Several hymns are guaranteed to make me cry every time I sing them, and “I Love to Tell the Story” is one of them. It’s what came to mind this morning as I tried to come up with a title for this blog post. Easter was so different this year. Some things made me incredibly sad: not being able to gather with St. Paul’s, not seeing my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, feeling so stressed out and anxious. Other things, I’ll admit, weren’t the worst: cooking a massive meal for just me and Tim, not feeling 100% exhausted at the end of the day, having time to breathe, getting to “go” to worship instead of leading it.
Even though there were a couple of positives, though, I would have gladly traded them in to have a “normal” Easter together. But as much as this Easter is different, one thing hasn’t changed: the good news of the resurrection. That old, old story stays the same no matter our circumstances, no matter our stress or anxiety, no matter our separation from loved ones. And it has a word to share with us as we find ourselves figuring out the “new normal.”
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!
This is the cry that has echoed throughout the ages of Christianity. For two thousand years, in small rooms, in great cathedrals, in gardens, whispered in secret, proclaimed loudly in the town square, Christians have been greeting each other on Easter morning with this proclamation. Christ is risen!
We gather this morning with Christians far and near, with Christians throughout the centuries to proclaim the boldest news ever told: the tomb is empty! Death has been vanquished! Christ is indeed risen!
This Easter feels different, because, while we gather together, we do not do so physically, but virtually. Or, perhaps a better word, we gather spiritually with one another. We will remember this Easter for a long time, because of the change in our situations. But even though the way we are gathering has changed, the news has not changed: Christ is risen!
This year, I suppose understandably, I was drawn to the confusion in our Easter text. Have you ever noticed it before? How much chaos there is, especially in the early part of the story? Mary Magdalene sets out for the tomb, while it is still dark.
While it’s still dark. When I imagine that first Easter morning, I imagine the sun coming up. It’s early still, but the sky is lightening, bits of orange and pink appearing on the horizon. But that’s not what it says. It says it’s still dark. This is before the dawn. And there’s so much running around going on. Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away and goes no farther but runs to get Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved. They run to the tomb then, go in and see the graveclothes lying there. And they go home, leaving Mary alone weeping in the garden.
On this morning that we celebrate with joyous shouts of belief, the disciples are stumbling around in half-light, running here and there, unsure what to think and what to believe. They didn’t understand.
As modern people, who like to think of ourselves as sophisticated, we sometimes forget that the idea that God could raise someone from the dead would be as difficult for these ancient people to believe as it is for us. These ancient people were not stupid. They had seen many people die and never once had they seen anyone come to life again. Their first thought is not that he has been raised from the dead, but that the grave has been disturbed, robbed.
But even there, in the midst of the confusion and chaos, in the darkness of the resurrection morning, is this great line about the disciple Jesus loved: he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand. He saw and believed, even though he didn’t understand. We do ourselves a disservice when we try to understand the resurrection. When we try to make logical sense of something that simply defies logic. Resurrection isn’t something we understand. It’s something that we believe, something that we trust. Resurrection is something we experience.
Mary Magdalene, that most faithful disciple who came to tomb by herself, even she did not believe until she experienced, in her grief and sorrow, the wounded hand of Jesus reaching out to her. Until she heard the voice of her Lord calling her name.
Resurrection isn’t a matter of understanding. It’s a matter of trust. It’s trusting that death doesn’t get the last word. Trusting that there’s more to come in this story. Trusting that Christ will accompany us through our Good Fridays—no matter how long they last—to Easter morning. Trusting that Easter morning always comes. That love, life, that God has the last word. Trusting that in Christ we are raised to new life both here and now and in the life to come.
We can’t understand it, we can’t explain it. But we can experience it. I’ve experienced resurrection in these past days and weeks in watching people come together, help one another, support each other as best we can in difficult times. I’ve seen neighbors offering to make grocery trips for those who are most at risk. I’ve had people offer to make grocery trips for me, to help keep me and the baby safe. I’ve seen an outpouring of support for the Ardmore Food Pantry, I’ve seen our church community be flexible and innovative and learn to be church in new ways. Much like that first Easter morning, resurrection doesn’t always come when everything is sunny and bright and clear, but it comes in the half-dark chaos that we’re trying to figure out.
But resurrection never stops in that chaos. It takes us from tears and confusion into proclamation. Mary Magdalene experiences the risen Christ and is given a mission: Go and tell. And tell she does. She goes back to the disciples, to those who left the tomb and walked away and declares: I have seen the Lord! The story might have ended with her, if she hadn’t said anything. But the story continues, all the way to us today, because she proclaimed the truth to the disciples and beyond. I have seen the Lord!
We know from other Gospel stories that the disciples don’t believe her. Not until they too experience resurrection firsthand. But that doesn’t stop her. Mary insists on resurrection, even when she’s not believed. She knows what she has seen, and she doesn’t let the cynicism, or doubt, or lack of understanding dampen her proclamation. She insists on resurrection because it is what the world needed to hear. Because it is too good and too life-giving to keep to herself. She has seen the Lord, and she will let it be known.
Easter feels different this year. But the news is the same. Christ is risen! We have seen the Lord! God has conquered the powers of sin and death and creates a new reality where love wins. Where hope lives. Where life always gets the last word. Go and tell the good news: We have seen the Lord. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!