(a meditation for Easter Sunrise 2019, based on John 20:1-18)
“Christ is risen – he is risen indeed!”
Friends, that is the ancient greeting of this day, the clarion call and response of our Easter celebration. Moreover, in one single proclamation, it encompasses the incredible, earth shaking good news that brings people of faith the world over together in triumph and victory: from small clusters of people sharing the chill of early morning on hillsides and shorelines to the multitudes who even now are gathering in sanctuaries and cathedrals filled with flowers and song. It’s the curious, the seeking and the believing together as one, all seeking out an empty tomb and a word of rejoicing from angels in dazzling white. This is the “Day of Resurrection, “ and it truly unites us: for no matter our background, nationality, language, politics, tradition or even our denominational affiliation (!), as Christians we share at least this much in common: the liberating and unifying gift of divine redemption in which we gladly proclaim, “Christ is risen–he is risen indeed!”
It’s a proclamation borne out of a singular moment: a happening, a one of a kind event and an old and familiar story in which we know the “where and when” so well, and yet never fails to stir our hearts in the retelling. Mary Magdalene approaching the tomb “while it was still dark,” coming to this place that didn’t simply represent death, it epitomized the loss of any kind of hope; her discovery that the stone that sealed the tomb had been rolled away: Peter and John literally racing to the tomb so to investigate, only to find it empty, save for the burial linens, and then – almost inexplicably – going back home, presumably to ponder what might just have happened (!); and then there’s Mary, all alone and weeping outside the tomb encountering someone she assumed to be the gardener but then realizing (when he called her by name!) that this was, in fact, Jesus himself, risen from death!
“I have seen the Lord!” says Mary to the disciples, and as we tell her story once again this morning it is as though we have seen him as well. Yes, we know very well what happened on that day so long ago; even the smallest of details in this story resonate with us. The fact is, we know how to tell the story; after all, as Christians this is the culmination of our Lenten journey to the cross and beyond! So we know all about Easter; and we do know that “Christ is Risen Indeed…”
…but the harder thing for us to understand is why.
I don’t know about you, friends, but I have to confess that even as we’re out here “in the wee hours” shouting our alleluias and sharing ancient greetings I’m, well… humbled. I mean, we’re singing songs of praise and giving prayerful thanks for love and light and life, but even in all of that I find myself wondering how, in the face of the most indescribably wondrous and miraculous event in all of human history, God saw fit to make it happen; how God would sacrifice Jesus on the cross and then raise him up in Easter glory. What did it mean to do that… truly, what does it mean?
Truly, we know that Christ the Lord is risen today – Aleluia! – but perhaps the bigger question is why, and for whom? For whom is Christ risen today?
It would be easy for me to proclaim that Christ is risen for you and for me who are seeking to be faithful and live life with integrity and purpose and love… Christ is risen indeed for those who seek to live in the light! But… can the same be said for those struggling in the darkness of life… and the darkness of the soul? Is Christ risen for the prisoner alone in her cell trying to find some kind of way to put her life back together? Is Christ risen for children born the midst of poverty, or who live in fear of violence every single day of their lives? Is Christ risen for the one who’s suddenly facing the loss of a cherished relationship or the destruction of a home? Is Christ risen for those who struggle with disease, for those who grieve, for those who are lost or confused about their lives, for those who have felt every day and in every way judged and marginalized and disenfranchised? Is Christ risen for those for whom death, in all of its many guises, is a way of life?
And the answer is… yes!
For those, as scripture might put it, who are “dwelling in deep darkness,” it is hard to conceive that Christ is risen, that death has been defeated and that life is new; but it is precisely these for whom Christ has most surely risen. Beloved, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead for all those who dwell in the darkness that they might have the light of life!
For me, one of the most powerful elements of the Easter story is how it happens “while it was still dark,” the time that’s no longer night but yet morning. Darkness, by its very nature, is the time for grief and hopelessness, but Christ arose to banish that darkness forever; because of the resurrection the light of a new day shone forth and life began anew with infinite possibilities; resurrection is the the only way it could have happened!
Truly, the risen Christ comes to us in risen glory to banish our darkness, yours and mine; he comes in the middle of our sin, our pain, our regret and our grieving for all that has been lost in the midst of it all. Jesus Christ is risen to assure us once and for all that we need not fear, because now, at last, darkness is done and the day has come! The power of death has been defeated forever, and life has prevailed; and you and I and everyone who dwells in the deep darkness can now rejoice in the light; for a new day has dawned, a day of resurrection alive with the power of divine and limitless HOPE!
For whom is Christ risen today? Quite simply, Christ is risen for all those who need to experience that divine rebirth of heart and spirit. Christ is risen for all those who know deep within their souls that the night, as dark and horrible as it has been, is now over, and a new day ripe with joy and celebration is about to begin. For all the hymns sung today, for all the lilies blooming in our sanctuaries, for all the fellowship that’s to be shared amongst families and friends it can scarcely begin to express the true scope of Easter joy that comes in the resurrection. Ultimately, it’s a gift that we’ve neither earned nor deserve, and yet it’s ours by the grace of an infinitely loving God.
And what can you say to this, except that… “Christ is risen… he is risen indeed!”
This is a great and glorious morning, beloved… and the wondrous good news of Christ’s resurrection is ours to proclaim! So let us go forth today doing just that in our worship, our celebration and the opportunity we have here, now and in every new day from now on, to live in the light of life we’ve been given. We have seen the Lord, beloved, so let us not be reluctant, but bold to share that news to all the world, and for the sake of all who are still mired in darkness and who need to know what light and life and resurrection truly is.
One more time, then… Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!
Alleulia, and AMEN!
c. 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry