Christ is risen! Alleluia!
These are the victorious words we shout out with gusto on this greatest of all feast days.
But, in order to fully appreciate them, we need to go way back in time to the people who first discovered this reality. We need to put ourselves inside their skin and see with their eyes.
All throughout his public ministry, Jesus had so impacted the lives of a group of people that they had become radically changed. These disciples of Jesus were the very same ones who had walked and talked with him, who were present when his many healings took place, who listened to him talk about a God of mercy beyond their farthest imagining.
For these early followers of Jesus, life had taken on a whole new meaning. In him, they believed they had found the Messiah the prophets had promised. They believed that things could finally be different: the hungry would be fed; the poor would be recognized; the sinful made whole.
Easter is initially the story, though, of how these same faith-filled people then became devastated to the point that their hope turned to despair, and their dream of a glorious future became a nightmare.
Jesus was crucified. He was executed in the most gruesome way that anyone could at that time in human history.
The story of those hope-filled people now became a very dark one. It became instead a story of betrayal and abandonment.
And then came the gospel account we read today – an account that begins with words that reflect that gloom: “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark.” In the gospel of John, darkness implies a lack of faith. It tells us that at that time Mary had no faith, no hope. She was in a place of numbness.
And then she finds the tomb is empty!
She’s startled. She’s bewildered. She doesn’t know what to do. And so she runs. She runs to get Simon Peter and the other disciple Jesus loved. And together they run – right into that very same empty tomb.
The Easter story now begins to unfold in an entirely new direction. The darkness gives way to the bright light brought on by a sense of victory. Little by little the earliest followers of Jesus begin to realize that what truly happened is something never heard of before in all of human history: God has raised Jesus from the dead! He is alive! He is risen!
And the wondrous ending to the Easter story is what all four of the gospels and St. Paul tell us repeatedly: Jesus is not only alive, but he is still here, still present, still among us. Only now he is with us in a whole new way.
That’s what the really good news for each of us is: we are not alone.
The Spirit Jesus promised us is alive in the scriptures we read; alive in the Eucharist we celebrate; alive in the hungry that we feed; alive in the gathering of two or more in his name.
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him,” Mary of Magdala sadly tells us in today’s gospel.
The ecstasy of this day is that we now know exactly where “they have put him:” inside each one of us; in our hearts; in our values; in our prayers; in our reaching out to the “least of these.”
That’s why now we can truly sing together with full joy:
Christ has risen! Alleluia!
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D. 11809194.1 3/31/2015