The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
April 4, 2021
O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through the same thy Son Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I will never forget the first Easter morning after I was ordained a priest. I was serving at Saint Andrew’s Church in Framingham, Massachusetts, a lively suburban parish west of Boston. When I arrived for work sometime around seven, the preist-in-charge told me that overnight the husband and son of the woman who ran our Sunday school program had been killed in a car crash down south. The Day of Resurrection was, for this family, and our parish, a day of sadness and sorrow. Rather than waking up to the empty tomb and the risen Christ, as a community we had woken up to the cross and death. It felt like we were back on Good Friday. I was quietly relieved that I didn’t have to preach that day.
Easter Day does not always feel like Easter. Indeed, last Easter Day, just a week shy of one year ago, we gathered to say Morning Prayer on Google Meet—we weren’t even on Zoom yet. It had been about a month since we had been together in the church building, and we hadn’t yet figured out what pandemic worship would look like during NYC “On Pause.” It wasn’t quite Good Friday—somehow unsurprisingly the Good Friday liturgy worked really well and felt appropriate in the remote environment. Still, it wasn’t quite Easter-y. I was, in fact, that day palpably reminded of two liminal moments from the latter part of Jesus story: the hours between Jesus death and Resurrection and those days following Jesus’ Ascension, but before the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. During each of those times, the disciples sat uneasily somewhere between death and life. After the Crucifixion, Jesus seemed dead and gone, but he had promised to return. After the Ascension, Jesus was gone again and the disciples had no idea what would come next. Both were periods of fear, dislocation, and confusion. The life that they had led before was gone, they felt as if they were in some sort of limbo, not knowing what would come next. So they gathered. At least the disciples were physically together in the same location. Luke and John are both clear about that. Indeed, in Acts, Luke tells us that in this one place, “the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15).
We were huddled inside, afraid, feeling unsafe in our own city, and, unlike the disciples, we were either alone or in small family groups. We were told that there was no way it was safe for a hundred twenty people to gather together. I still shudder to think about that many people inside in one room, unmasked.
So here we are this Easter morning. This year a good number of us have been able to walk the way of the cross together once again. We have gone to the foot of the cross and down to the tomb, “the new sepulchre where was never man yet laid,” and seen Jesus buried. Today, still feeling some of that trepidation, that sense that we have come out of hiding, perhaps gingerly, unsure that it is yet quite safe, we have arrived at the tomb with “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, [who had] bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.”
Maybe like those women, we are expecting to find Jesus still there and, amidst our sadness, our biggest concern is “who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” What we, with them find, however, is, to our astonishment, “that the stone was rolled back,” the tomb was opened. Even more surprising,
upon entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.
Jesus is gone, yet they had seen him laid in the tomb with their own eyes. It is a lot for them to take in, especially the instructions that they have been given to bring word to Peter and the disciples and then head to Galilee, where they will meet Jesus again. In this, Mark’s version, they are given no proof other than the word of this white-robed young man, and we are told quite explicitly that “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.”
Now, of course, we know that ultimately they did share the news, that the story of Jesus’ resurrection spread, and we have and re-tell the stories about the encounters people had with him in those fifty days before the Ascension. Somehow, however, Mark’s gospel seems most appropriate for us today, the original text ending where it does. Yes, the community of Jesus’ followers who knew this version of the story, experienced the risen Christ and continued to transmit the news of these events, and in turn spread them further, and which news, which good news, changed their lives. But the story of the empty tomb as told here is, in a way, just right for us today.
We know that Jesus was raised from the dead in his Resurrection, we know that this event changed the world, we know that the small community who followed in his way, became the Church, the Christian Community of which we are, two thousand or so years later, members. Given the year we have spent, however, we can relate to the two Marys and Salome, who approached the tomb with not a little trepidation, and find not proof but a promise. We can relate to the sense of wonder and surprise that we have found both the door to the tomb and our church opened, with Jesus gone from the former, and we gathered together in the latter ready to receive him, risen and whole, in the form of the Eucharist we are about to celebrate.
We practice our faith, day in and day out, week in and week out, so that whether we feel it or not at any particular time, we use our bodies and our breath to share, remember, and experience the moments in Jesus’ story that help us make meaning of our lives, of our stories. The past year has felt like the longest Lent ever, a Lent from which it has taken a year to emerge. We reopened the church as we are emerging from this pandemic, emerging, but not yet fully out. Infection rates remain especially high in New York City, even while many New Yorkers have been able to receive the vaccine. We still must take precautions, but if we do, we can once again resume some familiar activities. It is, in a way, as if we are on the threshold of the empty tomb, still afraid, not having yet encountered the Risen Christ, but seeing that he lies ahead of us, ready to make us whole. For even in the depths of Lent, even on Good Friday after Jesus is taken down from the cross, the promise of the Resurrection stands before us, giving us hope, giving us life, proclaiming that winter will end and that death will be powerless in the face of the Risen Christ. We will receive a foretaste of that Resurrection life in our Eucharist today, experience that Easter joy, and still look ahead to the time when the Kingdom shall be fulfilled, both in the small ways it manifests itself in our own lives, and, ultimately, when the Resurrection is the palpable reality for all of us.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Holy Saturday, 3 April 2021
© 2021 Andrew Charles Blume