For me, spring and Easter are synonymous. Flowers bloom, winter’s gone, warm breezes off the lake; sunny skies – break out shorts and flip flops – and then I move to Wisconsin. Why would I think Easter and spring are related now? A friend, years ago, gave up being a Baptist preacher to sell life insurance. I figured he counted more on death than resurrection. But at coffee one spring morning he wants to explain his take on resurrection to me. Great – I’d never really figured it out. He says, “Resurrection is like nature. The grass dies in winter. Trees are bare; days shorten; the weather turns cold. Then a few months later grass grows and turns green again, warm weather, light and life returns. That’s resurrection.” “Wow,” I said, “Did you think that up by yourself? That’s really powerful. I bet Jesus wishes you’d told him that before he went ahead with that cross thing.”
Spring’s arrival is natural – most years. Resurrection is not. Why are you here today? More people than usual come for Easter, and I wish we had this each Sunday. Some of you attend regularly. Others are here because someone invited you, a family member forced you, or you needed a place to go on Easter. I’ll bet no one has come to worship and adore the rites of spring. Spring is natural, written into nature. But dead people getting up and roaming around aren’t. I hope you’ve come because God raised Jesus from the dead. If you aren’t, you’re wasting time here this morning.
People don’t go to cemeteries to see if someone is still dead. That’s not natural. It is natural for us to grieve, pay our respects, pray at a grave, move on with our lives. That’s all Mary was doing that morning. When she got there, something wasn’t right. The stone sealing the tomb had been moved. She runs off acclaiming not, “Alleluia, Christ is risen,” but, “They’ve taken the Lord’s body.” That’s pretty reasonable to think. Dead bodies don’t disappear without an explanation. Peter and the beloved disciple race off to see. They arrive, look in. One believes, the other – well, we can’t tell. John says neither really understands – which seems natural. So they go back home.
Mary stays stands by the tomb weeping. She musters enough courage to look in to see for herself. Two angels are sitting where Jesus had been laid out. “Why are you weeping?” She tells them what she just told the two disciples. “They’ve stolen his body.” As she says this, she notices someone behind her. “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Thinking he might know she says, “Tell me if you’ve taken him. I will collect his remains and carry him away.” What is Mary going to do – pick up a dead body and carry it off? Call the funeral home? “Mary!” In the speaking of a name, the world changes. Natural and unnatural become one. Lines separating sacred and secular – life and death, blur. “Rabbouni,” which is what Mary calls Jesus – how she knew him and who he is to her. “Do not hold onto me,” says Jesus, which is an odd thing to say – you don’t get the idea she is. You’d think they’d be hugging and dancing for joy. “No Mary – don’t hold to the Jesus you knew. He’s more. The world as you’ve known it has changed. Something bigger is going on here.” In that moment for Mary, the risen Lord became risen in her. And that is Easter.
Easter comes when the divine, eternal love that created us – recreates us. We finally know beyond words God’s love for us. We experience a love we know will never let us go. We cannot contain the power of such love just for ourselves. We have to spread it around to all.
So if you have trouble understanding the bigger picture, you’re in good company. Peter and John leave the tomb uncertain. Mary finally gets it, and Jesus makes her the first Apostle to the Apostles, sending her off to tell the guys, which is world-shattering in itself. In that century women’s witness was not valid in a court of law. If John thinks what’s happening is natural, Mary would never have been mentioned in his story.
Lots of people throughout the world will attend Easter services today – some will leave still not sure. Others keep hoping to hear Jesus call their name. Spring’s arrival is great, rejuvenating, but just won’t cut it for Easter. That’s not resurrection. Resurrection transforms the core of our being. We will never see and live the same once the Lord is risen in us, and when that life is risen for us, we like Mary, won’t be able to contain the good news – we must share it.
Jesus still slips up behind people, unexpected and unknown. Your name is called. You know the Lord is risen within you. That’s resurrection. And he keeps coming until we’re all finally resurrected – even if it’s when we draw our last breath. That’s how God so loves you. Every Sunday, not just today is Easter. Here, each Sunday Jesus, unseen, slips into natural things, like bread and wine – whispers your name and transforms your life. Unlike my friend, I can’t explain resurrection that well. I’m simple. I wasn’t there to witness it, nor were Mary, the disciples, or anyone. So I just preach it, and let God do the rest. And I am dead sure it’s so. And whatever you came here looking for today, know you don’t have to go home the same way you came.