April 21, 2019 – The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
© 2019 Evan D. Garner
Last Sunday, Christians all over the western world went to church to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and to prepare for the drama and death of Holy Week, and then, on Monday, we all watched in horror as Notre Dame cathedral went up in flames. Not all of it, we were relieved to learn, but, because of some handy Gothic architectural innovations and the tireless efforts of 500 firefighters, the fire was limited to the roof and the spire. Still, it was a tragedy that captivated the whole world, inspiring many of us to post our favorite pictures and retell our favorite stories from our trips to Paris.
Within a week, a billion dollars has been raised for the reconstruction efforts, and France’s President has pledged that the work will be finished in five years. But many, including the Yellow Vest protesters, are now outraged at how much money is being donated to rebuild a symbol of opulence. I note with delight, however, that giving to rebuild the three historically black churches in Louisiana that were burned in a suspected hate crime has spiked in response. Maybe you also read that the makers of the video game Assassin’s Creed have offered the laser-scanned images of the interior of Notre Dame they used to make their game to help with the rebuilding efforts. (Wonders never cease!)
A few days ago, Fr. Chuck told me about another social media development that has occurred since the Notre Dame fire. Did you hear that a woman in Scotland saw the image of Jesus in the midst of the flames while the cathedral burned? I went online and looked at a photograph and, sure enough, amidst the scaffolding, I could make out what looked like the face of Jesus in flame and shadow. But, when I went to another website to confirm it, I discovered that the part of the flames in which I had discerned the face of Jesus wasn’t the part that the woman and others had in mind. Instead, they saw a different figure of Jesus, one standing upright. I think their version looks more like Our Lady of Paris, but who am I to pour water on another person’s mystic vision?
Whether it’s the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or the crucified Jesus in an oddly-shaped Cheeto or Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, the spiritual significance of an image is often in the eye of the beholder. In most cases, how we interpret a sign when it is presented to us depends on us.
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. When she arrived, she looked up and saw that the stone had been rolled away. Immediately, she turned and ran back to find Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, to tell them that grave robbers had come and stolen the body of Jesus. A missing corpse—that’s how Mary interpreted the sign that the stone had been rolled away.
Without hesitation, the two disciples raced out the door and ran to the tomb. The other disciple got there first, and, when he looked into the tomb, he saw the linen cloths lying there. Simon Peter caught up with him and went into the tomb and also saw that the body was missing and that only the cloths were left behind. The Bible tells us that, when the other disciple went in, he saw and believed, but it also tells us that they both went back to their homes without understanding that Jesus had been raised from the dead. What does that mean? What did they believe—merely that the body was missing, or did they see something else?
Mary came back to the tomb, weeping. When she looked inside, she saw something else—something new. Two angels dressed in white were sitting where the body of Jesus had been laid. “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her. And, still, despite the rolled-away stone, the missing body, the grave cloths, and now the vision of angels, Mary did not know how to recognize what had taken place. Finally, as she turned around, she saw Jesus, whom she mistook for the gardener. “Woman, why are you crying?” the risen Lord asked her, but Mary was stuck in her grief: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” But this was Jesus. And Jesus spoke her name: “Mary.” And, in an instant, through tear-flooded eyes, everything became clear.
From that moment on, Mary had no more ifs; she held no more doubt. The risen Lord had come to her—not in a vision or a hint or a sign, but in a flesh-and-bones, back-from-the-dead savior—and he had called her by name. It was the name that made it real. With it, the connection, the friendship, and the relationship all came flooding back. This wasn’t a dream or a wish but her beloved Jesus who had come and met her right in the midst of her deepest grief. That is the miracle of Easter.
We believe in Jesus, and we place our hope in God not because we have put all the pieces together or because we have interpreted the signs that have come our way but because the risen Jesus has come to us and spoken our names. Later in John’s gospel account, we read that Jesus came and met the disciples and spoke peace to them. We also read that Jesus came back a second time to meet with Thomas because he had not been with them the first time. In Acts, we read how the risen Lord met Paul on the Damascus road, calling him by name, and changing his life forever. And that’s how we also come to know the truth of Easter—not because the clues have led us to God but because, in the risen Jesus, God has found each one of us and called us by name.
We encounter reflections of holiness all around us all the time. We catch glimpses of the divine in the rainbow after the storm, in the whisper of the wind, in the chance encounter with an old friend, or even in the destructive flames that engulf a beloved cathedral. But the miracle of Easter is more than a brush with God. It is God coming to us in the midst of our deepest struggle and saying our name. It is God coming beside us when we feel most alone. It is God reaching out and turning our sorrow into dancing and our sadness into joy. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we set our hope not in a sentimental moment but in the promise of never-ending life with the one who knows us and loves us and calls us by name.