Last Sunday, again last Friday, we heard the awful story of Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. The bad guys had won. Once again, evil had prevailed.
At least that is how it seemed. The political leadership breathed a sigh of relief that the trouble was over at last. The religious leaders were congratulating themselves on their victory. The crowds were disappointed. Jesus’ disciples were in despair.
Like everyone else, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary assumed Jesus was dead, and it was over. After all, they had watched Jesus die. On that first Easter morning, the two Marys were not expecting resurrection. They went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ dead body.
What they found was something quite different. To their astonishment, the Marys found an empty tomb. They met an angel. They met the risen Lord. They were terrified. They were ecstatic.
That moment, that encounter on the first Easter morning, is the Christian gospel in a nutshell. The women went to what they thought was a place of death. And instead they met the living God.
What the women learned in that moment, what I suspect the women had to keep learning every day for the rest of their lives, what the women invite us to learn two thousand years later, is that God lives and that God reigns, even in places of death.
The women learned, and they invite us to learn, that Jesus Christ was alive that day two thousand years ago and that Jesus Christ is alive today. They learned, they invite us to learn, that death does not have the last word, that God brings life even out of death. They learned, they invite us to learn, that even though human power can be brutal, even though human suffering can be awful, still Christ is with us, Christ is at work, Christ will prevail.
Easter faith, Christian faith, is all about new life in God emerging out of death.
Six weeks ago we began the long process of getting ready for this morning. At our service that Wednesday evening, I marked everyone with ashes, and I said words that we all need to hear sometimes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
But Easter adds a new chapter. The great lesson of Easter is that death is not the end of the story. And so this morning, we will finish the story we began that evening. After Communion, I invite you to remain at the altar so that I can anoint you with holy oil. And I will say the Easter answer to the Ash Wednesday marking, the Easter good news that we all need to hear over and over again: “Remember that God’s love is stronger than death, and to that love, you are returning.”
Today we bask in that good news of great joy.
One of my favorite Easter moments actually happened last week. We had an Easter Egg hunt for our children, and there was a lot of joy. Our teachers did a wonderful job of teaching the children the Easter story first, which is not easy when an egg hunt is about to happen! Then the children charged around, looking for nearly a thousand eggs. It took nine minutes.
There is nothing theological about an egg hunt. But children hunting eggs are chock-full of Easter joy! The Easter Bunny mostly skips my house these days, so I was grateful for the opportunity to share some of the joy here.
That joy is an Easter gift, and we all need it. We all need a little resurrection in our lives. We all need a chance to experience the joy of Easter. We all need a chance to feel the good news.
We need that because life can be hard. Inevitably, we are often like the women that morning before they met Jesus. The suffering and death in our world can feel overwhelming. It sometimes seems like the best we can do is to grieve at the tomb. Sometimes grieving really is the best we can do.
But Easter is all about hope, hope for new life, hope in God who brings life even out of death.
And so an angel appears and tells the grieving women on that first Easter morning to “come and see,” to come see Jesus Christ, to come and be refreshed and renewed and restored, to come to the author of life and hope who keeps us going.
On this morning, that is our invitation too—to come and see, to come and share, to come and encounter our risen Lord, who is living and active.
Today we come together to hear again the good news that Christ is alive. Today we come together to rejoice. The great word for today is “Alleluia!”
Best of all, Easter joy ripples outwards. After the women come and see the risen Lord, the angel calls them “to go and tell,” to share the good news with Jesus’ disciples, to share the good news with a hurting world.
Come and see. Then go and tell.
Our task as Christian people is to be a beacon of hope in our world, even, especially, when it is hard to see hope. Our task as Christian people is to share the good news that the tomb is empty, no matter how it looks. Our task as Christian people is to share the good news that Christ is alive, that God is at work, and not just two thousand years ago, but still today.
Our brothers and sisters in Egypt are living this lesson right now. As many of you probably know, two Christian Churches were bombed last week, on Palm Sunday, killing dozens of people as they worshipped. The Christian community in Egypt is grieving. The Christian community around the world grieves with them.
And, the Christian community is carrying on. In Egypt, the Easter celebrations are, of course, muted. The tomb is all too real and all too full. But our Egyptian brothers and sisters are still observing the feast of the resurrection because that is what Christian people do. We are observing the feast of the resurrection because that is what we do. Today we observe the feast of the resurrection in solidarity with our Egyptian brothers and sisters, who are surely struggling to see resurrection this morning.
We rightly grieve when awful things happen in our world and in our lives. But resurrection is the deep truth of our faith. God’s dream of justice and peace and love is the deep truth of our world. And so, even when it is hard, even in the face of death, still we celebrate resurrection. No matter what, we celebrate the good news of great joy that Christ is alive, that Christ brings us new life in God, that Christ’s hand is at work in our world.
I invite you to spend some time this week looking for empty tombs, looking for resurrection and life and love where you might not expect to find it, looking for Jesus Christ, risen from the grave and shining with the love and the power of God.
And I give thanks to God for the good news of the tomb that was empty two thousand years ago, for the good news of empty tombs all around us, for the chance to worship Jesus Christ with great joy, and for the invitation to share that joy with others.
In the name of our risen Lord. Amen.