16 Apr 2017
“Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” (John 20:1)
In the name …
This past Monday when it hit an unseasonably hot 80° the last of my snow melted here on the church grounds. Maybe the white-stuff that I know so many of you love too reminds you of Christmas, but we really have no idea when Jesus was born. It could have been the winter, or it could have been the hottest day of summer. We just don’t know. But we do know that Jesus died at the time of the Jewish festival of Passover and we believe that He resurrected three days later. At the time of Jesus, the Jewish Sanhedrin would meet to determine the particular date of Passover. This was necessary because Passover wasn’t only a date on the calendar; Passover had to actually feel like Spring.
Now the day after the last snow melted, so this past Tuesday, the full moon graced our night sky. That’s why we’re here today celebrating Easter on this particular Sunday. The ancient church established the date of Easter as the Sunday following the first full moon following the Spring equinox. Once again, we run smack into the season of Spring. The church, like the Sanhedrin before it, decided that this celebration had to have the feel of Spring.
Then, as Christianity expanded into areas in Europe once recently filled with pagans who worshiped nature gods, the name Easter entered Christian vocabulary. Easter is a name that was associated with a goddess of Spring. So for the third time, the resurrection has been intertwined with Spring. Our religious ancestors saw the connection between the rebirth of nature and the resurrection of Jesus, thus all of these beautiful flowers in the Sanctuary. Spring is the season that celebrates life renewed, and Easter is our holiest celebration for the exact same reason: life renewed. Not only in the sense of death conquered, but life renewed even for the living.
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb expecting to encounter nothing but death. Life renewed was not on her radar. Instead, the stone has been rolled away from the entrance and she doesn’t really know what to do. Soon two of Jesus’ other disciples arrive, again, fully expecting to see nothing but death. They enter the tomb and there is no body there. We don’t know what Peter left thinking, but there’s no indication at all that he saw any hint of resurrection. Death is not an easy reality to ignore. But the Beloved Disciple is different. His time with Jesus changed him. The miracles, the stories, the teachings, the kindness, the forgiveness, the love, the peacefulness and the spirituality, they surprised the Beloved Disciple so many times during the life of Jesus that the Beloved Disciple was no longer surprised to be surprised. And because of this, with Mary outside the tomb weeping, Peter inside the tomb confused, the Beloved Disciple in a moment of glorious surprise, as told to us in the simple words of the Bible, “he saw and he believed.”
In that sacred instant, for the very first time anywhere, ever, an Easter faith was born. It was a moment of spiritual rebirth and refreshment. It was a spiritual Spring. It wasn’t only life renewed as in the promise of life after death. Easter for the Beloved Disciple was life refreshed right in the middle of life. He let himself be surprised by his Easter faith; he let himself be changed by his Easter faith. Remember, to this point in the Easter story no one has yet seen the resurrected Jesus. And this is intentional. Faith doesn’t require proof. This is about believing in Easter and letting ourselves be changed by this wondrous surprise because we have faith in a God of surprises.
We can be like Mary Magdalene outside the tomb weeping because she could only imagine Jesus’ dead body stolen and desecrated. We can be like Peter inside the tomb bewildered because he would not let himself hope in the Jesus he knew was more than a man. Or we can be the Beloved Disciple and let Jesus surprise us and change us. Mary and Peter, at least until this moment, are the same people they were on Good Friday, but the Beloved Disciple because he was willing to be surprised in his faith and to be led by Jesus, left that tomb a changed person. That’s what Easter can do to any of us when we let God surprise us. Think about the preposterous fact of a tortured, crucified and dead Jesus alive again and not only that, but living in the full glory of His divine nature as the Son of God. Surprise is an essential part of believing in this, because if it’s not, then we’ve really watered down the reality of that empty tomb. We’re asked to trust in God not in ourselves. If we’re not surprised by God, then maybe we need to ask ourselves if maybe we’ve slipped our thoughts and plans into the place that should be kept open for God. Surprise has to remain a part of Easter. And don’t be surprised when surprise leads to change.
Spring is the time when baseball starts again. The commissioner of baseball has faced constant questions about why the rules of the game keep changing. And he answers them by saying that he’s not changing the game, the game is changing. Things don’t stay the same, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the only way to hang on. Again, what separated the Beloved Disciple from both Peter and Mary Magdalene was that he was open to the change that made Easter real. He didn’t change Jesus; Jesus changed. The Jesus he once knew was gone, but Jesus was still there. He had to change with Jesus to keep Jesus.
There’s an awful lot of joy to be found if we are willing to believe and to be changed. Easter started in a dark tomb with once used burial clothes neatly folded and put aside, unneeded. Easter happened because even in a grave the Beloved Disciple could see life renewed. May we be blessed with that kind of faith, a faith that allows for surprises and expects change. A joyous day to all of us because Jesus is not dead, He’s here today and He’s wherever we’ll be tomorrow. In His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo