Homily, Easter Sunday 2011
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.
The sequence we read today asks Mary Magdalene, “Tell us, oh Mary, what did you see on the way?” And she responds, “I saw the tomb of the now living Christ. I saw the glory of Christ now risen. I saw angels who gave witness; the cloths too which once had covered head and limbs. Christ my hope has risen. He will go before his own to Galilee.”
But I ask myself, what was Mary thinking as she went to the tomb that morning? Did she recall the stories his mother Mary would tell her? Was she thinking about the holy child wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger; now wrapped in a burial cloth and laid in a tomb? Was she thinking about the men who came from the East with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; and now myrrh was being used to anoint his body, the body she had once anointed with her tears? Was she thinking about the angels who proclaimed his birth and now wonder why Pilate had sent guards to watch him in death?
Why did Mary go to the tomb early that morning? As the sun rose on yet another day, the light of her life was lying in a tomb. He freed her from slavery to sin and then paid the price for those sins. He gave her new life in the spirit, and then she watched him die on Calvary. Though her sins were like scarlet, he had washed her clean and made her whiter than snow, and then she watched him hang on the cross, where blood would flow from his sacred wounds and where they would take him down to bury him behind a white stone rolled in front of a tomb.
Why did Mary follow him to the tomb? He told her he was the Way, but did she know the path would lead her here? He told his disciples to pick up their crosses and follow him, but did she know the way would be so hard? Did she know that the Way would not end here, that his suffering had meaning, that death was only a passage, that he could always bring good even out of the greatest evils? Did she remember what he said, "My yoke is easy, my burden light"?
What did Mary think when she saw that the stone had been rolled away? Was it hope or panic? Hope that he may be risen or panic that she would no longer see his body? She ran to Peter and John and said, "The Lord has been taken from the tomb! We don't know where they have put him!" Where is her faith? Did she doubt? She knew him to be a man of truth. She knew that he was always did what he said. Had she so soon forgotten what he said? "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Did she doubt him now?
Mary came to see. The stone had been rolled away by an angel, not by men - the guards were sleeping and the tomb lay open. And the tomb is empty, not because they have taken him but because Christ her hope is risen! The angel rolled away the stone, not to let him out but to let her in so that she could see the burial cloth wrapped neatly and placed in a place by itself, as if the one wearing it had removed it. Oh Mary, she has eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear.
Why did Mary weep? She knew that tears had always moved our Lord to pity - he would raise the dead because of tears, he would cure the sick because of tears, he would console and offer hope because of tears - and perhaps because of her tears he appeared to Mary first. "Woman, why are you weeping?" he would ask, "Whom do you seek?" And still she did not recognize him, still she failed to see that the one she sought was standing there in front of her - he was risen as he promised. He said that he was the good shepherd who called his sheep by name - indeed he knows each of us by name - and it was not until he called her by name that she would recognize him, "Mary."
What did Mary think when she heard him call her name? How did she feel when she saw the Risen One? She shouted out Teacher! and then clung to him - (we probably would have done the same). After the darkness of the night, here was her light. After the pain of separation, here he was - united with her again. After the great loss of Calvary, now the great victory. Tears of sorrow now turn to tears of joy. No wonder she clung to him. Faith has replaced doubt. Hope has replaced despair. Love has replaced loss. As St. Paul would say later, "the corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility... that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality... Death is swallowed up in victory... Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
Oh Mary, Christ our hope is Risen! The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal! Through him, we have been shown the Way, with him we now know the Truth, and in him we have been given a share in the very life of God.
Nineteen centuries following the witness of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, in Soviet Russia, shortly after the Communist revolution, the first thing the new communists tried to do was rid the people of religion. Atheism, after all, was the bedrock of their political system. In one particular village, a state official was appointed to this task, and he assembled the townspeople in the local meeting hall, where for a couple of hours he harangued them, denouncing Christianity and trying in particular to the debunk of the resurrection of Jesus. After a while, he felt confident with the job he had done, and the people seemed pretty subdued and submissive, so he generously offered the platform to anyone who might wish to refute him. A young Orthodox priest came forward. The official looked at the priest in disdain, and said, "I'll give you two minutes." The young priest responded, "I don't think I will need that long," . He approached the podium; suddenly he threw his hands into the air and bellowed at the top of his lungs, "Christ is risen!" And the whole crowd thundered back as one, "Christ is risen indeed! Christ is risen indeed!" The state official left as the cheer continued, all of his mere words failed miserably in the face of a people who knew Jesus Christ through faith - a people who placed their hope in his resurrection - a people who loved him with their whole hearts, mind and soul.
Now today, we gather as a community to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord in word and sacrament. We need to ask ourselves these questions, that were first answered by Mary Magdalene and the disciples of Christ, and reaffirmed through twenty centuries of faithful Christian people: Is Jesus Christ the Way in your life, and would you follow him to the tomb? Is Jesus Christ the Truth in your life, and will you trust him and follow his commandments? Is Jesus Christ the Life in your life, and do you turn to him for sustenance in his Word and Sacraments while waiting in hope for our own resurrection on the last day?
Mary Magdalene saw the glory of Christ now risen, and we have the opportunity to see that as well, if only we had eyes to see and ears to hear, so let us now proclaim with her and the angels and with all the saints who have gone before us: "Christ our hope is risen! Christ is Risen indeed!"
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