It is not enough to say that the resurrection was outside the disciples’ expectation. This is true, of course: in the Jewish world of the 1st century it is not likely that anyone imagined a crucified Messiah or God’s reign brought in by death on a cursed cross. The Messiah was expected not to suffer and die, but to take the throne and reign. Hence the excitement of the crowds on Palm Sunday—Hosanna to the Son of David. They thought they were hailing a king. Hence their anger when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus’ death, and in particular his death on a cross, as a criminal, at the hands of Rome, scuttled Messianic hopes. After the cross the disciples thought it was all over. Certainly this resurrection, Jesus’ vindication as the Messiah, the Christ, was outside their expectation.

But this still does not explain the nature of the resurrection event. If Jesus’ vindication was beyond imagination, all the more reason to make the event clear.

Why, then, this hiddenness?

For God so loved the world. There is a mystery in the resurrection that is born of love. Born in the Word, born in who Jesus is. Let us see if we can trace the mystery from the beginning to that first Easter day.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God. I have noted before that the word “with” here is pros. Pros has the sense of movement towards: the Word turned to the Father eternally, before all worlds began. The Word inclined toward the Father; the Son leaning on the Father’s breast, Son turned to father and father turned to son in an endless movement of love. This is the nature of the Word.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and his coming among us was love. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The “pros” of the Son embraced within a larger “pros”, God for the world, God turned to the world that would not turn to him, God giving for and into the world his Son. The life of Jesus is love, the great love of God, walking the world. The great love of God in the man Jesus Christ suffering with suffering world, for the suffering world, to heal and to save. For love of the Father, God’s love walking the world in the man Jesus Christ.

The life of Jesus is the outworking of the love that sings eternally in the very being of God. And his death is that love, too.

On the night before his death, seated at the table with the disciples, John tells us, Jesus got up and took off his robe and put a towel around his waist, as a slave would do, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. Here in this foot-washing the sign of his love, for love of us the eternal Word bending down, taking our soiled feet in his hands, putting off the royal robes, putting on the form of a slave. So that he might wash us, our souls and bodies, even our feet; so that he might wash us; so that we might be clean. This is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is the love that finds its end in the cross. Having loved his own who were in the world, John says at the moment of the foot-washing, Jesus loved them to the end.

For God so loved the world: Jesus Son of God, Word of the Father, inclining to us from the beginning and eternally, as the Son inclines to the Father and the Father to the Son, seeking to draw us into the song. The death of Jesus is his movement of love for us, as it is the movement of his love for God. On the cross Jesus “going to the Father”—pros, the word is, here, too—on the cross lifted up again and finally to the Father, and lifting us up with him, on his dying shoulders, drawing us into the divine love again and forever. It is finished, Jesus says on the cross: tetelestai. Now on this cross the love-song complete, the cross writing the sound of God’s love in the spheres.

It is for love that Jesus lives and for love that he dies. That they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one. Perfectly: teteleiōmenoi. It is the same word that is spoken from the cross. That we may be turned to the Father as the Son is turned to the Father, in him turned to the Father with a love like his, our wills God’s will, our hearts belonging to God. That we may be made perfect in love. That is the prayer of Jesus’ life, the Word of God, and it is finished on the cross.

And at his resurrection, it is this Word that sounds. It is this Jesus who rises, who walks in the garden very early on that first Easter day. The Lord is the one who is known through his cross. Here is his glory, the radiance of God’s love.

The Christ does not rise triumphant over the kingdoms of the world like a Titan. He rises in humility, in obedience, in self-giving, subject to the Father, subject to suffering, subject even and willingly to death, out of love.

His glory is his cross, and so his reign is hidden, breaking gently over the world and unseen, like the dawn.

His reign is in gentleness, like the touch of love. There is no coercion here, no event that forces the will. There are only the arms outstretched, and the voice that calls us home. Mary, Jesus says to his dear friend in the garden. Mariam. And it is then that she knows him. Jesus speaks to her the word of love, and her heart turns to him.

I have called you by name; you are mine. This is the ancient Word of God.

The resurrection of the Lord, the crucified Lord, is a love-song, the song that sounds forever in God’s own being, the song God sings in Christ Jesus to the world:

My beloved speaks and says to me,
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
And come away,
For now the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone
The flowers appear on the earth,
The time of singing has come.’

The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. Look he comes, out of the empty tomb, and this Easter day is a garden, and his word is love. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. The risen Jesus calls us on this Easter day to come.

Sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Catherine Sider Hamilton at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on Easter Sunday, April 16th, 2017.
Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Riverdale, and Professor of New Testament and New Testament Greek (part-time) at Wycliffe College. She has served also as Chaplain at Havergal College and Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill and St. John the Baptist, Norway (Toronto). She enjoys singing around the piano with her kids, her husband's Indian food, all things Italian -- and above all her two little grandchildren. Catherine and David live in Greektown. She blogs occasionally on feasts and fasts at feastfastferia.wordpress.com.