Old Testament: Isaiah (25:6-9)
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Response: Psalm (118:1-2, 14-24)
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (15:1-11)
I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 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, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
The Gospel: John (20:1-18)
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. So 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Here’s an apparently easy question for you, especially today: “When did God raise Jesus from the dead?” Most people who have any church background at all will answer immediately, “On Easter morning.” After all, that’s what all the pictures show.
But the fact is that the gospels never actually say when God raised Jesus from the dead, nor do any of them describe the resurrection itself. They tell us that Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb on Friday, sometime before sundown; and Luke (23:56) says of the disciples that “On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” But all that the gospel writers tell us of the first Easter morning is that that was when a few of Jesus’ followers discovered that something had happened since his burial: that the stone had been rolled away and that his body was missing. And it was then that they heard the strange and unexpected message that God had raised Jesus from the dead. The gospel writers never say when the resurrection happened. Easter morning was when his followers found out about it.
The central event itself seems to have taken place shrouded in darkness. In fact, John’s version, which we heard this morning, portrays Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.” She came in the darkness, figuratively as well as literally. And she discovered that, sometime in the darkness, God had begun the new creation.
That’s really not surprising if we consider the resurrection from the perspective of the broader biblical story. Last night, we celebrated the resurrection at the Great Vigil of Easter. The first reading that we used was the first of the two great stories of creation. And that account begins in utter darkness and chaos. Yet it was in that profound darkness that God began the work of bringing all things into being.
That portrayal of God working in the deepest darkness and of people later coming to realize what God had done is repeated in the bible’s core stories. It was, for example, in the darkness of Abraham and Sarah’s advanced old age that God gave the promise that they would become the ancestors of many nations and that their descendants would inherit the land. It was in the deep darkness and hopelessness of Israel’s bondage in Egypt that God began the great work of the Exodus. And it was in the deep darkness and despair of Jerusalem’s total destruction, followed by the exile in Babylon, that Israel made perhaps its greatest transition; and, in the process, Judaism, as it would continue through the ages, was born. Yet no one at the time, it seems, saw what God was accomplishing. These dramatic works of creation and re-creation took place shrouded in darkness. And it was only later that those with eyes to see recognized the great things that God had done.
And now, God was at it again, beginning the new creation, not only in the physical darkness of the night, but also in the inner darkness of the shattered hopes of Jesus’ family and friends. And while the physical darkness would dissipate with the rising of the sun, the inner darkness struggled to maintain its hold on those who had spent the last days in utter despair.
There is a clear difference in our gospel story between what the disciples can see and what they are as yet unable to see. When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb the first time, she is able to see that the stone has been rolled back from the entrance, but she is unable to see who has done it. So she runs to Simon Peter and to the disciple that Jesus loved, and informs them in tears that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” She is blind to the fact that “they,” whoever “they” are, haven’t done anything; it is God who has taken away the stone and raised Jesus to a new life. When Peter and the Beloved Disciple reach the tomb, they are able to see the linen wrappings and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face set aside, but they are unable to see whose hand has done this. And when Mary returns to the tomb, she is able to see both the angels and then Jesus himself; but she is unable to recognize the risen Jesus and instead mistakes him for the gardener; she is still unable to see. They are all still in the dark.
Maybe the problem, maybe the obstacle that blinded them to the new thing that God was doing, was the fact that they were stuck in the past. They could see the world only as it used to be. As faithful Jews, they knew the old stories of what God once did long ago; but they were unable to recognize the God who was present and active now, transforming the world in new and life-giving ways. And even when Mary eventually recognized Jesus, she wrapped her arms around him as though she and he and the others could go back to the way things used to be, before the horrific events of the past few days. But Jesus responded, “Do not hold on to me.” There was no going back, because there was now a new reality. Nothing would ever be the same again. God was doing a new thing. God was bringing about the new creation.
In time, Mary Magdalene and Peter and the Beloved Disciple and the rest of Jesus’ early followers began to see: to see the new reality that God was bringing into existence. That new reality necessitated new ways of looking at themselves and at their fellow human beings. On the coming Sundays, in readings from the Acts of the Apostles, we will be hearing stories of that new reality. We will be hearing stories of God breaking down old walls and old certainties and of God leading the first Christians into new ways of seeing and living, ways in which they welcomed many people whom they had initially excluded from their life and fellowship. Essentially, God enabled them to see through the darkness and to view the world and those in it in a whole new light.
So, what about us? That’s the real question for this morning. Last night, at the Great Vigil, we joined in the church’s great, annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. This morning, we join those who, on the first Easter morning, began to realize what God had done. This morning begins what I think of as the “So what?” season. God has raised Jesus from the dead. God has raised us up with him. God has begun the new creation. So what? So what difference is that going to make in our lives and in our way of seeing the world and all those who dwell in it?
Like Mary Magdalene, we can wrap our arms around the past, trying to convince ourselves that, if we hold on tight enough, we can go back to the way things were, or at least to the way that we imagine they were. Or we can dare to let go. We can choose to live as Easter people, people who are willing to see in a new way. We can live as people who know that God is still present and active in the world, working to transform it, to transform us, to transform all creation to be what God wants it to be. And, if we are willing to do that, we, like Mary at the end of the gospel reading, will truly come to recognize the risen Jesus. And we, along with her, will with confidence to able to proclaim to the world, “I have seen the Lord!”