Easter Sunday is one of my absolute favorite Sundays of the year. Whatever doubts or disbeliefs I have throughout the rest of the year, or even next Sunday, as we read of Thomas’ disbelief in John 20:19-31, on Easter I feel in my bones—in my whole being I know—that God raised Jesus from the dead. I can’t explain it; I just know it, and it gives me hope.
Another thing I love about Easter is the story itself. No matter which gospel you read, the story begins in the dark with women coming to the empty tomb to prepare the body. In each account, the women are the first witnesses to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene, in particular, has been called the Apostle to the Apostles for this very reason.
In each Gospel account, Mary comes to the tomb first, sometimes with more women, and discovers that Jesus isn’t there. She, and any accompanying women, then go quickly to the other disciples and tell them what they’ve witnessed. This, as is too often the case, is met with skepticism and disbelief. The other disciples all struggle to trust Mary and the women in their testimony of the resurrection. Ultimately, however, the women are proved right, despite the other disciples’ disbelief.
When I was on internship in seminary, we held an Easter Vigil for our sunrise service. We journeyed through Old Testament stories of deliverance and freedom. And then, as light was taking hold of the dark night, we read the Gospel, which was John 20:1-18.
I preached at that service and I remember as I prepared my sermon, I was captivated by Mary Magdalene’s interaction with Jesus. After she tells Peter and the Beloved Disciple that Jesus’ body has disappeared and the two come to check to see if she’s right, they leave Mary weeping outside the tomb.
Then two angels appear, followed by Jesus. Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener and asks where Jesus’ body has been placed. Then Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!” Jesus names her, bringing her back to her place as a Disciple.
That is the gift of Easter, of Christ’s Resurrection. Jesus goes to the deepest depths of suffering and death, and then back again. Christ knows our deepest pains and takes them on and then, in Christ’s Resurrection, God names us and reclaims us. God chooses us when we are born, when we are baptized, and again in the Resurrection.
The Resurrection, Christ’s triumph over death and fear, gives us hope to live courageously and compassionately. Christ’s appearance first to Mary begs us to ask: who is God talking to and working through that we might be ignoring or discounting?
Christ’s Resurrection means that we do not have to live afraid of strangers among us, fearing all “Others” who we are told might do us harm. Christ’s Resurrection means that those “Others” are our neighbors, are the ones with whom we share new life in Christ.
Christ’s Resurrection makes all things new and deepens all love. Christ’s Resurrection brings hope for new life for all of us struggling with any type of illness. Christ’s Resurrection brings hope for freedom from disease and addiction. Christ’s Resurrection brings hope for reconciliation and repair of relationships we’ve given up for lost. Christ’s Resurrection means that we always have another chance—to try again, do better, forgive, and be forgiven.
Christ’s Resurrection is the birth of new hope, new courage, and new compassion for all among us.