Easter Morning, April 17, 2022
Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; John 20:1-18
Rev. Cameron Partridge
Good Morning, St. Aidan’s, and Happy Easter! It is a joy to see you here in this physical space and connected via Zoom, some of you I believe from far away. On this Easter Sunday morning we come together having traveled far, whether this is your first time connecting with us, the first time after a long time, if you were here at some point this week for one of our Holy Week services, or even just last night for our Easter Vigil. We have traveled far these last two plus years of a pandemic that is still with us, carrying all that has happened during this time, with so much around the world and in our lives that weighs heavily upon us. The Easter joy that greets us this morning is mindful of all these things. God has been with us all along the way, and this morning invites us to receive the message of resurrection right where we are, to hear in the promise of newness of life a word that can bear us up even as so much remains unresolved in our world. Last week on Palm Sunday, a service that invited us literally into a procession leading us into this morning’s joy, I shared a concept from the seventh century theologian Maximus the Confessor, “ever moving rest.” Maximus’ language evoked the promise of eternal rest, the completion or sabbath toward which all things move. Yet the rest at the heart of that promise is also ever-moving, eternally beating with love for the God whose embrace of us can never finally be contained. This Easter morning, I invite us to hear ever-moving rest as an Easter call that can meet and sustain us here and now.
Our first reading, as well as our Psalm give us a vision of joyful arrival through long, arduous journeys. Behold, the Prophet Isaiah declares, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth… be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” God is in the midst of a project of creation that is ongoing, and God invites us to rejoice in it. That invitation acknowledges “the sound of weeping,” “the cry of distress.” It names the realities experienced in Isaiah’s context of the Babylonian exile: terrible pain, premature death. Such horror is not the last word. Life transformed is. Life planted, rooted, like “the days of a tree” as Isaiah puts it, is. God sees God’s people in all places and times, especially in contexts of desolation and despair. We are invited to hear: God cares for each and every one of us in distress. We are invited to see God’s vision, God’s dream: the active transformation of suffering and oppression, a world in which, as our Psalmist declares, “the same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” This dream, this movement, “is God’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This vision is meant to give us rest, life-giving sabbath, and hope.
Our passage from the Gospel of John depicts the story of the resurrection in a way that acknowledges the trauma that Jesus’ followers were going through and brings them into a shockingly new sense of hope. John’s version of the resurrection story is my favorite of them all, for this reason. In the Lukan version, which the Easter Vigil centered last night, a group of women who had been carefully accompanying Jesus through the horrors of his last week, discovered that his tomb was empty, as they approached to anoint his body with the traditional ointments and spices they had prepared. In our version this morning, Mary Magdalene makes this discovery on her own. She is bereft. Not only had she lost her beloved Jesus to death, but now insult was added to injury, as she could not even give his body the care it deserved, a last gift. When she told Simon Peter and the disciple simply known as “the Beloved Disciple” about the missing body, they ran to see what was happening. Somehow the Beloved Disciple was able to, look, enter the tomb, “see and believe.” But in the wake of all this activity Mary stands outside the tomb in the garden in profound mourning. So much so that when the one she loved spoke to her, she could not initially place him. Only when he speaks her name, “Mary,” is she able to turn and really take him in, with utter astonishment. Jesus who had died, now stood before her alive. But what did this mean? Where would things go from there? The situation had not suddenly become uncomplicated, neatly resolved, a bow tied on the end of the worst week.
Resurrection life as it stood before Mary was as deeply confusing as it was joyful. We aren’t given a description of Mary’s physical reaction except as implied in Jesus’ statement, “do not hold onto me (Μή μου ἅπτου), because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Mary seems to have reached out for Jesus in some way, I imagine to enfold him in a massive hug. Sometimes artistic renderings of this moment envision her holding his feet. It’s hard to imagine not wanting to spontaneously hold onto a loved one after a profound separation, especially after believing the separation would be forever. Jesus’ response to this impulse – or perhaps action—on Mary’s part raises questions. If death could not contain Jesus, how could Mary’s holding onto him prevent anything, let alone his ascension? But the problem is not what Mary’s holding onto him could prevent in terms of Jesus’ risen body. Jesus’ comment offers a certain wisdom for Mary herself, and for all of Jesus’ beloveds. The Greek verb for “hold onto,” hapto, means “to fasten or adhere to.” The poet and liturgical writer Janet Morely renders it as “cling.” In her book All Desires Known her prayer for the feast of Mary Magdalen reads, “Christ our healer, beloved and remembered by women: speak to the grief which makes us forget and the terror that makes us cling, and give us back our name; that we may great you clearly, and proclaim your risen life.” In the face of resurrection life, Mary’s invitation, and ours, is to receive the Beloved One, to rest in God’s presence, to embrace it without grasping, to let it move in and through us, opening our hearts to its earth shattering, life-giving truth, and sending us forth to proclaim resurrection clearly in a deeply unsettled world.
As I dwelt with this passage leading up to this morning, thinking about its call to resurrection joy in the midst of challenge, I found that a particular story kept surfacing in my mind. It is of my grandmother, Helen. I’ve talked about her before—perhaps most recently at our Blue Christmas service back in December. My grandmother would not likely be characterized by many who knew her as an immediately joyful presence. She had a sometimes formidable air, very practical, no-nonsense in many ways. She was utterly devoted to her loved ones. You always, always knew she would be there for you, no matter what, if it was in her power. She would go to the mat for you. She had been raised on a farm in Wisconsin and lived through the great depression, coming here to the Bay Area with my grandfather when he shipped out in World War II. When my family went through a nexus of terrible things in my childhood, she was an absolute rock. She had our backs. I always had a sense that she had been through a great deal in her life, more than I knew or know—there was a certain sadness about her. She didn’t laugh easily. Which is why this experience stands out in my memory. I think I was around ten or eleven one weekend hanging out at her house, and we were watching tv on the small set she had in her room. Grandma watched various shows – the Golden Girls, Dallas. But on this day we were watching the Muppet Show. Now, as some of you know, I adore the Muppet Show. We watched two episodes aired back to back, I remember specifically. In one Gilda Radner was the guest. She danced with a giant carrot who was supposed to have been a parrot, but someone had heard her request wrong. Then behind stage Dr. Bunson Honeydew attempted to get Gilda to try a new superglue—when she demurs, something goes wrong and it gets everywhere. As the show progress, all the Muppets progressively get stuck to one another. Poor Gilda tries to do a tap dance and ends up wrenching loose the stage floorboards. The second episode we watched involved the Muppets getting a mysterious illness in which they would sneeze and suddenly turn into chickens. Gonzo was thrilled. Now, as some of you know, I adore the Muppets. They absolutely give me life. And this story may be why. Because my grandmother and I laughed so hard. I can’t possibly evoke it clearly enough. Tears were rolling down our cheeks. If you know me well, that may not be hard to believe. But if you knew my grandmother, you might understand the significance of this. Because she just didn’t do that—not spontaneously, not in the time of her life that I knew her. The shared laughter was so precious to me. It was, as I think about it now, a profound, utterly joyful action of letting go. It was a making of space. It was deep connection without clinging in a time when holding on was such a natural reaction. It was in its odd way an image of resurrection joy that met us where we were, giving us life in the midst of ambiguity and change, relief from grief without denying it. It was a release into the flow of God who brings life out of death not only at the completion of all things, but even now, even in this life.
And so, dear friends, my prayer for you this morning is that you might hear how God is calling you to open your heart, to gently release whatever you may be gripping tightly, to allow the hope of resurrection life to come into your life in the midst of whatever you may be making your way through. My prayer is that you might experience the joy of resurrection as a bond, even a kind of unruly glue that connects you to your beloveds, that binds you to the whole collective body in whose membership we affirm our belonging this morning in the renewal of our baptismal covenant. I invite you to know yourself to be both held by and drawn into the promise of ever-moving rest as Easter people. May we proclaim the deep truth that Christ is risen in our lives in ways both expected and unexpected this season. May we rejoice together. Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.
 Janet Morley, All Desires Known: Expanded Edition (New York: Church Publishing, 1994), 28.  The Muppet Show, Season 3, Episode 4 with Gilda Radner.  The Muppet Show, Season 3, Episode 21 with Roger Miller.