The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
April 16, 2017
We have walked this Holy Week through the steps of Jesus. We have walked the way of the cross. As Father Matthew put it in last week’s newsletter, we weren’t “going through the motions,” but we have played “a part in the divine drama of salvation.” We had our feet washed as the disciples did. We dined with Jesus in that upper room—but this time, we received his very body and blood in the sacrament. We sat with him in the garden. But then Friday we came to the foot of the cross and grieved there at his death, even as we rejoiced in his presence, the salvation he has wrought by his own self offering.
And today we have come here, to this holy place, to this celebration of Easter, of the Resurrection. And, as I asked you on Christmas Eve, I want to ask again: What have you come here to see? What has brought you here? What are you looking for?
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—probably Mary the mother of James and Joses, not someone we know much about, but someone who as apparently at the crucifixion—the two Marys come to the tomb on that Sunday almost two thousand years ago looking for something. But they’re not filled with anticipation, with joy, with excitement as we are today. They were filled with sadness, dread, even fear. They were going to visit their friend’s grave.
When I was a boy we’d visit my grandparents’ graves around the holidays to bring flowers to put on their tombstones. Sometimes when friends are in town I’ll walk with them over to the Grove Street cemetery to visit historic grave markers. That’s not the sort of visit Mary and the other Mary were making, though.
Their friend had just been executed –for claiming to be a king; for blasphemy—claiming to be the Son of God; for unsettling the religious and political power structure as it existed; for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and refusing to back down in the face of fear and oppression and death. They were there at the cross where, as they watched, their friend and teacher was hung to die, his body whipped and broken and bloodied, hanging in humiliation until he drew his last breath.
His dead and lifeless body was taken down and put in a borrowed tomb. Perhaps the Marys were coming to finish preparing the body for burial, to complete the anointing. They would have approached in sadness, in dread. They were looking for a dead body. They knew their friend was gone, out of the world, out of their lives, out of his very body.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came looking for a dead body. They came looking for death.
Death is something we know, isn’t it. Maybe we’ve seen a loved one die. We’ve seen the violence in our streets. We’ve witnessed the violence in our world—seen bombs dropped, men shot, women and children slain. We’ve seen bodies succumb to the ravages of illness, or the seductive slow death of addiction. We’ve seen relationships die, torn apart by greed or lust. Lives deformed by pride, anger, or greed, life drained away. Yes, we know death—in ourselves, in the world, and in the relationships around us.
Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of James and Joses, we know death. And we come looking for it. Expecting it. It’s what we know.
And that’s what makes it all the more astonishing—when they arrive at the tomb—to find it empty. To be greeted by an earthquake and an angelic messenger who has opened the tomb and who tells them, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” (Matthew 28.6)
For Mary and Mary and all of the disciples that have been waiting in Jerusalem, this is good news, indeed! Jesus is who he says he is. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. And he is ALIVE. He is with them. In fact, the very next thing that happens is that they SEE him, in his flesh.
And what this means is that everything that they thought they knew, everything they expected, everything they thought they had come to see, is turned upside down. Everything is made new.
There is no death. There is only life. Only resurrection. Only Jesus.
They came expecting a dead body. I grew up in the south, where, usually, when someone died there was an open-casket visitation. You came and you walked through, by the body, and then you greeted the family members that were standing there, and maybe you said something like “I’m sorry for your loss,” or maybe you said something awkward like “Oh, she looks like she just fell asleep,” complementing the funeral home’s makeup skills. Or maybe you awkwardly stood there, not knowing what to say. That’s what a dead body was like. No energy. Everything still, stopped, stagnant.
That’s what the women came to see. They came expecting a dead body. But instead what they found was an empty tomb.
They came expecting a dead body. But what they found was life—Jesus, alive, there before them, promising to be with them, to meet them again at Galilee.
Everything they knew about death was wrong, for death is conquered. God has swallowed up death in victory. Death is not even a thing.
They came looking for a dead body. And they found life.
They came looking for death. And they saw Jesus.
Friends, that’s the mystery of Easter. No one but Mary and the other Mary knew what was happening—just a couple of people—that showed up at that empty tomb, expecting the stench of death—but finding the radiance of life. Running to Jesus’s feet to hold onto him. Assured of his presence, running ahead to Galilee.
Because everything has changed, for them, and for us. All of the death-dealing of this world has been conquered. All of the death that we know has been trampled down under Christ’s very feet. Our whole world view has been remade—our way of seeing has to change. The whole world has been renewed. Our very selves have been restored in the image of God.
Because death is no more.
What does that mean for you? Death is no more. Death is vanquished. Death, and sin, and brokenness, and anguish—nothing means as much as Christ’s love for us—as God’s love for us in Christ. For that self-offering love, that death and resurrection, have conquered and redeemed the whole world.
The greed fades away in the face of the generosity of Jesus.
Our lust and gluttony tempers in the face of Jesus’s great desire.
Our hatred is covered by the outpouring of his love.
Our violence is futile against his own sacrifice.
Everything has changed. Nothing is as it seems. Because in Christ there is no death. Only life. There is no grave. Only victory. There is no darkness. Only light.
And that, my friends, is what we have come looking for this morning. That’s what we have run to the tomb to see yet again.
We have come to see the light of Christ, the light that burns away our sinfulness, our separation, and welds us back into one piece with God. That shows us the hope, the possibility, of our wholeness. That recreates us. That makes us risen bodies with him.
If it seems farfetched, poetic, soft or foolish, even, to think of this re-ordering, that death is no thing, that sin is no thing, that there is, in Christ, only life, just remember that the people around Jesus found it hard to comprehend, as well.
It was only those few dozen who knew that day. It would take weeks, months, years even, for the full news of Christ’s resurrection to spread. That’s what we hear in Peter’s sermon in the reading from Acts today—the spread of this good news.
And I’d suggest to you that the world is still hungry for the good news of Jesus’s redemption. The good news that Jesus lives. The good news that, in Christ, death is no thing.
Who will tell it to them? Who will take it to them?
I know you are looking for Jesus, the angel says. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said.
That’s what you’ve come here to see. To see Jesus. To find that all the death-dealing you see around you is short-lived. To find hope that good triumphs over evil. To find assurance that life has conquered death.
And that’s what the world is looking for. What the world is longing to see. People everywhere are longing to know that they are loved. That there is hope. That death is no thing. Will you run with Mary to tell them?
Will you run with Mary to tell of God’s great love?
You are looking for Jesus. He is not in the tomb. He is not dead. He is risen. And that great love now floods the whole world.