By Bishop Paul Marshall
In a few days it will be Easter. As we get ready for the feast, it is always worth asking how we enter into its reality. This is not just a contemporary question, but also one that faced the very first believers.
In John’s gospel Mary Magdalene sees that the stone has been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. Despite all of Jesus’ teaching, she assumes what any of us would, that there’s been a grave robbery. How much trouble have we had when we have made assumptions and didn’t check things out?
In any event, Mary runs to the leadership and tells them not that the stone is gone, but that the grave has been robbed. Peter and the “beloved disciple” (who is John or the reader or both in John’s plan) go off to the tomb, and it is interesting to note what they see and don’t see. Peter climbs down into the tomb and sees the burial wrappings emptied. The beloved climbs down into the tomb, sees about that “and believes,” but we don’t know exactly what he believes, as John is careful to note that he doesn’t know the scriptures yet.
It is Mary who stays when the other two have left who is the focus of the story. We see her grief, and we note that, as with her conclusion about the stone, the depth of her grief determines what she perceives and what she thinks she knows about it. She isn’t expecting to see Jesus, so she doesn’t. He has to come to her, and does.
Mary’s grief and wrong assumptions were not answered by an argument, but by a relationship, by that voice that knew her. You can't argue about whether or not Easter is true any more than you can argue about whether or not you can swim – you have to get into the water.
Except for the extraordinarily small number of people who have overwhelming mystical experiences, the only way most of us find out if the risen Christ is not only alive but present and available is to try to live with him every day for fifty days, to participate in his life through prayer, acts of love, and participation in the life of his body the Church. Watch and listen for signs of a new reality; practice assuming that death does not rule. And listen for Jesus’ voice. At the Easter celebration we debate nothing – we do invite people into community as we go to meet him.
When we say in the Liturgy, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," we are saying something about ourselves as followers of Jesus, and our ability to swim the waters of life. There are tremendous claims in that refrain. We say that our destiny is the same as Christ's.
We’re swimming when we live into his life: we are swimming when we are people who face challenges, who may face dying in the process, and who in and through it all know vindication and life in Jesus Christ. Acting like that is true, like we each are meant to be victors, to be more than grazing animals; that is what it means to have faith to swim.
In many churches, the Sunday School children take a moment during the Easter liturgy to find the Alleluia that was buried or hidden at the beginning of Lent. A way to understand the angel's charge to encounter Jesus is to look for the Alleluia in my own heart, and to find and bring it out in others.
We don't go hunting for Alleluia just to have a nice day or cheer up other people. We do it so that our children will know that there is much more to life than the grim business of keeping up with the Joneses. There is the adventure of finding oneself in God as we seek the greatest good; the highest and best use of our lives, no matter what else is going on, even crucifixions. Take a risk; take a risk to be excellent, productive, imaginative.
That is, there is practical value
in this celebration. God made Jesus to live a certain kind of life, and
it, despite the inconvenience, pain, and death – and Easter vindicates
life and how it was lived. If you and I take the trouble to ask what
things God has made us to accomplish and to go for them hammer and tong,
despite inconvenience or death, we are vindicated already.
No matter what people may do to us, the future is possible. The parts of us that fear, the parts that stumble, the parts that regret and grieve – all the parts of us, the genius and the bumbler that is in each and every person, hear in the Easter Alleluia that the future is possible: possible, accessible, and ours in Jesus Christ. Easter calls us to live into that joyful truth every day, as agents of God’s love, and as creatures who were designed to thrive, and enjoy doing so.