Early 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. (John 20:1)
Mary had been restless all night. Her heart is broken, her world shattered. Finally, just before the sky begins to lighten, Mary gives up on sleep. Her heart is heavy with grief as she gets out of bed. She gathers up oils and spices, wraps her cloak around her and makes her way through the empty streets of town toward where Jesus is buried. At the edge of town, the dusty cobblestone streets turn to a dirt path and then after a while, the path is gone and she’s making her way through tall grasses.
Some say Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that morning with a basket full of hardboiled eggs – after the tomb, she would bring breakfast to the disciples, who had also been awake all night, grieving. Some say when Mary arrives, she sees the tomb is empty, and she glances down at her eggs to find they have all turned bright red, signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit. Many icons of Mary Magdalene show her with a red egg in her hand, and, some say, this is why we color eggs at Easter.
When Mary arrives at the tomb where Jesus has been laid, her feet and the bottom of her skirts are wet with dew. She doesn’t notice. She doesn’t notice much right then. Not the setting of the full moon and the sense of light about to return. Not the sounds of the birds as they begin to stir. She doesn’t notice anything except her heart, broken into a million pieces. The feeling that everything is gone and nothing will be ok ever again. But she is focused on what she needs to do; prepared to beg, borrow or steal, to find someone to help her roll away the stone in front of the tomb. For as much as she’s dreading it, it will help just to be near him one last time.
There are countless stories about what happened that first Easter morning. Our Gospels tell four different versions of the events. Of course, in the end, it’s not the facts that matter, it’s the meaning we find. But no matter how the events of this day are being told, the story always includes this detail: stone is somehow already rolled away that morning and the tomb empty.
We are trained to think of “empty” as a negative. We describe “emptiness” as an unwelcome emotion and we don’t like the idea of things like an empty hands or an empty cup. We always want to fill things up! What Easter asks us to do is to shift our thinking and look with new eyes. Because the entire reason we’re gathered together here this morning is centered around what is empty. Our greatest communal story is based on what is not there.
If a person didn’t know the whole story, this would all look like total destruction. Easter says, “Look closer.” The tomb was only empty of violence and death. But it was so full: of hope and love and new beginnings. Full of life’s greatest miracles.
Easter actually asks a lot of us. At Christmas, all we have to do is cozy up near a fire, watch the snow fall, and wait for that baby to be born. But Easter. Easter has a to-do list for us. Easter asks us to actively participate.
Easter asks us to be brave and strong. To look even the most difficult situations straight the face and say, “You will not have the last word. God and I are writing this story together, and I know if it doesn’t end well, it’s not the end.”
Easter asks us to see beyond ourselves to something bigger. To remember that for a seed to fulfill its greatest purpose in life, it must break open. For a caterpillar to become a butterfly it must first die.
Easter asks us to carry hope. To know we have Good Fridays in life, and we have Easter Sundays. Easter asks us to believe, no matter what, that Easter Sundays will always come.
Environmentalist John Muir once said, speaking with awe of the holiness he saw always unfolding in the world, “This is still the morning of creation.” I invite you to consider that every morning is the morning of resurrection. Every morning we wake up to new life, and every breath we take is the opportunity to live into it. Every morning is opportunity to see transformation where we had imagined only destruction and decay; to find hope where we’d thought there was none.
I invite you to consider the idea of resurrection not as a theological point to debate, but as something deeply personal. Something to weave into your living; into the ways you act and react. Something between you and your God, but also very relevant here and now. And that was always Jesus’ point, wasn’t it? Here and now. On earth as it is in heaven.
Another ask: Easter asks us to expect miracles. To look for them. To recognize them. And to partner with God in creating them: transforming despair into hope, apathy into compassion, hate into love, and death into new life - for ourselves, and for those around us. Easter says, “See with awe the world around you. Create awe in the lives of the people around you.” Jesus showed us how to live this and then told us to “go and do likewise.”
It has been said that the “proof” Jesus was raised from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the hearts of people who take in the story. The evidence that Jesus lives is not a dark and vacant grave, but people who carry light into the darkest corners of the world. Our world is desperate for the hope of Easter, and we are the ones who must keep it alive.
And that’s the final thing Easter asks of you. Not to believe or not believe... we’re asked to LIVE into all of this. To pick up where Jesus left off. To work with God in turning emptiness into hope. To allow space for endings to become beginnings. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to hang around an empty tomb and worship him - or even to create a church, to be honest. He told them to go out into the world and meet him there.
A Jesuit man named Pratap Naik wrote: “Each time we love again after having our love rejected, we share in the power of the resurrection. Each time we hope again after having our hope smashed to pieces, we share in the power of the resurrection. Each time we pick up the pieces, wipe our tears, face the sun and start again, we share in the power of the resurrection.”
Resurrection is something to be experienced and lived. It happens any time you are able to show someone that their “emptiness” is not empty at all. Anyone time you offer someone care, understanding, compassion, or forgiveness in such a way that you roll away their stones and open the possibility of new life. It happens each time we live our lives in a way that shows death, of body, mind, or spirit, never has the last word; that Love always wins.
This is still the morning of resurrection. Roll away your stones. Stand in the bright sunlight. Notice that the eggs in your basket have turned bright red, because the Holy Spirit is all around you. Recognize Jesus standing next to you, and then meet him out in the world. See that what looked like “emptiness” is actually abundance overflowing. And then join with God in creating a world where people honor one another; where everyone is treated with dignity and care regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual identity, or social status; and where joy is found in all life, including animals, plants, water, air, and land. On earth as it is in heaven.
This is still the morning of resurrection, and today reminds us that resurrection is ours to live and share. Let’s raise our voices together: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Fr. Pratap Naik, S.J., Goa, India.
The Rev. Lisa Weins Heinsohn, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Minneapolis, MM