April 12, 2020 – Easter Day, Year A
© 2020 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here. Video of the service can be seen here.
I’m ready for some good news. I want it. I need it. And I don’t mean the kind of good news that pretends that things aren’t as bad as they seem—that it is fine for large congregations to gather on Easter Day. Neither do I mean the kind of good news that’s only good by comparison—like a death count that isn’t as high today as it was yesterday. I mean real, honest-to-goodness, so-good-it’ll-make-you-cry good news. And on this Easter Day, when we stand beside Mary Magdalene weeping outside the tomb, that good news comes and finds us.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary walked alone toward the tomb. As she approached, she looked up in the dim light and saw that the stone had been rolled away. Her heart sank. She knew the worst had happened. Not bothering to look in, she spun around and immediately ran to find Peter and the other disciple to tell them what she was sure to be true: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
The two disciples got up and ran back to see for themselves what Mary had reported to them. When they got there, they stooped down to look in. They even went all the way into the tomb themselves. They saw on the floor the linen wrappings and the face cloth that had been on Jesus head. They believed what they saw—that the tomb was empty—but they still didn’t understand what had happened, so they went back home.
A little while later, Mary returned to the garden where the tomb was. She stood there, weeping—her tears now tears of a double-loss. First, her heart had broken at the death of Jesus, and, now that someone had stolen his body, she couldn’t even stand and weep near his corpse, gleaning what small shred of comfort she could by being near his body. In the midst of that grief and loss and distress, she bent down to look into the tomb, and, where the body had been, two angels were sitting there, dressed in white. “Why are you weeping?” they asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” she replied. Then, turning around, she saw a man whom she presumed to be the gardener. So sure was she that the worst had happened—so stuck was she in her grief—that she could not recognize the one who was speaking to her. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” he asked her. Her response gave voice to the very best hope she had in that moment: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” All Mary wanted was to find his body again. Even if he were dead, all she hoped for was to be close to him again.
“Mary!” Jesus said to her. “Rabbouni!” she replied.
That is the good news of Easter. That is why we celebrate this day—even if it’s from our homes, behind closed doors, cut off from family and friends. We celebrate because God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. And that isn’t just good news for this moment but good news for all time. It’s not the good news that the worst has hit its peak. It’s not a slowing death rate or a decrease in unemployment. It isn’t baseball games being played in empty stadiums or college football starting back on time. It isn’t even a vaccine—though surely that would be a welcomed relief. We need the kind of good news that is more than just an improvement in our current situation. As desperate as this moment might seem, we need more than a solution to today’s problem. We need something that will give us life and hope and confidence today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that no matter what happens. The good news we need is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The resurrection matters. Easter matters. It matters because, when God raised Jesus from the dead, God changed everything for the better. Before Jesus spoke her name, Mary Magdalene was stuck in her struggle and loss and grief. The best she hoped for was a lead on where she might find Jesus’ body. But, into that hopeless moment, hope itself came and found her. “Mary!” Jesus said to her. “Rabbouni!” she said back to her Lord, and, in that moment, the very thing she feared the most was turned on its head.
The resurrection is more than a consolation prize. It’s bigger than a light at the end of the tunnel. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has turned the darkness of our darkest tunnel into new and radiant light. It’s God exchanging the walls that hem us in for a newfound freedom from all that we fear. Although all of us would welcome even a little bit of good news, and the whole world is praying for an end to this pandemic, the truth is that we need even more than that. We need more than a cure for today’s illness. We need the antidote to death itself. We need to know that there is a God who loves us and who has the power to rescue us from whatever terrible trouble comes our way. We need the good news of Easter.
The real beauty and power of this day is that the good news we seek isn’t something we find but something that finds us. We don’t need to be able to see past tomorrow’s headlines in order to have hope. We don’t need to know how today’s struggle will end in order to believe that God will bring us through it. We have hope because of God’s great love for us. We have hope because, even when our eyes are full of tears, God’s resurrection power finds us. We have hope because God has met us in the very worst of our fears in order that those fears might be banished by the light of the resurrection. We have hope because, this day, Jesus lives.