I have seen the Lord!
That is what Mary Magdalene announced to the first disciples after she encountered Jesus in the early hours of the first Easter Day. She had made her way to the garden tomb because she wanted to do one last thing for her beloved friend after the horrendous events of Friday afternoon; she wanted to anoint him for burial. She came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled back – the tomb was empty. Stunned and afraid that the body had been stolen, Mary dashes back to the house to tell Peter and John…they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him. Sure enough Mary was right – the three friends run back to the garden and sure enough the tomb is empty – the linen cloths that had wrapped his body were neatly off to the side. Peter and John go home exhausted, confused and afraid of what might happen next…all had been lost …but Mary stays there weeping outside the tomb.
At first she thought he was the gardener, but then Jesus speaks her name, Mary. She turns around, recognizes Jesus and says Rabbouni which means Teacher. She reaches out to touch him but Jesus says don’t hold on to me… but go and tell my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father to my God and your God. And she does just that – Mary Magdalene is first person to announce the resurrection of Jesus. I have seen the Lord! He is alive, death has been destroyed! We are not doomed after all!
It’s hard to imagine better news than Mary’s announcement. Short, memorable and to the point. I have seen the Lord! It would fit nicely on the church sign outside this morning for all to see!
It is so easy to celebrate Easter the secular way – with spring flowers, chocolate bunnies and a new pair of shoes. Christ is risen and the earth springs to life! But Easter is so much more. Easter calls us back to the astonishing news that God has overcome the power of human sin and darkness – even death itself. Death no longer has the last word!
He who was nailed to a rugged wooden cross in a horrific execution on Friday, dead and placed in a tomb sealed shut, is alive on Sunday morning. In the resurrection of Jesus we see that the cycle of sin and despair has been interrupted and that human history is not doomed to repeat itself. The hatred and rebellion hat conspired to bring Jesus Christ to the cross and that continues to threaten the world’s welfare has been defeated. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive, not confined to the past but alive – not resuscitated, not exchanged or recycled. Something far greater has happened!!
And Mary Magdalene is the first witness. Not the reformed prostitute portrayed by some interpreters, Mary Magdalene was a strong, independent woman who had supported Jesus financially and spiritually during his short public career, she was among his close friends at the foot of the cross as he died. And now, having come to the grave to pay her last respects Mary is the first to encounter Jesus in the garden and to share the news: I have seen the Lord, she proclaims. Jesus is alive!
That’s it, that’s the breaking news this morning in a nutshell. That is what happened and that is what Christians confess. But what does it mean for us today? I want to focus our attention for a few minutes on the so what of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What does it mean?
Perhaps the first thing that needs to be said concerns God and the big picture. The resurrection of Jesus means that we can trust God’s promises. Israel’s long awaited hope for liberation from the grip of human greed, of violence and injustice has been achieved in a huge surge of divine energy and stunning “big bang”. The battle is over, and the victory belongs to God. In the death and resurrection of Jesus a path of healing has been revealed, a path that leads to the restoration of all things in God’s goodness. With Easter God’s new creation is launched upon a trembling world. What God accomplished in raising Jesus from the dead amounts to a surge of divine energy in a colossal, cosmic act of new creation which will one day be completed throughout the whole of creation. We are assured that what God did once in a graveyard in Jerusalem God can and will repeat on a grand scale. God acts and the world is changed! We can trust in God’s providence, in God’s promise to make all things new.
Everything else hinges on this basic truth.
So, the second thing I want to say is that Easter changes the way we see ourselves, the world around us and human history. The resurrection marks the greatest reversal of the human condition we can imagine. We are not doomed… because a path of healing and restoration has been cleared. Sadly, tragically injustice, abuse and violence still pervade the world. There is no doubt about that… but Easter shows us that is not God’s vision or intention for the world. Every time justice is done, peace is made, families are healed, temptation is resisted, true freedom is sought and won – those kinds of very earthly, human gestures, take their place within a long history of things big and small which implement Jesus’ own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation; they act as signposts of real lasting hope, pointing back to the day when Jesus rose from the death and pointing to that time when heaven and earth will be one. We are at the starting gate of God’s initiative to colonize earth with the life of heaven through the lives of ordinary folks like you and me and so many others.
Jesus calls her by name: Mary. He calls each of us by name, too, and proclaims the peace of God – peace that reorders and renews all things. Because of Easter we can trust God’s promises and the way we see ourselves, the world around us and human history changes.
And that leads to my third point about the meaning of Easter: we have the possibility for a new, fresh start – as individuals and as a community of faith called to serve God’s purposes in this part of our City. Jesus is risen and it’s a new day! Because of the resurrection the tears we shed, the disappointments, physical and mental illness, the betrayal and heartache over broken relationships, lost friends and loved ones, all of these things and more need not define us – they do not have the last word. This is a new day with new possibilities because in Jesus Christ a path of healing and restoration has been revealed – a path that leads to wholeness, new life. Is there someone you have been estranged from that you need to call? Is there something important you need to say to someone you love? Is there a radical gesture of gratitude you want to make in the days ahead? These are signs of Easter faith in action!
And so the last thing I need to say about the difference Easter makes is that the story isn’t over at the empty tomb, in fact it’s only just getting started. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only an historic event. It is not a conclusion, it’s an invitation. It’s only the beginning, and the Easter gospel invites us, compels us and empowers us to join in, sharing the good news of God’s triumph over the power of sin and death as we strive to faithfully serve God’s mission of restoration and healing in the world.
For you see, we are called to live “resurrection lives” – this story is unfolding before our eyes, through our lives. And what happens when we engage in God’s activity in the world is that we start to notice signs of the resurrection, new life, all around us. We start to see the Lord acting in our own lives and in the lives of others; changing things as we grasp the power of God’s love working in our lives. We might even glimpse for ourselves what Mary meant when she said “I have seen the Lord”.
So what might happen if we join our voice with Mary’s and proclaim in word and action in our daily life, I have seen the Lord?
To say “I have seen the Lord” is to point to new life when all that seems visible is darkness and death; serve love in the face of hate; and to serve up decency and goodness when it appears that that which is vitriolic and vile and vicious finds only more and more followers. … “I have seen the Lord” insists that the ways of love will win over the ways of hate. “I have seen the Lord” confirms that the truth of kindness can be heard over the din of ruthless, callous, and vindictive rhetoric. “I have seen the Lord” gives witness to the fact that there is another way for each of us, all of us to be in the world — a way of being that is shaped by the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, a way of living that is hope-filled, healing and life-giving, a way of being that is so counter-cultural, so compassionate and merciful, so exemplary of the truth of Easter that others will listen to you, watch you, wonder about you and say, “Wait a minute. Did I just see the Lord?”
The Lord is risen, Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!