Easter Day, 2015
April 5
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Saint John 20:1-18

This is the Day that preachers yearn to see. This is the Day when we get our chance to show the many people that are here that the preaching is pretty good on the other fifty-one Sundays of the year.

Despite the great music, the beautiful flowers, and the people, this is the Day that we all can relax. The Day is out of our control. And it’s out of our understanding. We preach what cannot be proved unless you know the Lord, and if you do, we preach the undeniable and the incontrovertible.

For this is the Day of the Resurrection, when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father. As the Psalmist wrote so long ago and as we have just said together: “On this day the Lord has acted; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.”[1] Today marks God’s action. We can stare into the empty tomb with Peter, John, who is the disciple who Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene. And we can relax in what God has done.

Christians have it easy when you think of it. We’ve just finished Lent with its special disciplines and special demands, but they seem to me pale and weak when you consider Islam’s Ramadan, the ninth month, the sacred month, in their year when they fast every day from dawn to sunset. And in Islam, don’t forget, no spirits or wine is permitted on any day of the year, three hundred sixty-five days of the year. Christians enjoy much freedom by comparison.

And we enjoy more freedom, I think, than the Jews, who now are celebrating Passover, a festival, which obliges them to eat unleavened bread, to eat particular foods, and to use special vessels for cooking and eating—all this in addition to the day-by-day separation of meat and dairy foods, and the necessity of keeping the Sabbath holy, of worshipping and doing no work on that day.

By comparison, we Christians have few demands. We have taken on the yoke of Christ, who invites us all to be part of him: “Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, and my load is light.”[2] We can relax today, because the yoke we bear is light. God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.

We’re given an example of how little we actually have to do when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. She goes to the tomb and discovers the stone to have been moved and the Lord to be missing. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”[3] She’s perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable. A rocket scientist could say the same. The empty tomb alone does not persuade her.

And as the proclamation of the Gospel continues, we hear the moving encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, whom she supposes is the Gardener. In her sadness and grief, and in her unbelief, she weeps. And a voice asks her, “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ Whom are you looking for?’” “‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me were you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” And she has only to recognize him.

He was the last person she expected to see. But he was the one standing right beside her. He does for her what she cannot do for herself. From time to time, more often than you might think, people visit me by night, as the Scriptures say of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus, and they ask, “How do I find the Lord in my life?” Like Mary, they see the empty tomb. They know the Lord is missing. They talk to gardeners, doctors, and family, but they want to know that they have seen the Lord, as Mary later announces to the disciples. The best I can say to them is that he makes himself known on his own schedule and often to people who least expect him—like Mary herself, supposing him to be the gardener. His yoke is easy. And his burden is light. He makes himself known even to those who do not believe, like Mary, who believes at first not in the resurrection but in the theft of the Lord’s body. He makes himself known to those who aren’t especially looking to find him. He makes himself known to those who hope and pray never to meet him. He makes himself known to those who, like Mary, will dedicate themselves to make his resurrection known. Many of the people who come to me by night have already seen the Lord. They just haven’t put the name to the face, just like Mary Magdalene.

So, it is good advice today, of all days, to relax. Even as we take our ease, the Gardener is approaching. Even as we go about our business, he is looking to meet us. Even as we celebrate with family and friends, he moves forward, humbly and quietly, to make our acquaintance. As Saint Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”[4] Alleluia! Christ is risen!

[1] Psalm 118:24.

[2] Saint Matthew 11:28-30.

[3] Saint John 20:2.

[4] Colossians 3:4.