A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (10:34-43)
Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 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. 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; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 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. 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. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
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.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the 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 Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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
Just a little over three months ago, on Sunday, December 28, we gathered here to continue our Christmas celebration. Our gospel for the day was the magnificent opening hymn of the gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” On that occasion, we celebrated especially John’s declaration the “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” But that hymn gave us also a preview and a summary of the entire gospel story: “The light shines in the darkness, and [Spoiler Alert!] the darkness did not overcome it.” Try as it may, the darkness could not win. God’s light prevailed.
Jesus’ entire life would be one of responding with all his heart and soul to the call of the Father, of doing all that the Father had asked of him. And two days ago, in our Good Friday liturgy, we heard of the completion of that great work and of Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished” – or, perhaps better, “It is accomplished.” Jesus’ work was done. The story of his life was over. But the greater story, the story of God’s work through him, in and through his disciples was not over; and it would not be complete until his disciples came to see in a totally new way.
We pick up that story with today’s gospel reading. In keeping with John’s love of symbolism, that story begins in utter darkness. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” the narrative begins, not only in the physical darkness of the pre-dawn hours, but more importantly in the inner darkness of the disciples’ lack of understanding and lack of faith – or, put another way, in their lack of sight. They could not see God at work in the world about them. All that they could see at this point in time was the horrific death of their teacher and master and the shattering of all their hopes and dreams.
John continues that theme of their lack of sight as the scenes in his Easter narrative unfold. When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb the first time, she is able to see that the stone had been removed from the tomb; but she cannot see that this is the work of God. She runs to Simon Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and recounts in pain, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” When those two arrive, they are able to see that the linen wrappings and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head had been neatly and definitively laid aside; but they are unable to see whose hand has done this. When Mary then returns to the tomb, she addresses both the angels and then the risen Jesus himself with the painful assertion of what “they” have done. And even when she addresses Jesus directly, Mary is able to see only a gardener; she cannot see the conqueror of death and the giver of life itself.
At this point, it is the anonymous “they” who have done all these things. None of these three disciples is able to see that it is God who has taken away the stone, that it is God who has laid aside those burial wrappings that Jesus will never need again, and that it is God who has taken Jesus from the tomb and raised him up to a completely new way of life. In short, it is God who is at work doing a new thing; but Jesus’ followers cannot yet see that new thing.
The disciples cannot see that new reality because they are still living in the past. Their vision is locked into seeing the world only as it used to be, only as it has been. And so they are not able to see God’s new world as it is in the process of being created, and they are not able to see the God who is alive and working in the world in exciting, new, life-giving ways.
Even when Mary Magdalene finally recognizes Jesus there in the garden, she continues to be stuck in the past. She wraps her arms around him and clings to him as though she could literally hold on to the way things used to be. But Jesus instructs 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.’”
The past is gone and will never return. Jesus has died, and he will never again be present in the world the way that he had been. But a new world is now beginning. Jesus is now alive and present in a new way, and his followers must learn to see him in a new way, and to live in a new way, and to build the kingdom of God in new ways.
That message lies at the heart of what Easter day is all about. But, like those first three disciples, we, too, often fail to see. Like them, we too, keep trying to return to the past, determined not to let it go, not realizing or being willing to admit that it is already gone and it will never return.
But that does not, in any way, mean that the God of all creation is gone or that God’s ongoing work of the new creation has ended. To the contrary, that work is continuing even in our own time through the dynamic power of God’s Spirit. But for something new to begin, the past has to die; and, as difficult as it sometimes is, we need to let it die.
Anglican Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Desmond Tutu, once struggled in South Africa under the oppression of apartheid. Those in power seemed to have an unbreakable stranglehold on the great majority of the nation’s citizens. Those who dared to oppose them, like Nelson Mandela, languished in prison. There seemed to be no hope. But Desmond Tutu knew otherwise, because he could see the world in a different way. He could see it in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.
In reflecting on the world in that light, he declared, “Nothing could have been deader than Jesus on the cross on the first Good Friday. And the hopes of his disciples appeared to die with his crucifixion. . . . And then Easter happened. Jesus rose from the dead. The incredible, the unexpected happened. Life triumphed over death, light over darkness, love over hatred, good over evil. That is what Easter means—hope prevails over despair. Jesus reigns as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Oppression and injustice and suffering can’t be the end of the human story.”
Through the power of Jesus’ Spirit working within them, Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple and rest of Jesus’ early followers soon came to see in a new way. They looked on the same realities that others observed, but they saw them differently. They saw them in the light of the God who lives.
But do we? When we look at the disappearance of our old ways of being the church, when we look at the fading of our old ways of thinking about the bible and the sacraments, when we look, as Desmond Tutu did, at the oppression and injustice and suffering in the world, when we look at the task that we face in remaking the world around us to be more like the kingdom of God, we can easily be overwhelmed. We can be tempted to try to go back to the past: to old ways of thinking and to old ways of acting. Like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, we can try to wrap our arms tightly around the past; but we soon find that we trying to hold onto something that no longer exists and never will again.
Or we can dare to let go. We can choose to live as an Easter people: a people who see in new ways. We can live as people who know and trust that God, present in the world in the risen Jesus, is still alive and working in the world, transforming it, transforming us, transforming all creation to be what God wants it to be. And, if we do, then we can find ourselves to be re-created, just as Mary Magdalene was at the end of our gospel story. And then like her, we, too, can declare, “I have seen the Lord.”