Easter Reflection — Rev. Brent Gundlah

April 17, 2022

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve worshipped on Easter together like this — three years, to be precise. The twenty-first day of April in 2019 was the last time this congregation gathered in this sanctuary to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with three dimensional people in three dimensional space, in a way that feels anything close to what it used to be. And yet, it’s not exactly the sameand that’s a fact worth acknowledging.

We’ve definitely been through some stuff recently, and our journey through the wilderness has produced dramatic changes in our lives.

Truth be told, change is happening around us all the time — it’s just part of what it means to be alive; but sometimes changes are so sudden and so violent and so big that they really make us take notice, and this tumultuous period of the past few years has definitely been one of those times.

We’ve lost so much that extent of our losses — large and small — is hard to comprehend: Millions of lives ended by COVID globally (and almost a million here in the U.S. alone).

We’ve lost loved ones, time with loved ones, jobs, our sense of safety and security, the opportunity to go places and do things, the chance to see people’s faces in-person, the simple joys of shaking hands or sharing a hug.

We’ve also lost our patience, some measure of civility, and, it seems, much of our willingness to engage with one another across our differences.

Sure, we’ve managed to reclaim a few things — to some degree, anyway: the ability to gather, to worship, to sing, to go out to a restaurant, or to travel. But we’ve done so in uncomfortable fits and starts, as we’re constantly looking over our shoulders waiting to see what the impact of the next variant will be.

And no doubt we’ve picked up a few new things along the way too — some of which, quite frankly, we might want to leave behind at this point: masks; dry hands from all that sanitizer; remote gatherings (which seems inherently contradictory); and terms like COVID, social-distancing, hybrid worship and yes, dare I say it, Zoom.    

I know, I know: In many ways Zoom has become the bane of our existence, but there’s no denying that it’s been a real lifeline too, enabling us to be together when there were no other means available for us to do so.

Our newfound relationship with Zoom has, however, produced some unforeseen consequences. I was watching the news the other day and happened upon a story that was a real sign of the times; it was about the ways our minds have changed over the past three years — ways we’ve only begun to consider as we return to some semblance of normalcy.

One person, who just recently started going into the office again, lamented the fact that her ability to remember things — specifically, other people’s names — had diminished markedly; and for this she blamed Zoom.

“I hadn’t really thought about it much until now,” she said, “but for the longest time there’s been no need to know anyone’s name because it always appears right underneath their image in that little box on the screen. Now I actually need to remember who people are, and they need to remember me too.”

Laugh if you will, but this seemingly insignificant experience highlights something profound, something inherent to being human, which is this: the hope that we will be recognized and understood for who we are, the fundamental need to be known.

As today’s Easter story from John’s Gospel begins, Mary Magdalene arrives at Jesus’ tomb alone, in the silent darkness, overcome not with great joy but with the deep sadness. She sees that the stone has been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb and assumes the worst — that his body has been taken away by grave robbers. It seems that there is yet another indignity to be borne by the one who had already suffered so much indignity. Blinded by her grief, Mary Magdalene cannot see what is really happening here. Who could blame her, really?

She runs off to fetch Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple — surely they’ll know what to do. They don’t walk but rather run back to the empty tomb — though we really don’t know why they feel this sense of urgency; maybe they somehow sense that there’s more to all this than meets the eye — it’s impossible to say for sure.

Peter goes into the empty tomb (he is actually the first one to do so); he sees the linen wrappings and the cloth that covered Jesus’ head lying on opposite sides of the tomb. But if Peter has any reaction whatsoever to what he has just seen, John doesn’t ever tell us what that reaction is.

The Beloved Disciple also goes in to have a look around. John tells us that “he saw and believed,” but we don’t know what he believed. We do, however, learn that these two men did not yet understand the meaning of the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. And so grappling with their own sadness and confusion over all that has transpired (they’ve been through some stuff lately too) these two disciples decide to return home, leaving Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ empty tomb to weep and mourn alone.

As she’s sitting there with only her grief and her tears to keep her company, a pair of angels in white arrive and ask Mary Magdalene why she is crying. She seems remarkably unfazed by their appearance, which seems kind of odd — I can’t speak for you, but I know that I’d be a little freaked out if angels suddenly were to show up out of the blue and start asking me all sorts of questions.

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” she replies to the angels.

And then it happens.

The resurrected Jesus appears for the very first time, to Mary right there in the garden beside the empty tomb; but she doesn’t recognize him. Maybe poor Mary’s eyes were just so red and swollen from crying that she simply isn’t able to see anything at this point; she literally cannot believe her own eyes.

Even when Jesus then speaks to her, asking her the very same question that the angels did, she still doesn’t recognize him; she thinks that the man standing before her must be the gardener (once again, you can’t really blame her — Jesus is dead and people who are dead tend to stay that way).

It is kind of strange that the angels and Jesus ask Mary why she is crying here. I mean is pretty obvious why Mary is crying: Jesus is dead and death always has the final say. Except it doesn’t anymore. That’s the whole point of Easter, isn’t it?

Jesus knows full well why Mary’s upset and he’s trying to console her. It as if he’s saying, “Why are you crying over me; I’m standing right here?” But Mary’s response to Jesus’s question reflects her limited understanding of the strange reality of the situation. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away,” she says. Then, in an instant, absolutely everything changes.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’”

And when that one simple word leaves Jesus’ mouth, Mary’s world becomes a much different place than it had been just one second earlier. Having been recognized herself, she is now able to recognize him; her despair suddenly gives way to hope and she runs off excitedly to proclaim to the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” All because Jesus, who knows her, calls out to her by name.

The sad fact of the matter is that suffering and pain and sadness and death have always been and will continue to be part of our experience here on earth. While this may seem like an incredibly un-festive thing to say on a glorious day like this, it’s true. But, without the reality of death there’s really not much need for the miracle of Easter.

And therein lies the real promise of this incredible day: Amidst all of the terrible things that constantly affect our mortal lives, amidst all of the changes we would happily do without, Jesus calls out Mary’s name reminding us that he still lives, that we too shall live, that death will not have the final word.

Maybe you are able to hear Jesus calling out your name on a day such as this in a place such as this; if you do, that’s awesome. But what about on the other three hundred and sixty four days when the choir’s gone home and the flowers have wilted and your Easter clothes are back in the closet?

What about when you have to get up tomorrow morning and head off to work at that job you can’t stand? What about when you’ve just received that diagnosis you’ve been dreading? What about when you find yourself sitting there alone mourning all that you’ve lost? What happens when we, like Mary Magdalene, really need Jesus the most?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of our Risen Lord, is that we are never forgotten, because God is constantly calling out to us too.

May we never stop listening.

And may we remain open to receiving this great blessing of Easter, today and every day.