Preached at the Great Vigil of Easter, April 2017 at Christ Church Bronxville
I have to admit, I find saying Happy Easter a little disorienting. This all feels very sudden, and I’m still stuck a little back there in Lent somewhere. See, here’s the problem: I’m one of those people who gets really into movies. Basically every movie makes me cry. Every Pixar movie, makes me cry. Chick flicks, always cry. Great British Bake Off, crying. It’s so embarrassing.
In the same way I get really caught up in the feeling and the drama of Holy Week. Holy Week is this kind of pilgrimage that we go on, we follow along with the cast of characters, we spent Lent packing our bags and now we get caught up in the drama of the journey. I get so caught up in the feelings of Holy Week. I get caught up in the Hosannas, I wait anxiously in the garden before Good Friday, and I really get into that empty space on Holy Saturday. The whole thing isn’t just dramatic, it’s traumatic. Rated R for Trauma.
And so when we flip on the lights and shout “Alleluia!”, well, it’s weird to me. It’s a huge emotional turn around. It’s like when you come out of a movie theater in the middle of the afternoon, and the sun is so bright that your eyes water and you can’t see anything yet. You stumble to your car totally blind hoping no one hits you in the parking lot.
For me, we just entered into a real darkness yesterday, we woke up this morning in that real darkness, we showed up here to a darkened church, and now we’ve just flipped on the lights and I don’t know up from down quite yet.
So basically in this story today, I’m still hanging out with Mary.
See, at the beginning of the week, Mary was in the crowd of folks who traveled up from Galilee with Jesus to Jerusalem in the final days — she might not have known that they were the final days. She shouted her Hosannas along with everyone else, parading into the city with Jesus her King.
But then the first night in Jerusalem came. Mary felt the threat of Jerusalem deep in her bones. The night after Jesus had gone into the temple and disrupted the peace, destroying and vandalizing merchants booths, Mary probably sat and chatted with the disciples about what happened, what it meant. What would happen now?
She was in every crowd that gathered when Jesus and the high priests faced-off, and she shouted “Hosanna Son of David!” at the top of her lungs throughout the debates. But could not help but see the looks on the priests faces, the way the huddled and whispered, the way they were clearly uncomfortable and afraid any time that crowd started to gather.
She counted just how many swords were walking around Jerusalem, strapped to Roman soldiers hips.
But she had given her all to this. She had given her all to Jesus. She loved him. She believed in him. She would not be afraid.
But then there was that night where Judas rushed out of supper early. He was always a little odd but something felt off now.
Even Peter had looked like he’d been punched in the gut when he came back downstairs.
Mary watched Jesus and a few others leave late after supper to go for a walk. Jesus… well he looked exhausted. There were bags under his eyes and he looked like he was going to burst into tears any moment.
He slumped out of the place they were staying like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
She awoke in the morning to one of the disciples yelling, “Come quickly! Wake up! They’ve arrested him!”
Then Mary was afraid.
That fear continued as people gathered outside where Jesus was being questioned. Peter was supposed to have gone into the courtroom and would come back to report back to all of them, but he never came back that night. The fear grew.
The next morning they paraded Jesus to Pilate’s palace. No palms leaves, just the rattle of shackles.
Mary was there when the crowds stood beneath Pilate and shouted “crucify him!” Mary watched the Light of her World, her whole world, get sentenced to death.
Mary watched the death happen from a distance. The sky was unusually dark. The ground shook beneath her and it felt like the world fell out from under her feet. She was in shock.
Mary had watched God die.
That was Friday.
She must have felt vacant. She must have felt completely lost, like a ship thrown about at sea in a storm without a captain to steer it.
Mary heard Jesus’ voice over and over again in her head like a stuck record crying out “My God My God why have you forsaken me!” It haunted her like a bad dream, it followed her around on repeat until she was no longer sure whether it was his voice, or if it had become her own prayer. My God why have you forsaken me?
The trauma of it would have followed her all day. She would have felt empty. She would have been unspeakably sad. She would have been angry at the others – where were they?! Maybe there were flashbacks, nightmares, maybe she couldn’t stop weeping. Maybe her body shook. Maybe doubt started to creep in — what if none of this was real? What if she had only imagined it all? What if God had abandoned them all?
And then Sunday.
Just as the sun was peaking over the horizon, early in the morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to go see the tomb again. Grief was still consuming them. Every bone in their bodies felt dry and broken.
As they walked suddenly the earth jolted and shifted, the vibrations traveling from the ground up through their feet and legs. Then a bright light, so bright they had to squint and their eyes watered and they could barely see. An angel perched on the stone like a giant bird. What did this angel tell them? Death is not final. Death is not the last word of the story.
And then the Marys ran away from the tomb in “fear and great joy.”
I can imagine how many questions Mary had running through her head because they are all the same worries and questions I have running through mine.
What on earth does resurrection look like? How am I supposed to just let go of the fear and grief of death to embrace a reality that can’t possibly be real?
I get so caught up in the drama of Mary’s emotions post-death and resurrection because it’s not just Mary’s story, it’s my own. When I was baptized, I was baptized into this story. When I recite my baptismal vows every time we bring new ones into the Body of Christ, I rededicate myself to the story. I’m not just watching the story from the outside, but I am in it.
And it’s a story of the cross. Of losing yourself, following Christ, and conquering death.
Paul says it a lot better than I can:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
See, I think we bury a lot of things in ourselves that we are called to bury with Christ. Sin is death in us. And that death roots itself down deep in us.
It’s like this: have you ever had to pull out a viney weed from a garden? You grab one end and tug, and pop pop pop, along the vine a few little roots have poked into the soil and you keep pulling it up until 10 feet later you find the source of the plant. It’s easy to see the ends of it, but it’s harder to find the root — the anger, the pride, the greed.
It’s also easy to pull out the vines as they spread, but it is back breaking work to pull out the root. In ourselves, it can feel like the ground is shaking beneath our feet — like what we were losing isn’t just death but like a part of our deep selves.
I think so much about Mary in the story because I imagine she felt the full range of emotions that we feel when we give up the things in us that cause death so that Christ can breathe light and new life into them. Fear, loss, grief, bewilderment, sometimes maybe even feeling foolish.
Because not only is it hard work, but there’s that moment in us where the root is gone and the soil is upturned, but nothing has yet grown in its place. We bury our deaths with Christ and we find ourselves raised with him, but even that resurrection took three days.
Between Jesus’ death on Friday and resurrection on Sunday, there was Saturday.
In this night, we are with Mary. We’re only just beginning to squint at the joy that is dawning on us. We remember with her that strange space between fear and growing joy.
But we have to remember that fear and death is not the end of the story. There are 50 days of Easter in our calendar, after all, and we remember it every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
Hope will hold you in all these weird middle space, where everything might feel still and terrifying. Hope in the cross, in life, Hope that the joy and love of Christ will perfectly cast out that fear in you — that’s what will hold you in that middle space. Faith will hold you.
Being a Christian, living into our baptism, can be a disorienting process, and I find that I spend a lot more time between death and resurrection than I’m comfortable with. Easter is a disorienting thing — tonight we are standing together as the body of Christ claiming something to be true that is complete foolishness to the rest of the world. It’s ok if your joy is still mingled with a little fear.
I think it takes a lifetime for that Easter joy to keep seeping into our dry bones, to keep seeping into those dark places, breathing new life and resurrection into the parts of us rooted in death, casting more and more light in us until we are completely consumed by it and find ourselves in heaven with God and all the saints who have worn the path of this pilgrimage before us.
The space between feels like an eternity. But for all the fear I feel in the in between parts, the joy that comes in the morning, that continues to grow as the sun comes up, is more than worth it.