This morning we proclaim the end of one story and the beginning of another: Christ crucified…and risen. Every year it is the same joyous shout, “Christ is risen!” But then our alleluias get drowned out by other shouts: shouts of contention and hatred, of fear, pain or confusion. Relationships still founder and break. People still die. We still get anxious. We still worry. Our hearts and bodies still get sick, whether from physical ailments or from the burdens of the world. Strife and violence still stalk us. Yet every year, by that ancient formula of the first Sunday after the full moon following the Spring equinox, Easter arrives, and we joyously proclaim, “Christ is risen!” But we can also proclaim our intention to live differently despite the reality around us because of the greater reality of this Day. Christ is right here beside and within us—because of this Day. Easter is about the end of life as we know it, and the beginning of something new and incredible beyond it.
Some people, steeped in science, reason and logic, find Easter to be nonsense—just wishful thinking, something for gullible people. But the discovery the women made at the empty tomb on that first Easter morning literally changed the world, and has become the hinge of history. No, we have no “evidence” that would satisfy the modern-day sceptics and worshippers of science. What we have is an empty tomb. And this is where today’s story begins. The Sabbath has ended. It is the first day of the week, at first light, and the women come to the sepulchre with the spices they have prepared to anoint the body of Jesus. To their horror, they find that the great stone that had covered the mouth of the tomb has been rolled away! And when they go inside, their worst fears are confirmed, as they find that the body is not there! Instead, they find two men in dazzling array who ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen!”
The astonished women run to tell the disciples. But when they relay their news of what they have seen and learned inside that tomb – that empty tomb – the disciples don’t believe them! “These words seemed to them an idle tale,” as St Luke says. You see, there is a vast difference between standing in the empty tomb, as the women had done, and standing outside. The view is different. The perspective is different. One sees different things. One sees things differently.
You probably have all seen the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz.” One of the most impressive scenes in that movie is Dorothy’s entrance into the Land of Oz. Up to this point, the story is filmed in sepia. But at the moment when she steps across the threshold into this mystical new world, those old sepia tones change to brilliant Technicolor. The humdrum, weather-beaten world gives way to a boldly colourful magical land, where everything is strangely beautiful—the same, only different. This is the transformation we celebrate at Easter.
The thread of dramatic change and reversal is woven throughout the Church’s Holy Week liturgies. They lead us through the chaotic waters of creation, over the rainbow to the saving waters of Baptism; they carry us safely through the threatening sea and the barren wilderness to the Promised Land of hope and peace; they move us out of terrifying darkness into the gladsome light of a new day. God has provided a Lamb. Come to the waters, come and eat. The dry bones shall live again. In sepia colours, they bring us to the verge of a vista of the glorious City, New Jerusalem. But this is not some fanciful dream. It is real—as real as life and death, as real as our death and new life. And we are transformed into new people.
The myrrh-bearing women had followed Jesus from His trial to His crucifixion on that rocky hill outside Jerusalem. They had stayed with Him at the cross, and they were the first witnesses to His resurrection. They had faithfully walked the Way of the Cross, and so had eyes to see the heavenly messengers where they had expected to see a dead body, and ears to hear them ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!” And they believed. Their view – their perspective – was transformed into an Easter faith. And so began the most extraordinary event in history—Pascha or Easter Day. To those who have not dedicated time and effort to develop an understanding of God, such religious talk sounds like mythology. But the Paschal mystery is not something that we must try to solve. Rather, the mystery takes hold of us and draws us into it. Christ’s Resurrection defies medicine, logic, and science; yet it affects the whole history of the human race at all times and in all places.
Easter is the foundation of the Christian Faith. As Christians, we view this earthly life as just the beginning—a dress rehearsal for the real thing. Many people avoid dealing with the mystery of life and death by filling their lives with constant noise and distractions. But we can have all sorts of life experiences, and miss the true meaning of life. We can be thrilled and entertained, travel the world and purchase many possessions, but fail to examine life’s greatest horizon and learn to know and love the Author of Life. We can avoid people who are dying, denying our own mortality, and claim that religious questions are unanswerable and irrelevant. But in the end, we will discover a profound loneliness when death approaches, and come to realize only too late that we have no hope or peace, if we have no relationship with the risen Christ.
As we read through the Bible, from beginning to end, we discover that there is one unifying theme throughout—that God is constantly reaching out, in spite of human sin and perfidy. Finally, God actually came to dwell in our human flesh and become one of us. Jesus took upon Himself the condemnation of humanity, suffered the death that we deserve and was publicly executed in the most degrading way. Through His death and resurrection, God reached out to bring us back into relationship with Him. ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ The Resurrection icon (the harrowing of hell) shows our Lord bursting the bars of death, with hands outstretched, bringing Adam and the Old Testament saints with Him. This day celebrates the assurance that that same divine energy whereby Christ rose from the grave is available to us today. And therein lies our hope. Christ is risen! And in His resurrection He reaches out—even to us, and we rise to new life with Him. But Christianity is not Christianity unless we too reach out. No one human action will solve all the unspeakable problems that besiege our world. But every kind word and act of Christian love is part of the great cosmic drama inspired by God’s reaching out to us when Christ rose from the grave. The risen Christ yet reaches out through the Church, His Body on earth. He is ever present as we reach outand support one another. Easter is about OUR resurrection, and reaching out in the Name of Christ is the doorway to the Kingdom of heaven itself.
The apostles were frightened. When the women came to tell them the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, they did not believe them! And when Peter did get up and run to the tomb to see for himself, did he go inside? No. According to the Gospel, he stayed outside, stooping to look in. Now there is a world of difference between standing outside looking at the tomb, and standing inside that tomb with our resurrected Lord. One is to be stuck in the events of Good Friday, in the known, the seen, the things of this world, while the other is the place of an Easter faith, a conviction of things almost too wonderful to be believed: the loving-kindness and grace of God, forgiveness of sins, eternal life. It is the triumph of joy over disappointment, of hope over despair. It is the Faith of Easter, which knows the agony of Good Friday, but knows that that is not the end of the story. Sooner or later each one of us will know the pain of losing someone we love. And we will ultimately come face to face with our own mortality. But the Paschal mystery gives us our greatest hope even in the face of our greatest fear. Because Christ is risen!
When we stand where Peter stood, looking into the sepulchre with the eyes of our own doubts and disbelief, what will we see? We will see only a dark cavern, shadows and dust, an empty tomb. But when we earnestly seek our Lord, enter that tomb and stand with Him in the darkness, what then will we see? We will still see the emptiness; but more importantly, we will know the reason for that emptiness. It is an emptiness not of doubt, despair, and disbelief, but an emptiness that heralds something completely new, a triumph over the impossible, a hope and promise beyond our wildest imagination. This morning we proclaim Christ crucified and risen. But we also proclaim ourselves crucified and risen with him. And when we look past the darkness of the tomb, and step out again into the world outside, it will be a different world – a brilliant Technicolor world, the world of Easter faith and life.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13.20-21)”