Sunday’s Readings: Easter Day
This, the most joyful day of the Christian Year, the feast of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is the very cause of the Church’s being. Everything the Church has taught, confessed, and believed hinges upon this proclamation. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.
As if fearing even to question this central claim, St. Paul remarked: “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith have been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). To this he added an immediate and strong affirmation: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20). The long season of Lent and the sorrows of Holy Week are taken up in the final victory of Christ over death.
That is the Easter claim. And yet whether that claim finds a home in our hearts is, to be sure, another matter.
The resurrection is a part, though the culminating part, of a wider and complex story and a cluster of symbols associated with the days preceding the first Easter. Friday past, called Good Friday, is the day of Christ’s suffering and death, a moment of goodness difficult to grasp. Holy Saturday is the day of silence and solitude, the day when, hidden from view, Christ descended to the depths of death and hades. He suffered and died, and descended among the dead. Today, however, we say and proclaim and sing the resurrection of Christ. So it is, for instance, that a priest, in the final moments of a funeral liturgy, says with boldness and daring: “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Burial, 1979 BCP, pp. 482-83).
The proclamation of the resurrection is made quite clearly in the face of death. But doesn’t death mean the end? Isn’t death closure? Isn’t the body’s end dissolution and nothingness?
The answer is a story. When, according to St. John’s account, Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb, it was early on the first day of the week, still dark. She was surprised to see the stone carried away — a verb to consider again in a few moments. She reports this to Peter and the Beloved Disciple. The Beloved Disciple, arriving first, looks into the tomb, and sees the linen wrappings void of a body. Then, entering the tomb, he sees a second time and believes, but what he believes is unclear.
St. John says, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John. 20:9). Consider this supposition: That the Beloved Disciple believed Jesus was dead and his body was gone. The story picks up with Mary Magdalene, who sees two angels at the head and foot of where the body had been. Turning, she sees Jesus, but not recognizing him, and supposing him to be the gardener, she asks, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15).
She wants to carry his body, just as Joseph of Arimathea had earlier carried his body. These are gestures of love and profound devotion. Love demands that we stay with the dying and keep company with the dead, and feel the weight of loss. But there is more, something wrapped in a mystery I cannot unravel. Jesus calls Mary by her name. Only then does she know, only then does she believe.
Names are powerful. Yours is the sound by which Christ reveals himself today, as he did to Mary so long ago. He can speak you into his resurrection. Listen.
Look It Up
Read Acts 10:39: witnesses.
Think About It
He is your life.
Image: Tiziano Vecellio. (Le Titien. Titian) 1488-1576. Venise. Le Christ apparaît à Marie Madeleine après la Résurrection. Noli me tangere. vers 1514. Londres. National Gallery. jean louis mazieres/Flickr