I heard a story about a man and his family who lived high up in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. One winter, after a tremendous storm, an avalanche buried their log cabin under thirty feet of snow. A Red Cross rescue team came across the chimney of the cabin several days later and began prodding into the huge mounds of snow with a long, hollow pipe. Finally they struck something hard, and with a few more pokes heard the faint sound of breaking glass.
Listening intently through the hollow pipe, they were pleased to hear what they were sure was human breathing. So they called down the pipe, “Hello, hello! Can you hear us down there?” “Yes, hello,” came the response. “Who are you?” “It’s the American red Cross.” And for a few moments there came no reply. But finally the man called back, “It’s been a pretty rough winter. Don’t think we can make a donation this year.”
Now, if you laughed at my Easter joke, thank you! But I started with it not because of the humor, but because it illustrates the main point of my sermon. Just like that man, you and I can become so accustomed to bad news that we often cannot hear the good news. That’s the truth, isn’t it? These days we are so overwhelmed on a daily basis with bad news, that we often cannot hear the good news.
That was certainly the experience of Mary Magdalene, who came to the tomb early on that first Easter morning. Finding the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, she runs to the disciples and finds Simon Peter and John, who came back to see for themselves that the tomb is not only open, but empty.
But they still cannot hear the good news, precisely because they are so accustomed to the bad news: “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he [Jesus] must rise from the dead.” So the disciples go back to their homes, while Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. And it’s easy to understand why.
Only days before this scene, Mary Magdalene had seen the crowds gather in Jerusalem for Passover. But their initial enthusiastic support for Jesus had turned to overwhelming condemnation. And then it was Judas, one of the inner circle of disciples, who betrayed Jesus to the authorities, while the other disciples deserted him and fled. Even Simon Peter had denied knowing him.
And then there was Friday, when Mary Magdalene had stood with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her sister, to witness the terrible agony and shame of the cross. At that point all those who had followed Jesus were without leadership, devastated by the death of their beloved teacher and master. Their hopes were dashed; they were alone and afraid.
Isn’t it the truth that the bad news that we are accustomed to hearing on television, on social media, or that we simply encounter in our daily lives, can also leave us feeling alone and afraid. While we are generally isolated in our homes, we can easily feel like waiting victims to this virus that has so effectively disrupted our lives and our livelihoods. All of this may give us cause to wonder, as perhaps the apostles did, if the bad news represented by the cross is the only news there is.
We may begin to wonder, “Where is God in all this?” Or, “What does the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, have to do with my life?” Nothing! Nothing at all, if we are looking to the Church as some sort of anesthetic that allows us to escape from struggling with the hard issues of life. Nothing at all, if we use religion solely to forget about the bad news which seems to encompass us on every side.
But, if the Church is a community where those who feel separated or distanced from God are truly welcomed; if the Church is like a healthy family where we can have misunderstandings and even argue with one another; if the Church is a place where people can laugh or cry, where they can reach out to one another, or simply be alone in stillness and quiet; if the Church allows us, even encourages us, to place our doubt and faith side by side; then we can begin to realize what the disciples slowly came to understand: that the seemingly bad news of the cross was part and parcel of the Good News of God’s love for them—God’s love for us.
Our worship began today with the Easter acclamation: “Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” But even as we proclaim that Good News, we must always remember that it has not so much eradicated the bad news as transformed it. We believe that God’s love for us is so great that god has shared in the very deepest part of our lives, knowing all our fears, doubts, temptations and struggles.
In Jesus, God has suffered alongside of us. I believe God is suffering alongside of us now. That is why even the ultimate “bad news” of death is not the final word. As Saint Paul tells us in speaking about the resurrection: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54b) That is what this day is all about!
Today we celebrate that the cross and the resurrection are both part of the fabric of human life: they are both part of our lives. Jesus came into the world, not to eliminate suffering, but to embrace it on the hard wood of the cross. And on Easter morning, God did not so much take away the pain of the cross, but rather, God transformed it. On that day, God raised not only Jesus, but the whole creation to newness of life.
God did this in order that we might know that there is more to this life than bad news. God did this so that we would know God is with us—loving us. God did this so that no matter what pain or suffering we find we have to go through, we would know that God is there with us. God did this, so that our lives would be transformed by the divine love.
“Why are you weeping?” That is what the angels ask Mary Magdalene as she stands outside the empty tomb. “Why are you weeping?” That is what the resurrected Jesus asks Mary when she turns around. And then, because she did not recognize him, Jesus speaks one word of love: he calls her by name – “Mary.”
And in that instant of recognition her weeping is transformed into laughter; her sorrow is turned into joy; the night is changed into day. But even at this moment, it was clear to Mary that the cross wasn’t just a bad dream. After all, she could still see the nail wounds in his hands and feet. The crucifixion was real, but Mary realized that it had been transformedby the mighty power of God.
Jesus’ love transformed Mary: it changed her suffering into power. And that is what the love of Jesus can do for each one of us: it can enable us to hear the good news even in the midst of the bad news; it can release us from our afflictions and addictions and powerless passivity; it can allow us to embrace and hold fast to God’s transforming power in our lives.
As Christians we can never become so accustomed to bad news, that we cannot hear the good news. Not if we really believe that Christ is risen. Not if we have experienced the transforming power of God’s love. Not if we in our own lives can say with Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord.” That is the good news. “I have seen the risen Lord.” In reality, that is the only Good News!