Alleluia – the Lord is risen!
Jesus lives! This is an occasion of great joy, but we must be sober for just a bit. We must remind ourselves that Jesus lives despite our best efforts.
We were, after all, in the crowd shouting “crucify” just a few days ago. We might console ourselves that we were just actors reading a part – but that lets us off the hook too easily. There is no escaping the fact that Jesus died at human hands – hands like ours. And if we examine ourselves in the clear light of Easter morning, we will find that we still fail to recognize Jesus… still deny Jesus… still crucify Jesus. Jesus is still dying at our hands.
If we work at it hard enough, we can take the Alleluia right back out of this Easter celebration! I’m not proposing that we do that…
The truth is that when it comes to killing Jesus, there is another inescapable fact – we have failed. It’s just that simple. We failed. Human hands did their best. Jesus was crucified to the very best of our ability and was good and stone-cold dead – three days in the tomb. Yet the Lord is risen indeed! Could there be any sweeter failure?
So here we are on Easter Sunday – a happy bunch of failures…
But Jesus hasn’t risen just to show off… It would seem that Jesus is not finished. Jesus has more to say.
In dying and rising from the dead, Jesus isn’t just demonstrating the power of God – the invincibility of God. There is a subtle but extremely important lesson. Jesus is telling us something about the persistence of God in our lives – our personal and private lives…
Let’s look how Mary of Magdala finds Jesus. She has come to the tomb and found it open. This means something is wrong. She raises the alarm. Others come to her aid and investigate the scene. We have a small crowd on hand. But this isn’t when Jesus greets Mary – when there is an audience. He waits until she is once again by herself – weeping. Jesus comes to her, to each of us, in our private moments of despair. Or perhaps this is when we are vulnerable enough to be aware of Jesus’ presence.
“Don’t hold on to me” Jesus warns Mary. Is this a safety warning? And if so, who’s safety are we worried about? Could Jesus be injured by Mary’s touch – or could Mary be injured by the raw power of Jesus?
Or is it something else. Is this a more profound warning. Could Jesus be warning Mary not to hold on to what has been, to what has passed? Perhaps, in a way, Jesus is saying don’t hold on to who I was – because I am.
This is a very powerful message for all of us who worship and seek to follow a living God. We can’t hold on too tightly to what we have known, to our experience, to our traditions – and at the same time we can’t let go. Living relationships are complicated, messy, and wonderful. I think Jesus is calling Mary to be in a living relationship, rather than to live in her memories… calling not just Mary of Magdala, but each of us to a living relationship.
Jesus is not terribly concerned with comforting Mary. He might have said: “Why do you weep, Mary, for I am alive again and the nightmare is over. Everything will be all right.” But he doesn’t give her many comfortable words. Instead he gives her a job to do. “Go and tell the others I am ascending.”
Now the others are already having a hard time keeping up with the plot. They have probably only just barely begun to comprehend that Jesus is dead. Now they are learning that he is not dead, but alive. And to this confusing mess Mary is told to add that he is ascending… I’m not sure this piece of information is going to clear things up.
But look at what Mary of Magdala does. She goes to the others and says, “I have seen the
Lord.” This is the first thing out of her mouth. This is not what Jesus has told her to say. This comes from her own heart. I’m not at all sure I understand what Jesus means when he says I am ascending, but I do know what Mary means when she says I have seen the Lord.
I, too, have seen the Lord!
Jesus dies. Jesus rises. Jesus lives and comes to us in very personal ways. And we are given this example of Mary of Magdala. Jesus comes to her in her grief, her despair, her sorrow, and asks her to do something. Jesus calls her to witness. And she does this in her own way – I have seen the Lord.
So how does Jesus find us on this joyful Easter morn?
Perhaps tired – to the point of exhaustion… We’ve been keeping vigil for a very long time… And that on top of the seemingly endless activity of Holy Week.
Perhaps sad and guilty. We’ve had time to call to mind the ways we have failed to follow Jesus and the ways that we still, to this day, continue to deny and crucify Jesus in our hearts and in our lives.
Perhaps fearful. The events of Holy Week have forced us to think about death. We know that Jesus faced death and that we too will face death; our own, or even more painfully, the death of someone we love and do not want to live without.
Perhaps joyful. We know that our redeemer lives and that our sins are forgiven. That we are beloved children of God and heirs of God’s Kingdom.
It is in this mix of emotion that Jesus comes to us, asking us why we weep. Telling us not to be afraid. Warning us not to try to hold on too tightly to what we have known. To be witnesses of the love of the Jesus.
This is our baptismal covenant – we die to the old and are born again to new life in Jesus the Christ. It is, I think, not something that happens once and for all, but happens a little more each day.
Regularly we push Jesus out of our lives – maybe just for a moment, maybe for a long time. In big and little ways, we crucify Jesus. Just as regularly Jesus rises and comes back to us.
This is the durable, patient persistence of God. We can do our absolute worst – and at times we do… Yet when it comes to killing Jesus we will always fail. At times we may even be blessed to say, as Mary of Magdala says, that we have seen the Lord. Alleluia!