This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached at the Great Vigil of Easter this morning. The gospel text was John 20:1-18.
Rabbouni. That was the word Mary said to Jesus once she knew it was really him. Once Mary believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, she spoke one word, Rabbouni. It means “teacher.” One word, that’s all she could say.
After all, this was quite a shock, on top of several other shocks. Mary had been one of Jesus’ most faithful disciples for years, and just two days ago, he died. Shock and dismay. And this morning, when she got herself together enough to go to the tomb, she found that the stone was gone and the tomb was empty. Shock and dismay. And now, now, now, she finally sees the risen Jesus for who he is. Shock and joy!
It’s easy for us to forget, this side of two thousand years later, how shocking the Resurrection must have been. We are so used to it. But it took a lot to convince Mary that Jesus was really alive. What did it take?
- Listening to him talk about it several times before his death? Nope. Not enough.
- Seeing that the tomb is empty? No. Not enough.
- Seeing angels sitting in the tomb? Nope.
- Seeing Jesus himself standing there? No, not even that. She thought he was the gardener. Even hearing his voice asking her why she’s weeping wasn’t enough.
- Hearing him say her name? Yes.
Yes. That was it. Jesus spoke her name. And she heard it. That was the moment it became real to her. That was the moment she believed that he was alive.
It reminds me of what Martin Luther said about Holy Communion. Luther said that the two most important words in Holy Communion are the words “for you.” The body of Christ, given “for you.” The blood of Christ, shed “for you.” Without those two words, it’s just empty theology. Without those two words, who really cares? The point of Holy Communion is not that Jesus offers life and salvation; the point is that Jesus offers them for you.
When we really hear those words, the “for you,” and believe them, perhaps that is like Mary hearing Jesus speaking her name. When has Jesus spoken to you in this way? When have you heard Jesus speaking your name?
That is the beginning of the message of Easter. That where there was death, there is life: for you. Where there was despair, there is hope: for you. Where there was fear, there is faith: for you.
Oh, but! That is only the beginning! There is so much more as well. We could have that without the resurrection. We could have that salvation and hope with only the crucifixion. But the resurrection brings us so much more!
If you’ve been here the last few nights, you’ve heard me comparing Easter to Passover. Passover is the holiday on which Jews celebrate the redemption and freedom that God gave them from slavery in Egypt. On Maundy Thursday, I said that the Last Supper was a Passover meal that Jesus transformed. On Good Friday, I said that on the cross Jesus became the Passover meal. My body, given for you. My blood, shed for you. Jesus transformed the Passover into something new: redemption and freedom for us all, from everything that chains us!
As I was preparing to talk about Passover and Easter, I found an article written by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, called “Passover and Easter.” In it, he described both holidays, and drew similarities and differences between them. I found it fascinating, but one paragraph also made me very sad:
Still for all their commonalities, Passover and Easter diverge fundamentally. While both festivals are about delivery from a state of despair, be it slavery or sin, Passover heralds the birth of the Jewish people as a force for good in the comity of nations. In contrast, Easter assures the individual Christian life eternal. Passover summons Jews collectively into the world to repair it; Easter proffers a way out of a world beyond repair.
Rabbi Schorsch sees Passover as communal, but Easter as individual. He believes that while for Jews, salvation is for the sake of the world, Christians see salvation as something just for my sake, just me going to heaven to be with Jesus. And I have to admit, looking out at Christianity today, he’s not wrong. That is certainly how many Christians do view salvation. Me and Jesus.
But it broke my heart to read it, because that’s not the point of Easter at all. That’s not the point of salvation at all. That’s not the point of Jesus at all. Jesus did not die on the cross so that I could feel good about my eternal destination. Jesus was not raised from the grave so that I could focus on me. Jesus came to turn selfish impulses like those upside-down!
And that is clear in today’s gospel. Jesus spoke directly to Mary, and she believed. But it doesn’t stop there. Not even a little. Jesus immediately said to her, “But don’t hold onto me. Instead, go to my brothers and sisters, and tell them.” This is something we see in all the gospels. In Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” In Luke, Jesus promises to send the disciples the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which leads them to speak in many languages about God to all kinds of people. Even in Mark, where Jesus doesn’t even show up on Easter, the angels at the tomb tell the women to “go and tell.”
Have you seen that picture of the black hole that’s been all over the news, and social media, lately? A black hole is an immensely powerful force that pulls everything nearby in. Nothing, not even light, can escape its grasp. Easter is the exact opposite. The resurrection is the opposite of a black hole. The resurrection is a force that always pushes us out, driving and sending us into the world to tell others, to show others, to be Christ’s hands and feet for others.
The resurrection, the new life, is for you. It’s a promise for life eternal, and a promise for an abundant and hopeful life now. It is for you, but it’s not for you to keep for yourself! It is a promise for us to share, share with one another and share with the world! The resurrection sends us into the world to share that new life, to proclaim that new life, to be that new life with everyone we encounter!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
Now, go, and tell your brothers and sisters.