Easter Day – April 12, 2020
Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
God accepts us wherever we are. And God invites us to go with him into all that is good. Easter is not about Jesus or us going to heaven. Easter is about heaven coming to earth and making all things new.
The message of Christmas and the Incarnation is that since God became a human being, being a human is good, creation is good, and all that we do in this world is very important. God continues to value what God has made. The message of Easter and the Resurrection, at its core, is the very same as the message of Christmas and the Incarnation. God comes to us to claim us as his very own. Heaven comes to earth to transform this very place into the kingdom of God. Talk about dying and going to heaven frankly doesn’t get at the real message of the Resurrection. Yes, heaven is the promise, but it is not a place far away that waits for the special ones of us to make it up there. Heaven comes to us. God comes to us in the Incarnation. God comes to us in the Resurrection. The message of Easter is not about what we will do in the future. It is about what God does today.
So let’s begin today, not with you and me thinking about where we will go one day. Let’s begin with you and me thinking about where we are right now. Where we are is where God will come to us.
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb. She is the first one to come. She comes in sadness and compassion. While he was alive, Jesus accepted her and healed her, forgave her and restored her, gave her a place when no one else would. She comes not to find Jesus but because Jesus found her, because Jesus loved her and she has come to see herself in a different light.
She looks into the tomb and the body of Jesus is gone. But that is not good news at all for Mary Magdalene. On top of knowing that Jesus has been killed, now she assumes his body has been stolen and desecrated. The cruelty of the cross continues, she thinks. She runs to break the news to Peter and John. She is frightened and confused. She comes back to the tomb because she cannot stay away and there she stands weeping. If the message of the resurrection is just about Jesus going to heaven or you and me going to heaven, this is where the story would end, with the tomb empty and Jesus somewhere else. But the story goes on.
Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene, resurrected yet unrecognizable. Jesus calls her by name. And then she recognizes him. “Rabbouni”, she calls back. He sends her to Peter and John and the other disciples with the message that his father is their father, his God is their God. They are all part of God’s family. They do not have to become something other than who they are. They are included in the family of God no matter how they have betrayed Jesus. My father is your father.
This is the beginning of the Easter story. In the weeks ahead we will read of the various appearances Jesus makes, the various ways he comes to people where they are. He is not risen from the dead merely to go to heaven to be with his father. He is risen from the dead to come to the world in new life, to bring heaven to earth, to show that heaven and earth are both part of God’s world. Jesus will appear to Thomas even though he doubts. He will appear to Peter even though he betrayed Jesus and even though he cannot love Jesus the way Jesus loves him. He will appear to the women who followed him and who are devastated. He will appear on the road to Emmaus to show two disciples that the tragedy of the cross was inevitable but that even the horrid actions of humankind do not stop God from working in this world. He will appear to disciples on the shore and eat breakfast with them. Later he will appear to Paul on the Road to Damascus right in the midst of Paul’s persecutions of followers of Jesus. In none of these appearances does Jesus wait up in heaven for people to come to him. The risen Jesus comes to the world. The resurrection is God coming to us wherever we are. God comes to us in the places where we believe. But God also comes to us in the places where we do not believe.
So often we think of belief as a place we are called to go, as if it is a place somewhere far away. Belief, more accurately, comes to us. God does not wait for us to believe before he comes to us and includes us in his family. God comes to us in our disbelief and moves in us so that we may trust God and be changed into people of hope. We don’t have to make a leap of faith in order to experience God in our lives. God makes the leap and comes to us. God does that in the Incarnation. God does that in the Resurrection. Love does not wait to be loved. Love pursues. Love extends. Love moves. Love flows. Love never withholds. Love never ends.
We know that a little more clearly this year. In this place completely empty, there is a fullness. In our distance from each other, there is a new connection. In our fears, there is a sense of comfort. We have had to acknowledge that we are not in control, that we are not very important, that life is not all about us, that we are not immortal, that we are refugees without a safe home. And to this place of fear and anxiety, God comes. God does not wait for us to fix all of this and work our way out of any doubts we may have. Here and now, in our brokenness and fears, God comes to accept us.
Also in the Easter season, we will read about what happens after God comes to us. After God comes to us, he invites us to walk a new path, live a new life, to have our hearts changed, and to behave in a way that is different. Jesus comes to me in love for who I am and what I am going through. But Jesus has never come to me and said, “Robert, your life is just the way I want it. If only everyone else were more like you, then the world would be like I want it.” Jesus comes to love me and to invite me to live like that makes a difference. We aren’t called to make this world the kingdom of God. Jesus does that. We are called to live like this is the kingdom of God. Living like this is the kingdom is to love each other, even ourselves, even those who are despicable. Living like this is the kingdom is to do acts of justice, not just things like being kind to poor people when we come across them but to change our systems which entrench people in poverty. Living like this is the kingdom is to refuse to oppress individuals and groups and it is to change the systems that oppress them. Living like this is the kingdom is to allow our hearts to be made new and different but it is also to allow our behavior and our actions to be made new and different.
It is what happens to the followers of Christ after they experience the risen Jesus that is our biggest evidence of the resurrection. The followers of Christ are changed from fearful, self-centered cowards into courageous men and women who change the fabric of the society in which they live. The main reason I am a person of faith is the changes I have watched in your life and mine. You and I resist changing, we resist growth, we cling to the status quo like Mary Magdalene clings to Jesus. But we do change, we have changed, we have grown, and we will continue to be made new. Not because we want to but because the love of God will not stop until we are made new. Your resistance to that and my resistance to that is the perfect setting for the resurrection, for God’s transformative love. Today, and every day, heaven comes to earth to create in us the kingdom of God.