Ah! Easter Sunday! Christ has risen. Alleluia.
I always imagine the early morning Easter sun breaking through the darkness of the night. I picture the angels Mary saw dressed in white. There she was, standing in a garden filled with the color and the smell of Easter lilies, hyacinths, and azaleas. Okay! So it’s not exactly accurate, but it is, for me, a brilliant and dazzling scene – a scene that inspires me and brings hope.
There are substantial differences in the four Gospel versions of the resurrection story. Much has been made of these differences – perhaps more than has been made of the other differences that exist in scripture. There are enough differences that, while each depicts a brilliant and dazzling scene, it is tough to know which, if any, may be historically accurate.
In a way, it’s not much different than my vision of seeing the colors and smelling the scents of hyacinths and azaleas – thereby embellishing the story with my own perceptions of what brings me joy. Historical accuracy may feed our desire to KNOW things in concrete terms, but what is its significance in view of faith and hope?
The gospels of four distinct faith communities have definite differences with regard to the resurrection, just as they have differences about Jesus’ death. Four different perspectives about who saw it, when they saw it, and even where they saw it. Four distinctly different ways of relating the story – the story that was central to their beliefs and identity. As for the rest of each of the stories, there are things that three agree on, things that two agree on, things that are unique to each, and all with some considerable differences in timing.
But, the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ is the central basis on which Christian faith and hope is founded – no matter the specifics of the story. Many have said that because of the differences that appear in the gospels, the story can’t be believed. It is foolish, they say, to believe in the resurrection of Christ in the face of contradictory accounts.
So now, let me distill the stories down to only those things that all four Gospels agree on.
Mary went to the tomb – perhaps with some other women, and perhaps not – but it was Mary who found the tomb empty. She went after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week. The stone had been rolled away from the tomb. One or more angels were involved. Jesus appeared resurrected.
There is disagreement as to when and to whom Jesus appeared, as well as to whether he spoke, but all four gospels say Jesus was resurrected. All agree on those basic elements: Mary – after the Sabbath – found the stone moved – angels were present – and Jesus was resurrected and appeared.
The different versions of Jesus’ response to his death and the moment of resurrection should not be something we avoid. Rather, they should be a welcome break from any claim that only one way exists to understand scripture and do worship, just as more than one way exists in which to face our struggles in life.
As a community seeking to eradicate the injustices of poverty, war, chronic illnesses, oppression, prejudice based on race, age, class, sexuality and gender, among others, we understand there exists unlimited options for how we face those challenges.
We might not like hearing one or more items off this list. Maybe we don’t want to think that racism still exists. Maybe we don’t want to believe that sexism is real. Maybe we think homophobia is justified. But, whenever someone else was devalued because of the judgments of those who dominate, the scripture says that Jesus stood with them. Are we to do anything less than battle our own presuppositions and bias in order to live into the ministry of Jesus Christ?
At times the differences in how to be Christian – in how to understand scripture – in how to worship – in who and how to love and embrace – seem overly important and overwhelming. So let us learn from the one person that all the Gospels agreed was the witness to the resurrection – Mary.
She was confused and in pain. She lost her beloved friend. Jesus was dead and buried, and it would have been far easier to do what the other disciples did – to stay at the house and not face that pain close-up. Mary approached the tomb knowing that what she might face would only add to her personal sense of loss. She simply approached Jesus. And in doing so, Mary found joy – she discovered the risen savior in her life. Not out there in some ethereal netherland – but right there with her in her pain and confusion.
If we believe in the truth of scripture, there is only one source for the different versions of what happened. All four stories came from one testimony – Mary’s. Did she tell the story four different ways – maybe, but unlikely. Did four different communities understand her testimony in different ways, and retell it based on what made sense to them – much more likely.
But, the truth is, that Mary was the witness upon which all the stories are based. Mary was the evangel – the messenger – the testifier. If we believe scripture, there was one resurrection that was witnessed by one person – Mary.
And we know about that resurrection – that most central tenet of our faith – because of the faithfulness of Mary who had the courage to approach the tomb of Jesus in her despair and confusion – and had the courage to tell others about the remarkable things she had seen. Even though she may have been scared of being ridiculed, Mary spoke truth to her culture.
The scripture passages remind us that whether in despair, confusion or assurance, we must speak truth to our friends – and we approach Christ in the process. We must stand for what is just, right and life-giving. Why? Because, just like Jesus, our confidence does not lie in ourselves.
We are confident in the God who is the “I Am,” the one who is always present. We are confident in a just and merciful God who will bring life to fulfillment even in the wake of death. If some think that foolish, so be it. I’ll happily be a fool for Christ.
An important question for me is how does each one of us recognize Jesus in our lives? Do we see Jesus standing in the garden of our lives as more than the grounds keeper? Are we not ourselves sometimes bedazzled by the brilliant scene of the early morning Easter sun, or distracted by the darkness of our pains and sorrows, and not really able to truly see Jesus?
Much of the time as a people we can be captivated by a Risen Savior who stands distant and beyond us. Much more divine that human. But the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus says to each one of us, “Look at me!” Jesus calls Mary … and each one of us … by name. Can we come to recognize Jesus as Mary did?
I am the light, Jesus said, that overcomes the darkness of sin, of suffering and even of death. Even in the dark night of suffering where loss can feel overwhelming and blinding at times.
What represents the darkness for each of us? Is it dashed plans? Is it the sense of being unable to change the course of life for someone we love? Are our children, parents, family or friends too distant? Is it sickness, poverty, addiction or death?
What represents the darkness for each of our neighbors? Is it the same or different? Does it matter? Is it enough to say that we all experience the dark nights of our souls, and that we need the resurrection of the presence of Jesus in our lives?
Jesus lights the way through our uncertainties and in God’s love strengthens us by walking with us into life eternal along the paths of this life here and now. Jesus says look at me, see how I use my life to follow the One who loves me. The Parent loves the child. Abiding in that love, the child keeps the parent’s commandment.
We see Jesus’ love in situations that boggle the logical mind. Jesus actually touched the blind with spit and mud, stood at the bedside of the sick, was present with those suffering grief, criticized those who judged others as unworthy, ate with people of different income levels, different lives and different faith traditions, and answered nit-picking questions about God and faith for the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus made intimate friendships among those who would later desert him in his time of trail. And then, after arising from the dead, Jesus came back to those very same followers so that they could see life anew, so that they could have hope, love and peace.
Jesus comes to us today and says, “Now, you follow me, trust me and do what I did.” Jesus Christ says, “I love you. Follow me.” Find comfort in my love, and obey my commandment so others can find comfort. Have faith that I love you unconditionally. Love one another as I have loved you. Touch the blind and tend to the broken hearted. Eat with those whom no one else will eat with. Answer the questions of those who are looking to understand my love. Help someone you are tempted to judge not worthy of your time. Make friends among those whom you would make your enemy, so that there may be joy and peace.
Jesus the risen Christ heals us of our sin providing us an example of perfect love. Jesus demonstrates love here on earth that we might see love in action and understand. That our eyes might not be blinded by distracting floral arrangements and bright colored banners, or even by the darkness of the hurt in our lives.
Jesus, in love for us, calls for our attention just as Mary is called, so that we will see. She let go of her painful memories and doubts for a moment, and saw Jesus. It is by God’s gift of grace that we, like Mary, are able to look through faith and see the awesome, unconditional love offered to us in Jesus the Christ.
It is in God’s gift of love that we can hope to follow Jesus and live. To obey Jesus’ commandment to touch the blind so they might participate in community, to tend those without access so that they belong, to invite a hungry person from the street to sit down in the café for a meal, to go to another member in the church who complains against the community and bring God’s love into the conversation, to invite a stranger into our circle of friends.
You and I today, we are an Easter people accepting new life in love, hope and peace. We draw strength from the grace of God offered through Christ. We help others draw strength by the grace of God by living Christ’s love in this world.
We are all invited to follow Jesus to the table, and to bring others with us. In the breaking of bread and sharing the cup in communion, we accept unconditional love and prepare to share it with the other. This is life given by Jesus that we may act in love and care for one another, just as Christ Jesus lives, loves and cares for us.