March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday – George Yandell

One day, three men were walking along and came upon a raging, violent river. They needed to get across to the other side, but had no idea how to do it. The first man prayed to God saying, “Please, God, give me the strength to cross this river.” Poof! God gave the man big arms and strong legs, and he was able to swim across the river in about two hours.

Seeing this, the second man prayed to God, saying, “Please, God, give me the strength and ability to cross this river.” Poof! God gave him a rowboat and he was able to row across the river in about three hours.

The third man, seeing how things had worked out for the other two, also prayed to God, saying, “Please, God, give me the strength and ability and intelligence to cross this river.” And poof! God turned him into a woman; she looked at the map, then walked across the bridge.

Humor aside, the prominence of women as the initial ones to experience the power of Easter cannot be denied. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first to hear the angel say, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised”.

These two Marys were among the brave women who had watched Jesus die his agonizing death. They had followed his lifeless corpse to mark the place where it was entombed by Joseph of Arimathea. A legitimate question follows: where were the men at the same time? Where were his bravest, closest disciples—Peter, James, and John—the “pillars” of the community? Where were the “Sons of Thunder,” Thomas, and Matthew? Where were Andrew and Philip? Had all of them scattered like frightened sheep after Gethsemane and Golgotha? When Jesus had needed them the most, had they left him completely in the lurch? Why hadn’t they the courage and loyalty to suffer with Jesus, as had the women from Galilee?

Jesus had told his disciples that he would be crucified and raised on the third day; but despite what Jesus had predicted of an ultimate vindication, none of his followers could envision a personal resurrection.

In all four gospels, the first evidence that Jesus has overcome death is the empty tomb. Although the details of the Easter narratives vary, in all of the accounts the women are first to arrive at the tomb and to proclaim the miracle of Easter. Mary Magdalene is a principal witness to the resurrectionin all four Gospels.

With dramatic details unique to Matthew, we read that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at the tomb at dawn on the first day of the new week, there was a great earthquake. The shaking earth underscored the apocalyptic nature of the event. Then an angel of the Lord appeared and rolled back the stone at the entrance. The soldiers standing guard were terrified at the sight of the angel, whose appearance was “like lightning,” and whose clothing was “white as snow”. The angel reassured the women as he told them that Jesus “is not here; for he has been raised”, just as he had foretold.

As proof of this astonishing news, the angel told them to see for themselves that the tomb was empty, and gave them a message to take back to the other disciples. “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him”. This was to fulfill the promise that Jesus had made on the night of his betrayal that “after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee”.

As the women ran “with fear and great joy” to tell the others, Jesus appeared. The women immediately bowed down and held his feet, showing that the proper response to the Risen Lord is to worship him. Jesus told them not to be afraid and repeated the message that the disciples were to meet him in Galilee.[Adapted from “Synthesis: A Weekly Resource for Preaching”, April, 2014.]

In John’s story of the resurrection, Mary makes a second trip to the tomb, after she had seen it empty when she first visited. She looked again inside the empty tomb and saw something neither Peter nor the other disciple saw—two angels in white sitting at either end of where the body had been.

If angels are going to scare us out of our wits like Mary experienced, at least give us information about where to meet Jesus and directions to the meeting place. But in John they just ask a really obvious question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

I wonder if Mary felt a momentary flash of irritation? I wonder if she felt like saying, “Well, angels, why do you think I’m weeping? I’m weeping over the crucifixion of my most cherished hope in life. My eyes are wet with the tears because I’m grieving to my core. Why do you think I’m weeping?”

One might suspect that the angels, while Mary is explaining about weeping, might be pointing behind her as if to say “turn around, turn around.” They might well have come to give directions, after all. To a Resurrected Lord who, from now on, is always standing right behind her, whose presence doesn’t depend on whether she feels him there or not, whether she’s ready or not. Because, according to John’s story, Christ rises in the dark. Christ rises for everyone. Easter is precisely for those who are not ready for it. Easter is for Peter, too absorbed in the pain of his past to take it in. Easter is for the Beloved Disciple, who believes in Jesus’ resurrection but needs time to process what difference it makes. Easter is for Mary, weeping over her loss while her Lord stands right behind her.

According to the story, Easter is for each of us who is all of them. [from Alyce McKenzie in “Ready or Not: Reflections on the Unexpected Easter” from (4/17/11).]

Here we uncover the paramount nature of undeserved love revealed in the Resurrection of Jesus. Call it the Gospel of Easter. Deserving the worst, the disciples were given the best. God raised Jesus up into their community despite their cowardice, despite their betrayal. Whereas in human relationships desire is the cause of love, here in the Resurrection, we see that love is the cause of desire. God’s love is the cause of desire. God’s love reigns, regardless of human failure.

The disciples, therefore, were not anticipating the Resurrection of Jesus. Why else would they have been such reluctant believers? Why else would they have dismissed the report of the women about the empty tomb as “an idle tale”?

Reginald Fuller, the noted New Testament scholar and professor of mine at seminary said: “Even the most skeptical critic must posit some mysterious ‘X’ event to get the Christian movement going.” Think about it. How did any kind of a beginning come out of such a disastrous end—let alone a beginning that would change the face of the world? How did this Jesus—executed as a heretic and as a seducer of the people—come to be known as “Lord”? How could a condemned criminal and a disowned prophet become revered as “Savior”? How could this blasphemer come to be called “the Son of God”?

Lastly, how could such an utterly defeated group of hammerheads emerge proclaiming not only the Gospel of Jesus, but Jesus himself as the Gospel? [King Oehmig in “Synthesis: A Weekly Resource for Preaching”, April, 2014.] Because God intervened in history, directed the angels to the women and changed the destiny of humanity. God’s love reigns, regardless of human failure.

Easter unlocks the power of new life, of life transformed into love beyond fear, beyond death. That’s why we are here. That’s Jesus resurrected, right behind us, urging us to live, fully live, for one another and for God’s reign in this world.