Scripture: John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
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. So 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." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing. - Frederick Buechner
"Good Friday," writes Barbara Brown Taylor, "is verifiable, then and now. It is where we live, in the land of betrayal, corruption, violence, and death. Easter, on the other hand, is a rumor by comparison."
No one actually witnessed Jesus' actual resurrection -- that moment when a dead, lifeless body became a new, mysterious, living reality. We are left with empty tombs and "somebody saw something" kinds of stories. The gospel accounts tell us of angels and bits of cloth and chance encounters. Jesus shows up here and there -- but much of the time his followers do not recognize him and then, just when they finally start to realize what is before them -- he is gone.
The resurrection faith came slowly to the first disciples. They could not seem to make heads or tails of it. They remained troubled and confused -- not quite sure what to do with this fleeting rumor in a world accustomed to violence and death.
For those earliest followers, that first Easter was tentative and unfathomable. It entered into their lives bit by bit, moment by moment. Slowly, a fragile little community began to discover the risen Jesus not only in cemetery gardens and on dusty roads, but also in the face of each other. In the midst of ugliness, bitterness, and brokenness, they began to recognize grace, peace, and love let loose upon the world.
Easter came slowly on that first resurrection morning long ago, but when it came, it changed everything.
Last year, Easter arrived early for us in Newtown. It showed up on or about December 15th, 2012. We got up that morning knowing all too well that we lived in a land of corruption, violence, and death. We were overwhelmed by horrific grief and unimaginable tragedy.
But even in those earliest moments of a still long journey, we began to encounter fleeting bits of what I can only describe as the Risen Christ. Moments of compassion and grace that testified, even in our darkest hour, that the worst thing is never the last thing.
"She went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord.'"
O Risen One: Help us to recognize Your presence in the fleeting moments of our lives. Give us minds, hearts, and spirits to recognize and embrace Your life-transforming Spirit in the midst of our joys and our sorrows. This Easter and every day, grant us the grace to trust in Your resurrection promise: that the worst thing is never the last thing. Amen.