It happened early in the morning on the first day of the week [John 20:1].
Every morning is, in a sense, a new beginning, a chance to start over, In the normal course of events, however, the Sabbath day of rest would have been followed in the morning on the first day of the week by business as usual – both for the living, who would go back to their regular daily work, and even more so for the dead, decaying in their graves, who (then as snow) were expected to stay dead. Presumably, those who went to visit Jesus’ tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week also shared those same general expectations. John’s Gospel mentions Mary Magdalene only and just says that she came to the tomb early in the morning. The other Gospel writers, however, tell us that Mary was accompanied other women, and that their purpose in visiting the tomb was to anoint Jesus’ body. However many they were and whatever they expected to do, it seems safe to suggest that their expectations that morning were well within the range of the normal.
Instead, however, they found something surprising and unexpected. For this morning, this 1st day of the week, this Super-Sunday, the world awakens not to business as usual, but to something totally new – to, of all the things that God has ever done, the greatest of them all. And so we say today: This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad! [Psalm 118:24]
Jesus’ resurrection was a historical event of the most monumental importance – more important even than our travelling roadshow of presidential primaries – the most important event in all of human history. And yet, however hard it may be for us to imagine (in this age of omnipresent media and the 24-hour news cycle), the resurrection was hardly even noticed at first. It is the resurrection’s long-term effects which we actually experience and which bring us here today – as Jesus’ body that lived and died and still forever bears the marks of his passion emerges from the tomb to transform our world, starting right here and now with us.
Even so, as we just heard, the first few to be made aware of this momentous news left the empty tomb more confused than elated: For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead [John 20:9..
Nor would we, if that were all we had of the story.
In a world which seems permanently stuck in the dark, pre-dawn position, where death always seems to have the final say, the disciples needed to experience the kind of change that could only come from the Risen Lord’s living presence among them. And so do we, which is why we are here, where the Risen Lord brings us together as no one else can.
So, instead of the 1st day of the week condemning the world back to business as usual, this 1st day after the Sabbath is starting something new – not just a new week, but a new world, where death no longer has the final say. And we are here, in this holy place today, because God did not stop for good on the 7th day, because there is now a new day, on which God has, so to speak, re-created the world in his Son, Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried, but now risen from the dead. That new day is today – and every day from now on, until we too will appear with him in glory [Colossians 3:4].
That is why we have to come back, Sunday after Sunday, to be filled in on what happened next and thus experience the effects of the resurrection ourselves. Like the disciples in the Gospel, some of us run fast. Others, beset perhaps by doubts or daily difficulties, run much more slowly. What matters most, however, is where we finally end up. So whether we are runners or walkers, we must accompany the disciples to the tomb, which in a business-as-usual world would have remained dark, but from which the stone has been removed – so we can see and believe.
Easter invites us put ourselves in the position of the disciples – and allow ourselves to experience something wonderfully and completely new in a world which seems so ordinary and old. Easter invites us to start living in the present that new and different future to which the Risen Lord is leading us.
Homily for Easter Sunday, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, April 8, 2012.