Readings for Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43
1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9 or Luke 24:13-35
There is a charming story about a little girl who dreamed one night of monsters in her room and dark spirits under her bed. When she awoke, she cried out to her mother, who came to comfort her. “You must not be afraid, for remember God is with you,” her mother said. To which the little girl retorted, “I know God is with me, but sometimes I need God with skin.”
We, above all, are a sensate people. All meaning, all purpose, all information for us comes through our senses. Sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. We use the senses to describe the divine: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. (Psalm 34:8) And Easter is filled with the sensory: water for Baptism, chrism for Confirmation, fire and light to dispel darkness, incense that fills the church with wild fragrant smoke rising to the heavens. It is all so wonderful. Candle wax dripping from the Paschal candle and the music. Oh, the music: the grand Alleluia’s and the bells ringing out the Gloria once again. I shall miss it all. I shall miss the people gathered in the pews, kids and grandmas, celebrating Christ risen.
Our church doors will be locked this year and though there will be churches streaming this holy celebration, we will not smell, we will not touch; we will not receive the bread and the wine. We will not suffer the long night with our catechumens being bathed in the waters of life, coming out of the pool soaked and reborn. Instead, we will bear a kind of deprivation, which Mary of Magdala and the apostles felt when Christ was laid in his tomb.
So come with me and Mary, the friend of Jesus, into the tomb on the third day, when it is still dark, hoping to just even be near the body of Jesus. After all, Mary had watched him die. She had heard him cry out “It is finished.” She was witness to the blood poured from his naked body. She was faithful, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus and the Beloved John. Together, they knew solidarity in the midst of enraged, unspeakable suffering. But mercy arose in the hearts of Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, who wrapped the body of Jesus in linen cloths and laid him in the hollow of a tomb. Mary of Magdala saw it all.
But she could not resist coming back early on the third day, alone in the dark, where despair and unbelief lurks. Eerily, she found the stone rolled back. Disbelief and anxiety pushed her to run to Peter and to John. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.” One can feel the pain in her voice above her beating heart. “They’re the agents of death,” said one author, “and the ‘we’ are the vulnerable subjects of a kingship not of this world.” (John 19:36) These followers of Jesus are still at the point of powerlessness, ignorance and confusion. They do not remember what Jesus had told them: that he must go to Jerusalem, where he will die and on the third day rise. Their amnesia accompanies them to the tomb, where they find the burial cloths and the empty tomb as Mary reported. John believes and leaves. Peter leaves. But Mary stays.
What happens next is not reported in this Sunday’s Gospel, but we cannot stay in the dark tomb. We must go with Mary toward the Resurrection. Peer into the tomb where she sees two angels sitting in the place where Jesus was laid. Her eyes are wet from crying. They ask her why she is weeping. What a ridiculous question. We weep at tombs because our loved ones are dead and we grieve. But there is something powerful in the question. The angels obviously know something Mary does not yet know. Something one would not cry about, something mystical and miraculous. Something born of God alone.
There in the garden, despite her tears, she hears another voice. It speaks her name: “Mary.” It has a sound of familiarity and comfort. Like the mother of the little girl, afraid, Jesus appears to Mary and he tells her that he is ascending “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Every person that lives today longs to hear their name falling off the lips of Jesus: Kevin, Daniel, Janet, Meghan. If we could hear it in the depths of our souls, it would change us. But there is even more. Jesus tells Mary that his Father is now “our Father” and that his God is now “our God.” We are no longer disciples, but brothers and sisters in the one communion of divine life. Here the Father is answering the priestly prayer of Christ: “that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:22)
In that moment when Mary experienced the risen Lord, Mary is fully Church. She has experienced the suffering, death and now the resurrection of the Lord. She bears the Good News to her friends and the wonder of the early morning shifts from sorrow to life.
I will not sugarcoat the difficulties of participating in these sacred mysteries alone at home via the television. I will not pretend that we are not a people of sensory pleasures. It will be difficult, but perhaps we can gather our family around a simple altar with a candle lit, a bowl of water nearby, some fragrant oils, the sacred scriptures, some soft music while we watch together the mystery of our faith unfold quietly for us. With Mary and the apostles, let us be Church, joyful and reborn. I will remember with you the Easters we spent in the pews, holding hands, offering peace and singing Alleluias aloud, together.
From the Sequence for Easter Sunday:
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting.
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!