“Early on the first day of the week…”; those of us who are early risers – whether daily, or weekly, or only every-so-often, know that the transition from dark to dawn can be breath-taking. The world looks new and fresh; the day stretches infinitely in front of us; and each tree, leaf, flower, bird, blade of grass seems so full of life. And on this particular morning, I’m sure Mary, the one who came from the town of Magdala, who had stood at the foot of the Cross with the other women, was glad for whatever sense of life and hope she could get from her surroundings as she went to the tomb of her friend and rabbi; a tomb that was located in a garden, not far from the place of crucifixion. Mary showed up, the way we often do, when someone we love has died – to grieve, to bring the burial spices, to be a witness to a life.
She came on the dawn of the new day, the first day of the week, what in Judaism is understood to be the day of new creation. “Early on the first day of the week…” In telling the story this way John, the Gospel writer, wants us to hear the echoes of the opening of Genesis, the story of the first creation: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God, the Spirit of God, the breath of God, swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis goes on in the second account of Creation to describe a garden, a beautiful ordered world into which God places humankind as stewards and caretakers. We know from looking around us at this time of year, when the world is coming into bloom, how strong that sense of living in God’s garden can be, if we have eyes to see, if we pay attention.
So John wants us to pay attention, to hear clearly, what Mary is seeing and experiencing – the New Life, the New Creation that God had promised throughout the ages and the pages of Scripture has come to fruition. Jesus has been raised from the dead – in the midst of a garden, a new beginning with an echo of the Garden of Eden, undoing the ancient sin of that first garden, the disobedience and separation from God that seems to lurk in our genes.
And yet, Mary did not recognize Jesus at first; through her tears, she thought he might be the gardener of that place. It was when he spoke her name that she recognized him: Rabbi; Teacher; Messiah. It was Jesus, gone through the grave and gate of death and come out the other side, himself, yet different; a new sort of physicality that is much more full of Life (with a capital L) than his previous body, a harbinger of the New Creation that God has in store for us all. The image of a renewed humanity coming New Life in a garden is God’s very clear statement of God’s promises coming to fruition at last. A renewed human family – of which Jesus is the first-born; a renewed Creation, of which the garden is a symbol and sign. Here at All Saints’ we are reminded of this every time we come to worship, for there on the wall above our altar is the Resurrection window, the Risen Christ with the marks of the nails in his hands, and two of the women who had come to the tomb gazing with love, adoration, and awe. And all of this is placed in a garden with a landscape of hills and trees in the distance – the world for which Jesus died and rose to New Life.
So why does all this matter? What difference does it make to us that a first-century Jewish rabbi who grew up in a carpenter’s family in Galilee should be arrested, tortured, executed in a collusion between the religious authorities and the military governor, all the while having been abandoned by most of his friends and followers? And what difference does it make to us that God then raised him to life three days later? Not a resuscitation, to die again later on, but a resurrection to New Life?
It matters because this is the way God faithfully kept his promise to renew and redeem his Creation, including us his people. It matters because after centuries of suffering, sin, death, and despair in the world, God came into human life in the person of Jesus, and took upon himself the very worst the powers-that-be (both human and spiritual) could dish out. Jesus took all that upon himself on the Cross – and that includes the very worst that we have ever done, or had done to us. All our brokenness, fear, shame, doubt, anger, anxiety, hubris, faithlessness, discord, abandonment, was put to death on the Cross along with Jesus – borne in his heart, and upon his shoulders. He became us, and we all – in a sense – became him. By his taking all that on he broke the back and ultimate power of Death and all its minions.
Jesus’ Resurrection opened for us a new path to life for us and for the whole world; a life in which all humanity is in the process of being restored to right relationship with God. with each other, and with all Creation. This was always the plan, always the purpose and the promise at some point in God’s future. But in the Resurrection, God’s future has come to meet us, and we see clearly what we are meant to be: brothers and sisters with Jesus, children of God our Father, care-takers and stewards of this life and beautiful creation God has given us. That future is far from complete, not yet fully-arrived. But as we put our faith and trust in Jesus, as we are faithful to God who is faithful to us, as we live in Jesus’ way and center our hearts and minds and actions on him, we will know and grow God’ life in us. It’s like nurturing and watering a seedling that breaks from the earth in joy and hope, but still needs careful cultivation if it is to grow to its full height and strength and bear fruit.
The path of New Life that the Resurrection opened for us is very much about the way we live here and now. It is also about resting with God after our death - the stuff of our existence being taken up into God, like the monarch caterpillar in its chrysalis dissolving so that only its DNA is left, before it finally emerges as a butterfly. After our death, we rest in God until such time as God’s Kingdom comes in completeness to all Creation. And then we, too, will be raised to New Life, to a Spirit-infused body, in a Spirit-infused world. What this all means is that nothing that has been made is ever lost to God, unless we turn our backs on God’s faithfulness.
This is, indeed, the Eighth Day, the Day of New Creation, New Life in which the Risen Christ has opened the way for all who will follow. This is the Day of life, and joy, and hope, and glory, and peace…and we go on from here. Thanks be to God! Amen. Alleluia!
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
April 16, 2017