Homily “Easter Inside” by Rev. Douglas Taylor
In the bible, each of the four gospels offers a version of what happened on that morning. Mark’s Gospel ends most simply and mysteriously with the ‘empty tomb.’ Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb on the third day to anoint Jesus’ body. They discovered the stone had been moved already and an angel sat waiting for them, but no Jesus. The angel tells the women that Jesus is not here, that he has been raised. All of this is also reported (with various additions and adjustments) in the other three gospel narratives. The remarkable part of Mark’s version is that this is all he gives us: an empty tomb. Mark does not go on to show the risen Jesus in any way. We are left wondering … what happened to Jesus? Where is he? In Matthew, Luke, and John we are shown: Oh, there he is. But in Mark, it is left as just an empty tomb. It’s a new day. He could be anywhere!
As Rev. Root warned us in the reading (an excerpt from here: https://kara-root.blogspot.com/2012/04/unthinkable-alternative-aka-resurrected.html), “A Risen Lord is dangerous. Unpredictable. A Resurrected God means Jesus Christ could meet us anywhere. In anyone. At any time.” It is much the same message as in the story about the dwindling abbey, in which the rabbi says, “The Messiah is among you.” God could be anywhere, anyone.
And most dramatically, because of all that, the empty tomb signals that everything has changed. Easter is about transformation. It’s a new day. The empty tomb did not call the disciples to return to their old lives. It did not imply the oppressive regime has succeeded. Instead it declared the old ways finished. We can’t go back to normal. The tomb was empty. God could be anywhere now.
Allow me to step back for moment. I am sharing with you the Easter story as a non-Christian. I am looking at the deep message of resurrection and transformation, lifting up the ways this story reveals a life-giving word for anyone. We are atheists, pagans, Christians, mystics, Buddhists, Jews, and seekers together gathered for a moment around the central, holy story of our Christian siblings in faith. We see truths here that nourish us, whether or not we believe the story as fact.
The root message of Easter is transformation. Things are never going back to the way they were before. But we don’t exactly know what’s next. That was a frightening prospect.
We approach this story today from inside a global pandemic that will leave an indelible mark on us as a people. We may long for things to return to normal as soon as possible, yet we know deep down, things will never return to the way they were before. So, we hear this Easter story and wonder what might be possible.
In the Easter story, and echoed through countless interpretations and retellings, we hear that it is not only Jesus who has risen. The message he brought rises as well. And within each hearer there is a rising. In the midst of anguish and loss, amidst betrayal and denial, even through cruelty and death, … something rises. What if that message of love and promise, of hope and power – what if that message is true? The disciples asked themselves then and we ask it still today: What if God is still among us luring us, encouraging us, calling us to rise? The tomb was empty! God could be anywhere, in anyone.
My colleague Kendyl Gibbons posted her Easter message early, so I know she will be saying to her congregation: “What if we, too, on this Easter morning of Corona virus danger and death, are called to rise again, and make a new world? … This isn’t the first time the world has fallen apart — it just seems more devastating because it is ours.”
At the end of the narrative from Mark we read that Mary and the other women fled in terror. We too experience some terror in our situation today. The pandemic is revealing the seismic brokenness of our healthcare system, of our economic system, and of our political system. This brokenness in our society is revealed as the unnecessary and preventable suffering unfolding in front of us.
No, we do not want things to go back to normal. And, amazingly, here is the best part: The very things that are helping us survive this pandemic are the things we want in place on the other side of this pandemic. Love that knows no borders, creative solutions for isolation, and willing acts of compassion to care for the most vulnerable among us. We will carry each other through this together, we will rise with truth and with hope. For such are forces that the empire of Jesus’ time did not understand and that the empires of our time do not understand.
Yes, we will suffer. We will all lose someone. Our mutual well-being may weather this intact, but individuals among us will not. Some among us will perish. We will all suffer. The world we knew it is finished. And yet the tomb is empty. Which means the empire will not win. It is a new day, and we don’t know exactly what is next. And that is what faith is all about: it is a willingness to trust that we can rebuild a shattered world, trusting that we can do better this time; it is trusting each other to rise.
The sane response to what is going on is to feel lost, afraid, sad, and anxious. And that is where Easter finds us. It says, yes, the danger and cruelty are real; yet through it all, from somewhere deep inside and also from beyond us, the refrain continues: “Rise.” it calls to us of love and hope and power. “Rise,” spring sings to us as a sign and a promise. “Rise,” we hear in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. “Rise,” the refrain comes again and again in the Easter message. This dusty and lonely place of fear and loss will not last. “Rise.” We hear the call. It is for us to respond.
In a world without end, may it be so.