In Georgia, where I grew up, winters usually did not include snow, not even flurries. Only once or twice during my entire childhood was there any accumulation at all, and that never lasted long. As a young man, I thought of snow as a rare and wonderful treat.
Enjoying snow was beaten out of me over the last few years. But I thought I had acclimated pretty well.
I was wrong.
Heading into last weekend, I thought the winter was finally over. Snow was still on the ground. But it was melting. The end was in sight.
And then, last weekend, it snowed again. Sigh . . . .
Thankfully, the snow is mostly gone now. Flowers are beginning to appear outside. I think—I say this with great hesitation—I think spring may be here.
And just in time. Because of course today is Easter. And Easter is the great holy day of springtime.
The dark days of winter are behind us (at least liturgically speaking). As of this morning, we are done with seven weeks of repentance during Lent. We are done walking the way of the cross during Holy Week.
Today we celebrate God’s victory over sin and evil and death. The tomb was empty. The Lord is risen. New life begins. Alleluia, alleluia.
It is not just that Christ was alive again, after having been dead, two thousand years ago. Christ is alive. Our resurrected Lord is here, with us right now, as we gather in his name, as we celebrate this day.
Today we rejoice in the risen life that Christ experienced two thousand years ago and that Christ continues to experience. Today we rejoice in the new life that Christ makes possible for us. I say it again: Alleluia, alleluia!
Our altar is covered in flowers that honor and remember and give thanks for important people in our lives. They are all with us in spirit.
Outside the flowers are not as dramatic, but they are there. Thanks be to God!
As the weather warms up, and the daylight lasts longer, and the snow melts away, and the flowers come out, as we begin to linger comfortably outside, we all feel at least a little bit of new life pulsing through us. That feeling is a taste of Easter, no matter how we describe it.
On this day, God invites us to enjoy that feeling of new life. God invites us to enjoy the taste of springtime. God invites us to enjoy the life we have now, as well as the eternal life promised to us.
Our readings for this morning, particularly our Old Testament readings, are full of the Easter invitation to joy and abundant life.
Isaiah describes God’s victory over death. And Isaiah ends with the Easter invitation: “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Our Psalm reminds us that the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. And it too ends with the Easter invitation: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Today is a time for joy and gladness, a time to affirm our faith in God’s love and God’s ultimate victory.
When Lent began on Ash Wednesday, nearly two months ago, many of us had ashes smeared on our heads and we heard the dreadful words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Our Bishop calls that one of the two great truths of Christianity.
But today we celebrate the second of the great truths of Christianity. As part of our celebration of the Eucharist, I invite you to receive an anointing with oil. And I will say, “Remember that God’s love is stronger than death, and to that love you are returning.”
The Easter invitation, the invitation that we gratefully accept this morning, is to live lives of joy and gladness, even in the face of tragedy and loss, because God’s love wins in the end. Christ’s resurrection proves it. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!
But today is also a challenge. God’s love, the new life of Jesus Christ, flows into us. The invitation is to enjoy the divine love and life. The challenge is to share that divine love and life with others.
We get the Easter challenge most clearly in Mark. The women have gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ. To their surprise, the stone is rolled away and sitting in the tomb is one described as a young man. The young man gives them the incredibly good news that Christ has been raised. And the young man tells them to go and tell others that Christ is risen, that Christ goes ahead of them, that they will see their risen Lord if only they follow.
What do the women do in response? “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
In that moment, the women were not able to hear the Easter invitation to great joy, nor were they able to accept the Easter challenge to share the grace and love of God with others. They were silent. They were afraid.
We know from the other gospels that the women rallied. They do tell Peter and the others. They and the others do meet Jesus Christ raised from the dead. And they all do go out to share the good news. We see a glimpse of that in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning.
But Mark does not describe any of that. Mark ends his gospel with the women still silent, still afraid.
When our Bishop was with us earlier this year, he connected this anticlimactic ending to the very first verse of the gospel. In its very first line, Mark describes his gospel as “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
As we come to the end of Mark this morning, we see that what Mark began sixteen chapters ago does not in fact end here. The gospel of Mark does not really end because the story of Christ has no ending.
In our gospel reading for this morning, we hear about the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord and the Easter challenge to share the good news. And we see that the Easter challenge is challenging.
And now the challenge is for us.
Now we face the question, what will we do? Will we accept the Easter challenge? Will we share the joy that we have received in whatever way is most appropriate for who we are?
The good news is that the Easter invitation and the Easter challenge are ultimately one and the same.
God invites us to lives of joy. And a truly joyful life includes service and love.
God challenges us to share the love revealed on Easter morning. And sharing God’s love is the surest path to true and authentic joy.
And so on this joyful morning, let us thank God for the gift of true joy and gladness in him. And let us commit ourselves to sharing that joy with others, so that our joy may be made complete.
In the name of our risen Lord, thanks be to God. Amen. Alleluia!