RCL: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
So. How do you feel? In the words of the Easter Vigil, “now that our Lenten observance is ended,” are you greeting with great joy and enthusiasm the Paschal mystery, or are you rejoicing that Lent is over and things can return to normal?
Yes, we are happy that we can now rejoice and put to rest our particular Lenten discipline of this year, but that shouldn’t really be the primary reason for our joy, should it? The life of great joy and freedom and peace should be our “new normal,” should it not? We are, this day, celebrating the most remarkable notion that humans have ever imagined: the great God, Creator of the Universe, has moved in time to change the rules.
Death, as much as it is a part of the cycle of life that governs the created order, has now been nullified. Death has been conquered not simply for a show of power and might, but for a show of love.
As John 3:16 reminds us: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is truly amazing. Positively dumbfounding. Wildly joyful.
In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, this is the time that “.you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merry makers.”
This is the day that our joy is uncontainable; that we begin to celebrate the new life that is ours in a particularly exuberant and outgoing way, for this begins the great season of Easter.
But one might find it curious that today’s collect is worded as it is:
“O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten
Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection
delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die
daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of
his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.”
References to sin and death and reminders of our need to die daily to sin don’t seem to be congruent with the joy of today. But the collect does point us to the reality of our earthly life: yes, we are an Easter people, a forgiven people, a people loved beyond measure; but we are also people who still must live in a world that is full of temptation and is fraught with peril. We live as a people with a vision that goes beyond this world, but that vision does not take us out of the world. That vision compels us back, more deeply into the world in the midst of all of its sin and death, to proclaim with the psalmist: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
In looking at John’s report of the events surrounding the Resurrection of our Lord, we see the details of the reality of Mary Magdalene’s reaction. We see her distress, even though this is exactly what the twelve were told would happen – and we have no reason to believe that she did not know as well. We are made privy to her distress and the bewildering grief that she experienced. Some might even sigh at her disbelief and apparent lack of comprehension of the miracle to which she is a witness, but we see her very human emotions and can, in very real ways, understand her grief. Can’t you imagine Mary stumbling through the garden, her tears making it difficult for her to see, anguished sobs wracking her body? She looks into the tomb, hears the angels’ question. Incidentally, these angels were apparently not there when Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” entered the tomb. In her distress, she frantically answers that the body of her Lord has been taken, and then she turns around. With eyes swollen and flooded with tears, she is asked the same question and gives a similar answer. But then she hears His Voice; the voice she did not recognize before; the voice she did not understand until it speaks her name, and then she is free of the grief and begins to feel, the great joy that we are to feel this day – and indeed our entire lives.
Mary’s reaction to the news and the process through which she goes in realizing what has taken place is very similar to our process as we deal with the realities of our lives. We’ve heard the message of the gospel, we participate in the life of the church, we have an inkling of the promises that are ours through our relationship with Jesus, and we often lose our bearings and begin to despair. Ever-present sins, disappointments, and tragedies blind our sight and ability to see clearly the joy that is always ours. We cannot see through our tears, as we stumble from place to place and even miss the wonder of visits from angels who ask us why we are crying. We sob and wonder what could have possibly happened. We meet our Lord, but often don’t hear His Voice. We hear His words, but do not comprehend their meaning. We miss the possibility that it just might be true that the One for whom we are seeking, is the one standing right in front of us.
When we are in the middle of Lent, we find it hard to imagine Easter. Likewise, while we might intellectually understand the concept of resurrection, we can’t quite believe it in the face of death and loss. Even though we intellectually understand the concept of forgiveness, we can’t quite believe it in the midst of our sin and the sin around us. Even though Jesus tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us, we can’t quite grasp and hold on to Jesus’ presence when we feel alone. It’s hard to remember the light when everything seems so dark.
And yet, when we hear His voice, when we are able to hear Him calling our names, it is then that we realize the truth of His word; it is then that we can lay hold to the promised joy, unspeakable. Yes, we live in a world so filled with noise that we can barely hear ourselves think. But our Savior’s voice has the kind of quality that cuts through the cacophony. It is not loud or overbearing. It is persistent and sweet – patiently repeating our names in a wonderful repetition of love and peace. This world seems so filled with much that would seem to be bent on drawing us away from that sweet voice. We constantly have to be reminded to make the effort, day in and day out, to pay attention and strain to hear the voice of Jesus.
Let this day be one that is filled with the sound of Jesus’ voice. Let our Savior’s voice speak through the words of scripture. Let our Savior’s voice sing through the notes of the music. Let our Savior’s voice call to us gently and increase our joy with the knowledge that all things have been accomplished and we are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice and are able to trust in the reality of the resurrection.
So, friends, if any of you are feeling weary from their Lenten journeys, please be encouraged on this day. Let your weariness, confusion, and doubt fall away, and if only for the balance of this day, rejoice and let your joy be known to all whom you meet. And if any need encouragement in this endeavor, remember the words of the old hymn:
“He speaks, and the sound of His Voice,
Is so sweet, the birds hush their singing.
And the melody that He gives to me,
Within my heart is ringing.
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share, as we tarry there,
None other, has ever known.”