20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
There was this proper Presbyterian woman who had a parrot as a pet, and the parrot’s name was Polly. A nicer parrot you would never want; prim, polite, proper and pretty. There was only one problem; Polly had an awful habit: Whenever she met anyone, she would screech, “Whoopie, Charlie, I’m a good time girl!” She kept embarrassing her very proper owner, until one day, the Presbyterian parson called, old Reverend Weems. Sure enough, as he entered the apartment, Polly shouted, “Whoopie, Charlie, I’m a good time girl!” The reverend was shocked and so was Polly’s proper Presbyterian owner. “I’m so sorry, sir!” she said. “I think I can help you,” said the parson, “My dear friend, Reverend Wilson at First Baptist, keeps two parrots in his study at the church. They are very pious, upstanding parrots. In fact, all they do all day is pray!”
So she agreed, and old Parson Weems took poor misbehaving Polly to the Baptist Church. When he entered Reverend Wilson’s study, sure enough, the two parrots were deep in prayer. And sure enough, Polly screeched, “Whoopie, Charlie, I’m a good time girl!” Upon which the parson’s proper, pious parrots stirred, and one, with his wing, nudged the other energetically. “Hey, Luke, wake up; we finally got what we’ve been praying for!”
Which is one way of asking you on the morning of another Easter: What is it you are praying for in your life? What are the deepest, most passionate, the most heartfelt prayers you have this Easter? I ask this not just because it is one of the most important questions one person can ask another, but also because Easter is an event, a day more apt than any other to elicit from us our greatest hopes, our deepest dreams, our most ardent prayers.
Yet I wonder if we know enough first-hand of Easter joy and power. Do we know enough from our own lives of the hope and healing power that Easter holds? Or are we focused upon fires in our own spires?
I am convinced we all know enough of how hard and heartbreaking life can be. Earlier this week, we all once again realized how hard and heartbreaking life can be as we watched the burning of a cathedral in Paris. The spire on fire!
It seems that we are conditioned by our leaders and our news to be violently tribal, the fires toppling Paris’ iconic spire burn away the many and common trivial territorial impulses—and we are left with just our naked, unadorned oneness. We are left with the reality that we are all in this together, despite the story some might tell. In truth, there is no “caring for our own” to ever be done here—because we all a singular interdependent community, that is strengthened or weakened by everything we endure and cause others to endure in both obviously important and in seemingly insignificant ways.
The sadness of this day is not bound by borders, the sense of attrition not limited to a single language, our reverence for the consumed beauty not contained by geography.
We all see the destruction and we all feel it.
It isn’t just wood and glass and concrete giving way today, it is a sustained wound to our shared humanity—one we would do well to remember.
There is nothing we do or create or feel or breathe individually or collectively, that doesn’t touch the rest of us. The best of our faith traditions, the greatest of our Constitutions, the most profound expressions of our creativity, and our most noble personal convictions tell us that we are inextricably bound together. Not just during the destruction of this house of worship, but especially on today, Easter.
But do we know enough about Easter? Really, truly, the message of Easter is the one we really need, and it can rush in upon us and take hold of us, if we are open to it. Into the middle of our lives comes today this tiny, little sermon from Mary Magdalene – the first, the shortest, the fullest Easter sermon ever. It was really that simple. Mary ran from her garden encounter and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” It is all you need to know about Easter, if we can catch Mary’s message at its heart.
Mary said something she knew firsthand. “I have seen the Lord.” You can always tell if someone who is speaking has experienced whatever that one is talking of firsthand. The pulpit is always a place where more than words are seen. You cannot speak with any authority or force about something that has never happened to you. Mary was simply sharing what she had experienced. “I have seen the Lord.” All the highfalutin’ arguments cannot change the power of that simple truth. Desmond Tutu once said, “A simple truth is more powerful than all the armies of the world.”
This is the one “simple truth,” I want you to know today: The reality of the resurrection can belong to you. Indeed, if this is truly to be Easter, it must belong to you! You cannot live on another’s faith.
Today is an opportunity for each of us to take hold of this message. An opportunity for us to grasp faith in Christ for ourselves. An opportunity to believe the good news of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus! A word of hope that extends far beyond our greatest hopes, our deepest dreams, and our most ardent prayers. A day that demonstrates God’s power over fire, destruction, loss, sin and death.
About 400 AD, a preacher in Constinople shared these words about today:
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
May we, also proclaim these words of hope, “I have seen the Lord” in a world that desperately needs good news especially as we continue to see spires on fire throughout the world and in our community! He is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed!!
Commentary provided by Billy Graham, Mariann Edgar Budde, David Lose, NT Wright, Todd B. Jones, John Pavlovitz and John Chrysostom.