April 4th, Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday
April 4th, 2021
John 20:1-18

In many ways this doesn’t feel like Easter 2021. This still feels like Lent, 2020. It isn’t April, but the 378th day of March. We are still waiting at the tomb. We are still waiting for the ending of this story, where we can dance and sing and hug and leave all the past behind us.
This is one of the great challenges and frustrations that we encounter for Easter. We enter Lent with a solemn seriousness, we run into Holy Week, waving palms in the air. We breeze through Good Friday, because it is sad and we don’t wish to wallow, we wish to run straight past the cross and wait at the tomb before Jesus is even dead. We know the ending, and we want to get to that part.
We as a society love a happily ever after, where the prince and princess marry, the hero saves the day, the asteroid explodes before hitting the earth, the main character wins the medal or gets the job. We crave them, because they tie all the messiness of life up so nicely.
Which makes this year so hard, since we don’t see the conclusion. Ready for an ending that doesn’t feel like it is going to arrive. Waiting for a clear answer and a path forward, to continue the rituals of our lives; birthdays, graduations, career moves and travel plans. The familiar milestones that tell us the truth of our universe: we are not alone.
This past year has been a world turned upside down. Even last Easter, we were so focused on dealing with the shock of “unprecedented times” that I don’t think it hit most of us, certainly not me. The universe lost the plot, we don’t know which page we are on, and no one knows where the ending is. Where is the final chapter, that has us overcome with joy? No, we are forced to sit at the cross, because the tomb doesn’t seem ready yet. We encounter a harsh reminder; no one really knows the ending. No one here is able to control their path. It doesn’t take much for us to lose stability in a cycle of rituals and seasons we have become so reliant upon.
Take a moment and sit with that feeling. The one that is in your chest right now, just as it is in mine. A year of solitary grief and anger and sorrow and fear, a weight that makes it hard to breathe. A year of not knowing what we can do, just that we must to something, because there is always something we can do in response to tragedy. We will write cards to friends and family! Phone calls! And if I never hear the phrase “Let’s hop on Zoom” again, I will die happy. A year of refreshing the COVID test result page and reading up on which mask is safest. A year of trying to hold it together when the world is in chaos and we feel that we must be doing something. A year of moral and spiritual exhaustion. We are empty.
We are Mary, approaching the tomb with a glimmer of hope, but with the grief of what has happened and has been happening. Mary, one of the most faithful and loyal disciples of the now dead Jesus, who is preparing to do, something. She wants to scream. She wants to break windows and start a riot. She wants justice for the man who state powers executed, she wants the pain to end. She wants this story to end.
Mary approaches the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for the next stage of burial rituals. She arrives, and sees the tomb is empty. Without waiting for her mind to catch up, her feet are already running to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, who all race to the cave, and find it empty. It doesn’t feel like a celebration. It feels like a cruel joke, a final slap in the face for those who loved Jesus and wanted to mourn him with dignity.
The others leave, but Mary stays, much like us, unable to move forward, unable to go back. We sit with her, as stuck disciples, waiting for this story to give us a happy ending.
A voice punctures her grief and calls her back. “Mary”
It is none other than Christ. Risen, here and now, ready before her as friend, teacher, and messiah.
Christ defeats death. Christ is risen. And they lived happily ever after.
Like many Easters of years past, we could, if we wanted to, let this be the end. The church often treats the Ascension and Pentecost as an epilogue, it would be no hardship. But where does that leave us? Where are we in this picture, as we wait at the tomb of a world that has gone to rest for a lot longer than three days.
I ask us to do as God did, and does. Let’s turn this upside down. Easter isn’t the end of the story. It is the beginning.
One upon a time a man, who had been killed by the state, came back from the dead after three days. He greeted one of his friends near the tomb he was buried in. They laughed and smiled at each other. Jesus then told Mary “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”. Mary ran off to do so, and then the true adventure began.
Easter isn’t about tying off the story of Jesus in a little bow, with all the messy plot lines tied up. The story of Christ’s resurrection is one that starts with the everlasting love of God, a force so awesome it defies our sensibilities. It is about endless possibilities, the endless range of God’s love, the endless stories that could be told because of the simple fact that God so loved the world, that God sent God’s son to liberate every single person who has been told they don’t deserve it. To lead us to the kingdom of heaven, to be the greatest miracle for us all.
Jesus’ story doesn’t end today. Our story doesn’t end today, in the midst of chaos and suffering. It begins today, with the resurrection of a million possibilities to love.
Mary will go tell the others that Christ is risen. The first person to preach the gospel. They will then tell others, who share it further and further, and from there endless opportunities grow for the church to be the Body of Christ here and now. Endless chances for followers to declare that love is stronger than hatred or fear, and to build justice and hope in their path.
We are human. We will get it wrong sometimes. We will make mistakes out of our own human failings and stumbles. But God is not here, saying “and they failed, so the end”. God is here saying “They made mistakes, but kept going”. We will not be asked to cut our grief short, but to remember that Love is the final word, not Death. This is the heart of Easter for me. God sees my humanity, and the very first thing she writes in my story is her love for me, a love so strong it defeated death itself. A love full of miracles and hope, that turns tyrants on their heads and lifts up the oppressed. God wrote that story for you. God so loves you, that God defeated death and raised miracles and created you out of stardust and her love.
The story is not yet finished, not even close. Each day we are here and able to write our own narrative in the universe. We do not end our story today with grief and bewilderment, but with joy in the truth: God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God. Go and tell the world, in your thoughts, words, and deeds.
Come, let us go to the tomb, greet Christ, and start our story together. He is Risen. Hallelujah!