Let in Joy this Easter Day
The Rev. Dr. Andrew R. Guffey
April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (The Lord is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!)
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. + AMEN.
If I had any say in the matter, the nineteenth century Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would have a feast day in our church:
Break the box and shed the nard; / Stop not now to count the cost; / Hither bring pearl, opal, sard; / Reck not what the poor have lost; / Upon Christ throw all away: / Know ye, this is Easter Day.
Such joy! Such extravagance: Upon Christ throw all away! There is something extravagant about Easter. There is supposed to be. It overflows with joy, it refuses sorrow, or at least, it does not let sorrow have the last word. “Woman, why are you weeping?,” Jesus asks Mary in the Gospel today. She says, “They have taken away my Lord. They have taken away my heart. Did you see what happened to him on Good Friday, and now, now, where is he?.” “But, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for, anyway?” “Taken, taken, did you take him? If so, tell me where to find him—”
Her name. The Living One spoke her name, and she realized—this, this is the Beloved she was looking for. In front of her.
Both of the Gospels appointed for today—they are in your insert—both of them highlight the fact that women were our first apostles. In Luke’s Gospel, several women—who are even named!—go to the tomb, and return to tell the men that Jesus had risen. And the men didn’t believe them—are you surprised? In both Gospels Peter runs to the tomb. I don’t think that’s an incidental detail. Because the possibility that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but among the living, is just too ludicrous and too hopeful to possibly be true. Peter didn’t dare believe it, not until he saw it. So he ran as fast as his unbelieving legs would carry him. But in the version we read today, after Peter got there with the Beloved Disciple, what did they do? They believed, but apparently turned and just went home. It was Mary who stayed behind, out of her love, out of her grief. It wasn’t enough to know that he wasn’t here, her heart longed for him. And it found him:
Mary was given more than belief. She was the first to encounter the Living Christ. At first she did not recognize him. How could she? It’s hard to recognize joy, when the only tune you can hear is the threnody of grief and sorrow. The song of death has a way of making us deaf and blind, of beating our ears with doubt and despair, as though that was the only tune playing.
There is a scene in the show Six Feet Under, in which one of the characters has recently lost her older brother. She goes to visit him at his grave, and begins talking with him as though he’s still alive, and, as a device of the show, he’s talking back, as a ghost, or memory, or whatever we want to call it. She says: “Why did you have to die? Everything’s unraveling since you’re gone.” She starts telling him how much she regrets not knowing him better, drops a number of F-bombs, and starts getting lost in her regret and pain and anger, and her brother says, “Claire, stop listening to the static.” I imagine Jesus’s words to Mary the same way: “Mary! Stop listening to the static. It’s me. Death didn’t win, and it won’t win. That’s just static. Stop listening to the static.”
This morning, Beloved, this morning the Risen One calls each of us by our name, and says, “Stop listening to the static. Because the earth trembles with a new song.” This morning Joy speaks your name and mine, calling us from death into life. Because this morning, and every morning hereafter, the gates of Hell and Death are blown off their hinges.
There are still some copies of last night’s bulletin around. On the front is the Anastasis, or Resurrection, Icon. If you get a chance to look at it, you’ll see that Christ is standing on the gates of Hades, and he is taking Adam and Eve by hand. This is the Good News of Easter: On Easter the Orthodox Churches repeat the refrain, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.” St. Cyril of Alexandria puts the matter somewhat graphically, portraying Jesus as a meal death just could not keep down, and that when he came back up, all those who had died came back up with him.
I love this image, because it captures the heart of the Easter Gospel: Christ is not among the dead, but among the living. A new creation is coming into being, and the former things will not be remembered. The former tears, the former sorrow, the screeching song of Death will be forgotten, overwhelmed by this new and grander symphony.
It’s hard to see it now. Joy is not always easy to perceive. Peter didn’t dare believe the report of the women. Mary could hardly believe that he hadn’t been taken away. But then he spoke. And his voice saying her name was all she needed to know.
He is alive, and calling you, too. To rejoice, to make merry, to feast. Are you in grief? Rejoice anyway. For the last enemy to be defeated is Death, and Christ has done that. He is not among the dead, but among the Living. Rejoice! We are free to live in this New Creation, with the Joy of Life that has trampled down death now and hereafter. So we sing our Allelulias! Besides Eastertide, the other time we hear and speak this refrain in our churches is during our burial rites. When we commend our fallen brother or sister to God, we say, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!” It is our way of recalling that because Jesus is raised, death does not end us, death cannot extinguish our joy, for that joy is kept in the hand of the one who has defeated death, and he is not in the habit of losing anything that belongs to him.
So rejoice this day, Beloved of God, and know that Christ calls your name, calls you beyond the grave and into joy, beyond the cheap fugue of death into the reckless and beautiful symphony of Life. It is not always easy to hear this song, but that is what the Church is here for: to remember it together; to celebrate it at the altar; to ground it in our experience of Christ in the Eucharist, and in prayer, to bear each others’ pains, and to sing our Alleluias for one another! For Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (The Lord is Risen, Indeed!)
I’m going to let Hopkins have the last word:
Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for disheveled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.