Just the Beginning (Easter is)
Easter is just the beginning.
Now I know that way we do things make it seem like Easter is more of an ending than a beginning. Easter marks the conclusion of Holy Week and the end of the season of Lent. It’s the last chapter of the gospels, and it puts the exclamation point on the life of Jesus. We celebrate Easter as the crowning glory of the Christian year, we pull out our best music and our biggest choirs, we show up here in great numbers and we celebrate.
But Easter is just the beginning. There’s still more to come. We’re just getting started.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Easter celebrations. But it’s no accident that the Easter gospel that we just read begins not in the light of day, but in the dark. It begins with a woman who goes to see the tomb of the one that she loves, the one who has been brutally taken from her, arrested, tortured and executed on false pretenses. It is dark. To all appearances, the forces of hatred and death have won. But Mary still shows up. Why does she go to the tomb? Why do any of us go to the graves of our loved ones? To pay our respects. To pray. To hope against hope. To look for some sort of closure. To weep.
We don’t know why Mary goes to the tomb. But there are times in our lives when we just have to make a point of showing up, even when we don’t know why, even when we don’t know what to do. Sometimes we just have to get up even though its dark, and wait for the dawn. Show up, and wait to see what God will do.
So Mary shows up, but at first, it all seems to take a turn for the worse. The tomb has been opened. The body taken away. Peter and the other disciple come and then go. And Mary is left alone, standing in front of an empty tomb. And she weeps.
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
“They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Again, she is asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
“Sir,” she says, not recognizing the one who asks, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.”
Something that I like to do, especially this time of year, is to sleep with the curtains open in my bedroom so that in the morning I can experience the dawn. The glow of the pre-dawn light stirs me from sleep, and then when the sun crests the horizon, those first rays of light wake me up and get me out of bed. It’s a turning point. Dawn, the first light, holds out the promise of a new day.
For Mary, that new day is about to dawn.
Jesus calls her by name. “Mary.” And right there, Mary experiences the dawn of a new day. She turns, and in that moment of recognition her whole world turns with her. “Rabbouni!” she exclaims in recognition, and instinctively she flings her arms around him, desperate to grab hold of everything she thought she had lost. She’s ready to hit the pause button, to freeze time, to stay forever in that moment of joy.
But dawn is just the beginning of the new day.
“Don’t hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
It’s sounds almost harsh doesn’t it? But Easter is just the beginning. There is more to come. There’s still work to do. Jesus still has work to do. Easter is for Mary, but it’s not just for Mary. Easter is for any and all, God shows no partiality. Easter is for all who have darkness in their lives, for anyone who shows up at the tomb not knowing why, for all who have suffered loss, for anyone wrestling with doubt and despair. And so Jesus has to keep going, he has to ascend to the Father, he needs to transcend space and time as we know them so that as the risen Christ he can be present in all of space and time, for all of humankind.
Easter isn’t the last act. It’s just the beginning. God is still doing things. Easter sort of things. Like bringing light where there is darkness. Like raising people up. Like creating new life. Like being with us and for us. So Jesus can’t stay with Mary, he’s got to go. And so does she. “Go to my brothers and sisters, and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Easter isn’t a spectator sport, it’s a participatory activity. Mary, and you and me, we’re all called to play our part. Not to hit the pause button or to cling to this one moment, but to go out and do the sort of things that Easter reminds us are possible.
Easter is the dawn that reawakens us to the deepest truths about reality, deep truths that the darkness would have us forget. That love will overcome hate. That mercy is better than getting even. That dignity will prevail over contempt. That life is stronger than death. And if these things are true, and Easter declares that they are, then we have to go and live this way, we have to go and live in the light of Easter. Which is why Easter can’t be an ending, but is just the beginning.
I’m sure I have said many times in the past, especially on Easter Sunday, that Easter changes everything. But today let me be a little more precise. It’s not Easter that changes everything. Easter is just the beginning. It is the journey that begins on Easter that changes everything. The journey that brings life where there is death, hope where there is despair, love where there is hate. The journey that raises people up. The journey, the great adventure, that begins when the risen Christ calls Mary by name and tells her to go.
The great adventure that begins when the risen Christ calls you by name, and tells you to go.
We’re just getting started. There’s more to come. God has great things in store for us. Easter is just the beginning.
Homily: Easter Sunday, April 9 2023, Trinity
Readings: Acts 10.34-43; Ps 118; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-18
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