The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
April 12, 2020
Easter morning did not start with light and lilies and joy. Easter began with despair, with a woman hurrying to a friend’s tomb in the dark of the morning. We can imagine Mary Magdalene’s mind racing, racing with memories of Jesus dying a cruel death on the hill outside of Jerusalem. Her heart broken, grieving at the disaster that she has witnessed. That dark, terrible morning became even worse, as Mary finds the tomb empty. Someone, she thinks, has taken Jesus away.
Who would do that? Who would be so cruel? Who would be so cunning, so despicable, to take away the crucified body of a man who did such marvelous things? Mary Magdalene utters those awful words, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” It was not just his body they took away. They took away her hope. They took away the man who had liberated her from the demons that had tormented her. They took away the one man who had a vision for a different kind of living, a different kind of kingdom - and that other kingdom crushed him for it. And it wasn’t enough that they took his life, they also had to take his body. Or so she thinks.
We stand in the dark, weeping with Mary on this Easter morning. This day, this Easter is not like others. For many things have been taken away from us. This specter, this virus, and its impact around the world has taken much from us. Why is it so cruel? How could something so small be so cunning and vicious? And it’s not just our physical health that is in danger, this virus makes other matters worse. Woe is compounded by woe.
Seniors won’t walk across a stage at graduation or go to prom. Grandparents can’t hug their grandkids. A school year has been taken from us. The routine of Church and communion has been taken away, no bright linen dresses and little seersucker suits filling the church courtyard chasing down Easter eggs. People are going hungry. Jobs are being lost. Lives, precious human lives, have been taken from us. Sickness. Disease. Death. Two thousand years later, on another Easter morning we say those words along with Mary Magdalene, “they have taken away my Lord, my life, my hopes, my plans, my dreams, and I do not know where they have gone.”
One of you actually said it best. In one of our online Zoom meetings, a parishioner said that they were tired of seeing everybody on a screen in only two dimensions. Yes, it’s great that we have the technological tools to see each other, but something is still missing. That third dimension, that depth, has been taken away from us. This virus, this evil, is compelling us to live in a two dimensional world.
Indeed, that is how Mary Magdalene saw the world on that fateful morning when she made her way to the tomb. On that darkened walk she saw the world in two dimensions - life and death. She knew Jesus in life, that is certain. Mary Magdalene had followed Jesus throughout his life, even helping to finance his ministry. And then Mary Magdalene had followed Jesus to the foot of the cross as he was crucified. There she witnessed the other dimension. His death. All of that must have been weighing on her mind as she hurried to the tomb in the dark- those two dimensions. Life and death.
That, I think, is the way that we are feeling right now. As if life in the time of coronavirus only has two dimensions. The way it was, and the way it is now. Two flat dimensions. Like life lived through a screen, everything feels so manufactured, so cheap, so brutally horizontal and vertical.
Until, that is, a third dimension is revealed. Presuming Jesus to be the gardener, Mary Magdalene cries to Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” But to Mary’s surprise, and to ours, God is giving something new. Where Mary Magdalene only saw life or death, God gives resurrection. A new way, a third dimension.
And what God accomplished through Jesus Christ on that Easter Day is the promise made to us. That this flat, boring, two dimensional life we lead will be given new depth, new meaning, new life. Not the kind of life that is consumed with making sure you have enough toilet paper, not the kind of life that is an endless succession of days that all seem to run together. On Easter Day Jesus Christ gives us a new kind of life, a third dimension. Resurrected life.
The hope of the resurrection of course, is not simply that you and I float off to heaven when we die, when we’re done with the banality of this life. That’s so two dimensional. Oh no. Easter is better than that. The hope of resurrected life is that God will remake, renew even this life and even this world. I do not think that the only point of the Christian life is to get to heaven when we die. I think the point of the Christian life is that you and I live heaven on earth right here and right now. The point of the Christian life is to live as if we have already been resurrected into new life. As if everyday is a day lived at the empty tomb.
Even when everything else has been taken from us, you and I live as Easter people. We live in that third dimension, that resurrection life. We live in a love that conquers sin, sickness, disease, this virus, and yes, even death itself. That is the third dimension. Not just when this pandemic is over. Not just when things go back to normal. Not just when we die. But now.
On Easter Day, God breaks down that old brutal, callous, two dimensional life. Yes, things have been taken from us. Yes, there will continue to be death and despair. Yes, there is sadness at what we have lost. But that will not define us. This day, this glorious Easter Day is what will define us. The love of God that tramples down the gates of death is all that matters. That love, that love that overcomes even the cross, even this moment of isolation, that is the love of Jesus Christ.
And one day, maybe sooner maybe later, we will see each other again in all three dimensions. We will see each other in the flesh, just as God raised Jesus in the flesh. And when that happens, you and I need to be mindful. Mindful not to slip back into the old, two dimensional way of looking at things - as if there is only life or death. When we burst forth from being locked in we must continue to live in that third dimension. To live our lives at the empty tomb. And yes, it is a tomb.
I know this is a difficult time. We do not know the way forward, we do not know when, how, if this will all end. Truly, we buried much of ourselves in some cold, stony tomb just a few weeks ago. But like Mary Magdalene, even with the grief gripping our hearts, even with panic and worry burning our minds, even in the darkest of Easter mornings, there is only one thing to do. Walk to the tomb. Make your way to the garden. And there you will see that there is more to life than you could have ever imagined. There you will see a love that pours out a light to shine in all the dark places. There you will see God, a God who raises us to new life. In that garden, at that tomb, yes, you will see much of your old life dead and buried. Do not despair. For a new life, a resurrected life, a third dimension is right there in front of you. Mary Magdalene was right - something has been taken away. What has been taken away is your old life. Thanks be to God. For now, now, you are free to live a better life. A lovelier life. A lighter life. A life not defined by two dimensions. Now, you are free to a life with Jesus Christ.