Fr. John Allison
April 17, 2022
Christ Church, Hudson
“Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!”
Today, we joyfully proclaim the Good News of Resurrection. Our “Alleluias” have returned to their rightful places in the liturgy and there is a palpable sense of triumph. Mission accomplished. Christ has triumphed over death, and in his victory we are saved.
For Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter and the other disciple, however, what has happened on this morning of the Resurrection is not so clear. When Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and sees the stone rolled away from the entrance she believes Jesus body has been stolen. When she tells Simon Peter and the other disciple and they race to the tomb and find the burial cloth and linen wrappings folded in the tomb, John tells us that the disciple saw and believed but then adds, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” This disciple who sees and believes is the Beloved Disciple who sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper, the same disciple in whom Jesus confided regarding his betrayal by Judas and the same disciple to whom Jesus had entrusted the care of his mother. This Beloved Disciple sees and believes, we are told, but then returns to his home. He sees and believes but does not yet understand. Only Mary Magdalene, left alone weeping, will begin to grasp the implication of the empty tomb, and that happens only when she waits there, despite her perplexity.
It’s not when she peers into the tomb and sees the two angels sitting where the body had been; in fact, she still seems to be under the impression that Jesus’ body has been stolen: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” And it is not even when Jesus first appears to her; she mistakes him for the gardener. No. Mary recognizes Jesus, the Risen Christ, only when he calls her name: “Mary!” It’s only then that she sees him, really sees him and recognizes him and begins to understand.
I think it is something like that for all of us. We say we believe, but then we must admit that we do not always understand. Jesus appears to us, but we do not always at first recognize him. Indeed, over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing other accounts of the Risen Christ and see that his identity is not always so easily recognized or understood. For Mary Magdalene, this act of recognition hinges on two things. First, Mary waits. In spite of not understanding what has happened to Jesus’ body, she waits at the empty tomb, perhaps in grief but also, I think, because she had hope. There is a phrase from an 11th century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, that I’m reminded of as I imagine Mary there waiting at the tomb: Faith seeking understanding. For many of us, and I think this could be said of the people of Jesus’ time just as easily as our own, we look for proof to determine what we believe. For Anselm faith demands that we begin from a different point. He said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe but, rather, I believe in order that I may understand.” Maybe, instead of proving something, the Easter stories show us something, something that has always been true but that we often do not see. I think that’s what happened for Mary Magdalene and when we hear the story of her encounter with the Risen Christ we are invited to see with new eyes, with Easter eyes, to borrow the phrase from Mother Kathleen’s sermon last night.
John’s account today of this first appearance hinges on another point: that Jesus calls Mary by name. In some ways it echoes the story of the Good Shepherd that occurs earlier in John’s Gospel: “The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3). Jesus calls us each by name. He comes to us, each in a particular way and place and time. He calls ——. He calls —-. He calls —. We each understand and live into that call in ways that are unique to who we are.
In his calling of Mary, Christ gives her a task to do—Go and tell the other disciples. It is for this reason that Mary Magdalene is sometimes known as the apostle to the apostles. Jesus comes to her and gives her great responsibility as the first to share the Good News of his Resurrection. It’s the same responsibility that we all share as disciples and bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
John tells us that all of this, the empty tomb and the Risen Jesus’ first appearance all happened on the first day of the week—Sunday. This understanding of the seven day week is, of course, still with us today and has it’s origin in the story of the seven days of creation, as we heard at the Vigil last night, but in the early Church, and in the Eastern Orthodox churches to this day, Sunday, the day of Resurrection, is sometimes spoken of as the eighth day. In that designation, we acknowledge that in Christ there is a NEW creation. In Christ, in our baptism in his name, WE are a new creation. Sunday is both the first day and the last, the beginning and the end, the point toward which all creation journeys, the day of Resurrection—the day in which all things in heaven and earth are reconciled in Christ. It’s why our baptismal font, and most baptismal fonts in general, have eight sides. This is the eighth day.
Today, and throughout the Easter season, we are invited to reflect on how we are made new in Christ, on how we are raised with Christ. Through baptism we are a new creation. That’s why last night at the Vigil, we renewed our Baptismal covenant. We recited together what we believe, and we recited together what we are called to DO as we embody that belief. That is our mission together as the Body of Christ—to believe and to do.
To believe, comes from a root word that means to love, to give one’s heart. To believe in Christ’s Resurrection is to give one’s heart to the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. We give our hearts to Jesus’ story every time we see him in the “crucified” of our world—in the homeless and destitute, in the victims of war and hate, in those who suffer racism and oppression, in the lonely and in the sick. We give our hearts to the story of his resurrection, of being raised to new life, as we are sent out, like Mary Magdalene and the other apostles, to share God’s love. To sit at the empty tomb, waiting, expecting, even though we might not fully understand. That’s when Jesus came to Mary and called her by name; that’s when she was able to really see Jesus and to hear his call to her.
At the end of the Gospel reading Jesus tells Mary, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary hears Jesus call her name, and he sends her out to proclaim the Good News of his Resurrection. On this most joyous Easter, may we, all of us, hear the Risen Christ call us and go forth to share the truth of his love—in our hearts and in our actions.
I’m going to close with a prayer from Pope Francis that I think is especially appropriate as we contemplate how we are to called to be an Easter people. Let us pray:
Loving God, grant that we may live the Gospel, discovering Christ in each human being, recognizing him crucified in the sufferings of the abandoned and forgotten of our world, and risen in each brother or sister who makes a new start. Amen.