Easter is a time of joy. He is risen! Alleluia!
But we must admit that not all are joyful on Easter morn. The joy of Easter does not grasp them. And some who were joyful this Sunday are so no longer, as we returned to business as usual. The joy of Easter doesn't always stick.
This condition is not to be dismissed. The problem is not just joyless people. We must ask hard questions about the form of our Easter proclamation. We must ask whether our Easter talk is more than talk, but the gospel and its power to save.
Easter joy is too often experienced in a vacuum. For many of us, life is good. So Easter is just a little bit better. Perhaps the best. But still just on a continuum of the good life we define it.
For others, life is not so good. But we've learned to say that it is good despite our circumstances, for he is risen. That's faithful thing to say. But I it's not enough, for the Easter message is really for us and our lives. It is true. But it must come to us to be true for us.
For Easter joy to grasp us and stay with us, it must meet us in our mourning.
According to John's gospel, the first witness of the risen Jesus was in mourning (20:11). Some angels asked why she was weeping. Interestingly, she doesn't say she's weeping because Jesus died. She says she's sad because Jesus' dead body has gone missing: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (20:13). Surely she was mourning his death too, but I find it striking that she weeps because she's lost her Lord.
I doubt she's the only who can find the Lord.
Then she turns around (note: with the tomb behind her!) and sees Jesus, though she does not recognize him. She asks if he took the body (note: the answer is yes! cf. John 10:18) and, if so, if she could have it (note: the answer is no, see below). But not until he speaks her name does she recognize him. Jesus knows his sheep by name, and Jesus' sheep know his voice.
Jesus comes to those who mourn.
Peter ran. He got to see inside an empty tomb.
John ran too. He saw some folded linens and was to the first to believe.
Mary wept. And she got to see Jesus.
Jesus comes to those who mourn.
"Blessed are those who mourn..."
You know how the rest goes: "for they shall be comforted." I find it striking, however, that Jesus does not comfort Mary. He's actually quite curt with her: "Don't hold on to me." He did take his body, but she can't have it. She seeks the comfort that comes from holding on to Jesus. She came to the tomb to hold on to him in his death. And now she wants to hold on to him in his resurrection. But Jesus says, "Don't hold on to me." He is not willing to be an object she can control, i.e., an idol. For he is a subject, a person, a living being who acts and who calls us to act. Jesus is alive.
But Jesus doesn't ignore her. He doesn't disregard her mourning. He calls her out of mourning and into his service: "Go and tell my brothers!"
Blessed are the who morn, for they shall be ... sent!
The joyful message of Easter may not comfort you in the way you seek to be comforted. But it does call you. You are called--in the midst of your mourning, then out of your mourning and to other who mourn.
And the message with which you are entrusted is a message of comfort: "Go and tell my brothers, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" The joy of Easter is that in the risen Christ we have God as our Father. The one who is by nature the Son of God makes us God's children by grace. We are adopted in him. The one who sits at the Father's right hand is our brother. He is the firstborn from the dead, and so we may be bold before the Father. We can seek the comfort we need in the name of Jesus Christ. That's the joy of Easter.