Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This traditional Christian Easter greeting is, when it comes down to it, everything you need to know about our faith. For us as Christians, everything is about Easter. Easter changes everything. If Christmas is like D-Day, Easter is VE-Day; if Christmas plants seeds, Easter is the harvest; what Christmas begins, Easter finishes. Easter changes everything.
Of course, in reality, these changes need to be discovered, absorbed, and accepted as true in order for them to have any meaning for us. I’m reminded of the stories of soldiers stuck for years on deserted islands who learn upon being rescued that the war that is still a reality in their own heads and hearts is only a distant memory in the outside world. And, I think, a lot of us live the same way. Easter has changed everything, but we’re still living as though the old rules apply.
This is one of the reasons why I love the quiet, tentative nature of the resurrection stories in the Gospels. They are not stories of triumph and joy, but stories of grief, confusion, and cautious hope. The first Christians trying to understand that what was happening that first Easter morning also had to take time to discover, absorb, and accept the reality of the resurrection.
In the Gospel according to John, Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb and runs to Peter in a panic: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him;” later, when she meets — but fails to recognize — the risen Jesus, she repeats the sentiment in more familiar words, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” While this sounds ‘quaint’ in light of our faith in the resurrection, this is not a stupid or faithless response on her part. Someone she loved was just conspired against, tortured, and executed and now his body has gone missing. Her concerned, fearful statement is, really, the only appropriate one available to her.
But, unbeknownst to her, God has changed the rules of the game. No one has stolen Jesus’ body. In fact, the entire set of assumptions upon which her accusation rest are now irrelevant. The political machinations among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots which had come together against Jesus, the iron fist of the Romans which had crucified him as a pretender to the throne — none of these players are relevant in the new game God has begun. The ancient cycles of violence have been broken; God has shattered the wheel of business as usual. Without knowing it, Mary is playing by an old, outdated rule-book.
No one has stolen Jesus’ body: God has raised him from the dead.
It’s easy for us to be just like Mary here. Two thousand years later, despite lots of retrospective fanfare and joyous proclamation, the resurrection remains a quiet event. Life goes on as it always has. On the surface, Easter changes nothing. And even those of us to claim the resurrection as the centrepiece of our faith are prone to living as though the old rules still apply. It’s funny to me that often in church disputes, you’ll hear one party piously echo Mary’s words in accusation against the other party: “They have taken away our Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” And yet, for us just as much as for Mary, the whole set of assumptions that lie behind that accusation is false. No one has taken away our Lord — no one can take away our Lord — for he is risen, just as he promised. We need to stop looking for Jesus in the tomb, among the dead and the things of this world that are passing away. We need to find and meet Jesus anew in the places where new life is emerging — places that will surprise us.
He is risen and he calls us to new life with him. And that new life is not punted into the future, or to a life after death, but begins today. We are called to toss aside the old rulebook of rivalry and politics and intrigue, and play by a new set of rules. We are called to live our lives, respond to our vocations, engage in politics and the marketplace, pursue our relationships, in the full light of the resurrection. God has done a new thing and we are a part of it.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Amen! Amen! Amen!
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