April 12, 2020
The Rev. Dr. Mario Gonzalez del Solar
Church of the Good Shepherd, Richmond, VA
Acts 10:34-43 (NRSV)
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Colossians 3:1-4 (NRSV)
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Happy Easter! I hope this finds you and your families healthy and poised for the Day of Resurrection. We find ourselves this Easter in the midst of a crisis I can safely say none of us has experienced before. A pandemic of truly Biblical proportions has reached almost the entire population of the world. Economies world wide are in free fall. Millions of people have been confined to their homes. Millions more have been infected, and millions will die before it is over.
Tomorrow will mark three weeks since Governor Northam ordered us all to stay home and non-essential businesses to close. Some expressed hope that we could come out of our homes by Easter, but we have seen how illusory false hope can be. More serious than our own inconvenience is the suffering, the loss, and the grief that the pandemic is causing among people everywhere. A kind of severe Lent has been visited upon us all.
This crisis has revealed a lot of things about the world and the people who live in it. The most obvious is how fragile and vulnerable we are to sickness, suffering, death and all its consequences. And so here we are at Easter. We’re disappointed that we can’t all worship together at Good Shepherd and enjoy Easter brunch. Instead, we’re observing Easter against a backdrop of the suffering and death and grief of millions of people. A reality of the pandemic is the wide gap in the effectiveness governments and health care systems around the world have shown in responding. The vulnerability of government bureaucracies around the world to human frailty has stuck out in bold relief. One sad result will be many people angry that their loved one died as a victim of unjust decisions or neglect.
This is Easter Day, when we commemorate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We do well to remember that it comes after Good Friday, when we commemorate Jesus dying as a victim of unjust decisions and human neglect. Easter comes every year, but Jesus’ resurrection happened once. He is the first member of the human race to be resurrected—not resuscitated like Lazarus or the other people Jesus raised from the dead. He was resurrected and transformed into an entirely new and eternal plane of life.
What does this mean for us? Two things. First, it means that Jesus alive from the dead is living proof that God has conquered sin and its consequences, suffering, death, and grief, decisively and forever. In the words of hymn 180, “He is risen, he is risen!/Tell it out with joyful voice: he has burst his three days’ prison;/let the whole wide earth rejoice:/death is conquered, we are free,/Christ has won the victory!”
We know this on the strength of indisputable first-hand accounts. In our first reading we hear Peter, speaking to Cornelius and his household, say “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Or Paul, writing to the Corinthian church: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Second, it means that Jesus’ resurrection contains the resurrection of every person who believes in him. Everyone in Jesus’ day believed that God would raise the dead at the end of time, as foretold in the Old Testament. They believed Scriptures like Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.” They believed Daniel 12:2: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Widespread belief in the resurrection at the end of time is why Martha, when Jesus told her that her brother Lazarus would rise again, said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24b) What was Jesus’ response? “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”(John 11:25-26a) Mary knew Lazarus and everybody else would be raised at the last day. What she didn’t know was what we celebrate today: that it would be Jesus who would lead the way. This is the reason we rejoice in the resurrection of Christ! In him, in his glorious defeat of the powers of sin, suffering, death, and grief, we have victory as well! As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:14, “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (2 Corinthians 4:14)
Jesus challenged Mary after he revealed himself to her as the guarantor of Lazarus’ resurrection and her own: he asked, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b) That same day, Mary witnessed her brother come out of the tomb where he had lain dead for four days. She had living proof that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. She believed the living proof.
But what about us? What about us now, in this time of anxiety and death? “Do you believe this?” I think we are like another Mary, Mary Magdalene, in this Easter gospel from John. We are so conditioned to living in a world where death is final, where sin and suffering and death have the last word, that we can’t see the living proof. John says, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’”
Like many people in the world today, Mary is weeping. She is grieving at the loss of her Lord, whom she had seen cruelly tortured. She had watched as he had ebbed out his life on the cross. She had watched Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea hastily lay his body the tomb before it could be anointed with oil as was customary. She had come to do what she could for him—but the body was gone. Three days earlier she had lost Jesus to the cross, and now she has lost him from the tomb. Her eyes are flooded with tears, her heart fixated on her loss. Crazy with grief, in quick succession she fails to recognize two angels—and then Jesus himself. She mistakes him for the gardener.
She keeps repeating that someone has stolen his body—until Jesus calls her by name: “Mary.” In an instant, the living proof of Jesus alive from the dead wrenches her out of the deep groove eons of death and grief have entombed her. “Rabbouni!,” she shouts. She sees the living proof.
Jesus is who he says he is. He is “the resurrection and the life.” He is living proof that God has decisively and eternally conquered sin, death, suffering and grief. In Jesus’ resurrection, God guarantees us the same transformation from death into eternal life.
No wonder that at Easter Christians sing Charles Wesley’s words: “Soar we now where Christ had led, following our exalted Head;/made like him, like him we rise,/ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!” (hymn 189). No wonder we sing the prayer of Christopher Wordsworth in hymn 191: “Christ is risen, we are risen!/Shed upon us heavenly grace/rain and dew and gleams of glory/from the brightness of thy face;/that, with hearts in heaven dwelling, we on earth may fruitful be/and by angel hands be gathered, and be ever, Lord, with thee.”
Our present crisis has imposed a severe Lent on us all. Unlike any other Lent, it will continue after Easter. But in the midst of it, we rejoice that Jesus is alive from the dead! He is the living proof that God in his love and mercy has given us his victory over sin, suffering, death, and grief. As you finish reading this, pray this prayer:
O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer, p. 835