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The Reverend Kathleen Killian

Easter 2023

John 20:1-18

April 9th 2023

Easter Eyes 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. 

At last the Sabbath was over, and Mary Magdalene had to wait no longer to do what her grieving heart so ached to do. She set out in the last watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6am. Arriving in the shadowy half-light, her eyes widened to see what looked like an open tomb, and that the great stone had been rolled away. Her heart quickened—how could this be? Stunned, frightened, she ran to tell the other disciples, what she had seen, and not seen.

For all of our joyous acclamation this morning, Easter begins in the dark, with sorrowing, fear, and uncertainty. And the very first news of Easter was not really good news at all! Mary Magdalene brought terrible shocking news to the other disciples; that the tomb had been breached, and the body of their beloved Lord was missing. Even the words  “resurrection” or “risen” do not appear in our gospel, perhaps because new life must first gather itself in the dark; a seed in the earth, a child in the womb, Jesus in the tomb. Easter happens in the absence of light, because this is where it is needed most; as Mary Magdalene wept in her loss, so none of us weep without cause. 

The only thing we can know for certain about the Resurrection of Jesus is that no-one saw it—and if there was a sound—no-one heard it. A physical miracle, an ancient story, a spiritual metaphor, its all-of-the-above reality was born in the black of the night when God worked out in secret how to swallow up death forever, the tomb of Jesus becoming the womb of new and risen life in Christ.

As an Easter people, and like cats and owls, we must learn to see in the dark; to perceive light in the dark; life, in death; forgiveness, in hurt; wholeness, in brokenness; in the human, the divine; in the divine, the human. Everywhere and all around us—in you, your neighbor, in the budding trees outside, in the ants in the cracks of the sidewalks—the whole world is filled with God, who is shining even the darkest places of our lives.

I know, it is often difficult to recognize the presence of the Holy One amid the tangle of our lives and world, in countless personal and collective sufferings; but I would imagine that most everyone, if you have lived enough life, has had the experience of looking back to see that the stone has been rolled away; that what we thought was over, forever lost, and even unredeemable was somehow “eastered” and given new life. 

In our gospel passage, in the Greek, we find three words that mean “to see”; each meaning to see in a nuanced or unique way (theōreō, blepō, and horaō). When Mary first sees that the tomb had been opened; when Peter and the other disciple see that it is empty, when Mary sees the angels and who she thinks is the gardener, the word that is used implies they looked with physical eyes and from a distance, as a spectator or onlooker. But when the disciple whom Jesus loved sees and believes, and when Mary Magdalene announces— I have seen the Lord—St. John, our gospel writer, employs a new word that means to perceive not only with physical eyes, but with the penetrating awareness of a hidden, greater, or deeper reality; seeing turns to insight. 

Peter and the other disciples went home after seeing the empty tomb, but Mary Magdalene returned to it. It was there, in the frail and bleak light of “it’s over,” and “I don’t understand” that Jesus calls out to her: Mary! as if to say, open your eyes! See, I am here. Behold, I am alive!  No longer blind to the risen Jesus standing before her, Mary’s heart leaps straight out of her mouth as she exclaims with astonished joy: Rabonni!

This moment never fails to take my breath away; because this simple exchange of just two words—Mary! Rabonni!—conveys a profound communion of love and a recognition that redeems.

The resurrecting power of God is always a rising from the grave—where-ever redemption and recognition is needed in our lives—because this is where Christ is, the gardener unrecognized, who yet sees and calls each of us by name. His redemptive love gives us the power of insight and recognition, to understand, and make meaning of our circumstance. Perhaps, without realizing it, you came to church this morning to learn to see in the dark, and open your heart to the divine presence in our midst. 

Priest and theologian, Fr. Herbert McCabe wrote: Our Easter Faith is that we really do encounter Jesus himself: not a message from him, or a doctrine inspired by him, or an ethic of love, or a new idea of human destiny, or a picture of him, but Jesus himself. It is in this that we rejoice.  

We rejoice in his presence with us, in us, and in his blessed body and blood at the Eucharist. 

Wherever you are today, in a place half-empty of hope or half-full, wherever humanity is this day, in a place half-empty of light or half-full, the great good news of Easter is that the tomb of Jesus is not half-empty or half-full but fully empty; for rising from the grave, he destroyed death, and made the whole creation new. Jesus came into the world, fully human and fully divine, and out of the tomb, fully alive, to proclaim the good news of salvation to the poor; to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy; to give new life, eternal freedom, and peace to all. The great good news of Easter is that we are fully and forever loved. 

As we prayed at the Easter Vigil last night, let us so pray this glorious morning: 

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection [ wholeness] by him though whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Christ the Morning Star has risen! 

Alleluia, Christ is risen! 

The Lord has risen indeed, alleluia!