Sunday, April 4, 2010

Thoughts delivered on Easter morning, April 4th, 2010

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb before sunrise. It's an enigmatic and beautiful beginning to what is an astonishing piece of literature: St John's version of the story of that first Easter morning. A scene in which Mary Magdalene is the principal witness. A scene that is spoiled only by the crass stupidity of the two male disciples who not only failed to grasp what had happened, but then decided to return to their homes. As if a normal domestic morning was possible that day!

No, it is the gentle figure of Mary who brings grace and feminine dignity to the story, as she poured out her tears in confusion and genuine grief. Grief, because we forget, in our eagerness to light and process the Paschal Candle, sing, hunt for chocolate eggs and celebrate Easter in a spring-like fashion, that as the scene opens, a scene filled with the vocabulary of love, Mary Magdalene was convinced that Jesus was dead.

When he wrote his essay entitled, "Sharing in the Resurrection" Thomas Merton gave us these thoughts:

We often forget that in all the accounts of the Resurrection the witnesses started out with the unshakeable conviction that Christ was dead. Those going to the tomb thought of Jesus as dead and gone.

But Merton then continues:

Now this is the psychological pattern that we often act out in our Christian lives. Though we say with our lips that Christ is risen, we secretly believe him, in practice, to be dead. And we believe that there is a massive stone blocking the way and keeping us from getting to his dead body. Such Christianity is no longer life in the Risen Christ.

Those are harsh, judgmental words on a sunny April morning. But are they true? If they are then all our Alleluias are empty.

When all others ran away from that garden, Mary Magdalene stayed. Lingered. The language of John's Gospel is emotionally charged almost to the point of overflowing. She didn't stop weeping, and her next words were so desolate:

They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.

Now, not only is Jesus dead, but his body has been removed with no prior warning.

And the next moment, the encounter and exchange between Jesus and Mary, is so wonderfully and tenderly written that on some days it has reduced readers to tears. I know from personal experience.

I have said on many an occasion that if I could have just one fragment of the Christian scriptures to keep with me at all times it would be the words of this morning's Gospel story. Because they are words that speak to us, not only of the Risen Christ, but also of love.

Since the very beginnings of the Church on Easter morning we acclaim, "Christ is Risen!"

Let's consider those words. "Christ is Risen." That is a proclamation in the present tense. "Is Risen!" Not "was Risen" or "was raised" but "Is Risen!"

It lies at the very heart of our faith - that the resurrection is not a 2000 year old event to be recalled, great though the story is, but rather that the resurrection is real now, today, for all of us.

Christ is Risen! Yes! But we are a part of that proclamation. What the resurrected Christ did was to empower people, us, to continue his work, be instruments of his love, be healers in his name, and work for justice and peace in the world. We can never explain the resurrection of Christ, but we can allow it to shape us, speak to us - and fill us to the point where we live and breathe it, as people who live the risen life of Christ, then our stones have been rolled away. And the psychological pattern of death is broke.

At times it is difficult to see, just as Mary did not recognize Jesus in the garden, but then all becomes clear as she tells the others, I have seen the Lord!

A Happy Easter to you all!

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