In the garden (Easter Sunday)

Good morning, Friends! Happy Easter! Welcome to Springfield Friends Meeting!

This isn’t Easter the way we normally celebrate it, with a crowded church and hundreds of voices singing together.

We’re in a strange period, when we’re all staying at home to help minimize the effects of the epidemic. Most people are well, but the number of cases is growing.

But in spite of the isolation and the anxiety, we are celebrating Easter. The good news is still the same, and we’re reaching out to share it.

Easter is a day of celebration. Jesus rose from the dead, and the world has never been the same.

But the first Easter morning, people were hiding. Jesus had been killed just three days earlier. His friends were scattered and isolated.

Their hope was gone. Nobody knew what was going to happen next.
But as we all know, something did happen.

It wasn’t what they expected. In fact, it was nothing they expected at all. They didn’t know what to make of it. I’m not sure we know what to make of it, even now. Here’s the Easter story, from the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and she saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

So Mary came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and she said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both of them were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the grave clothes lying there but did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the linen grave clothes lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The head cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the rest.

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. But they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

The time between three and six in the morning is the loneliest hour of the night. The long, slow grey time before sunrise seems to take forever.

That was when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.

Easter began, not with hymns and songs of joy, but with a solitary woman, who couldn’t sleep for grief, picking her way out to the cemetery in the chilliest, loneliest hour of the day.

And when she got there, the tomb was empty. Here was grief added to grief. She hardly knew what to do.

So the second thing, on Easter morning, she went running back to town, to get Peter and one of the other disciples to come and see what had happened.

Do you all remember Peter? Peter was the one who just three days before had denied even knowing Jesus.

So Peter and the other disciple took off on the run for the tomb. They didn’t even wait for Mary Magdalene – she had to catch up on her own.

When they got there, it was still that cold, grey hour before daybreak, and it was just as she said – the stone was rolled away.

When they stooped down to look into the hole, they saw some something that really shook them. The shroud was there, but the tomb was empty.

So the third thing that happened, that first Easter morning, was that two grown men stood staring into the tomb in the early morning light, scared, not sure what it all meant.

And then, with the light slowly growing, they got their courage together, and went into the tomb itself. As they looked more closely, they saw that the shroud wasn’t just empty, but that it had never even been unwrapped.

It was as if whoever had been in the shroud had simply left the grave behind, without even bothering to unwrap it.

It doesn’t say what Peter did then – but it does say that the other disciple, the one who had come with him, saw the empty tomb, and believed.

And as the dawn burst over the hills of Jerusalem, there in the place of death, hope burst into his heart. Hope, right in the tomb itself – that’s what Easter is all about.

It wasn’t till that very moment that they gave any thought to what Jesus had been saying for a long time, that he would rise from the dead. They’d been following him all that time, and they never understood or even heard what Jesus was saying about the life that was in him.

And then they went back home. They left without even a word to poor Mary, who had just caught up with them. They didn’t give her a word of comfort, not even a pat on the shoulder. Maybe they didn’t know what to say – maybe they could hardly believe what they’d seen themselves.

So there was Mary, weeping. And after a while, she just had to look, no matter how much it hurt her.

And when she looked, she thought she saw two figures in white – angels, people said later, when she told the story – standing where Jesus’ body had been.

And then she turned around, and there was Jesus himself, standing right by the entrance to the tomb. She didn’t know him – maybe she was blinded by her tears. And he asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Maybe she thought he was on the grounds crew, and had taken the body away someplace. She cried out, “Oh, please, if you’ve taken him, please tell me where, and I’ll go and get him!”

And then comes the great moment – the dialogue that only took one word on each side to be complete.

Jesus quietly called her name – “Mary!” And then, through her tears, at the entrance to the grave, she knew him, and called back, “Master!”

Just those two words – they were all that were needed. That is the heart of Easter – the living Christ calling a broken woman by name, and her reply. That’s all that was necessary.

As we live through the events of Easter, remember that scene. Two words – the living Christ who calls each of us by name, and our recognition, our reply.

Lots of things have grown out of that first Easter – songs and traditions, two thousand years of faith passed down and re-discovered in each generation. But two words started it all – the one word from the risen Christ, the other word from us.

Easter is all of those moments when Jesus seems to be dead and gone, but the tomb is empty instead.

Easter is all the times in our lives when we don’t know where Christ is, but he’s standing there, right by our side.

Easter is that moment when we hear God call us by name, and when we answer.

All of these moments are Easter, and Easter is whenever they take place – no matter where or when they happen.

Easter is now. Easter is wherever Jesus meets us, and it’s every time we discover that he’s alive.

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