I believe the best things in life happen early in the morning. God apparently made some of us to be morning people and the rest to be night owls. Morning people see sunrises but miss Saturday night live. Night owls miss the first light of day, but they are awake to enjoy the mystical quiet that descends after the rest of the world is asleep.
I’m a morning person. To whatever extent my mind is ever sharp, it’s sharpest in the morning. It increasingly becomes much as I move toward the witching hour of 9 p.m. when it simply stops functioning.
How about you? Are you one of those people who jumps out of bed at the break of day and shouts “Good morning, Lord”? Or do you open one bleary eye at a time and mutter, “Good Lord, it’s morning.”?
Someone once said that “If people were meant to pop out of bed, we would all sleep in toasters.”
Mary Magdalene seems to have been a morning person. She and other followers of Jesus stayed away from the grave site on the Sabbath after Jesus’ death as the Jewish law required, but at the first hint of light on Sunday morning, she was at the tomb. I don’t know if Mary was naturally perky at that hour or if her grief had rendered her sleepless. Either way, according to the Gospel of John, she was the first to know that something out of the ordinary had happened.
The various gospels, written at different times and reflecting different priorities and perspectives, do not agree on the specifics of those first moments of discovery. What they do agree on is that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that his body was not in it. Only John tells us that Jesus was out of the tomb but still nearby. The others imply that he was long gone and that the followers of Jesus would have to wait to see him later. In John’s account, Mary was alone at the graveside, weeping. She talked with some angels about her confusion, and then turned around and saw a man she thought was a caretaker, specifically a gardener.
In his book Velvet Elvis, author and speaker Rob Bell comments on this moment. He writes, “It’s such a letdown to rise from the dead and have your friends not recognize you.” Eventually Mary did realize it was Jesus. And then he was gone.
In the Medieval churches of England, congregations celebrated Easter by tossing brightly decorated eggs up and down the central nave of the church where the choir sat. The priest and the choir tossed them back and forth until exactly twelve o’clock. Whoever was holding an egg at noon got to keep it. Choir, are you up for that?! Eggs have symbolized Easter since the earliest years of the Christian faith. New life stirs within a dark, enclosed place and ultimately bursts forth, leaving an empty shell. The tomb Mary saw early in the morning was empty.
Many of you know that my husband Leroy and I moved to a new house last fall. What attracted us to this particular home were the beautiful gardens. When we first saw the back yard in August, it was a profusion of bright flowers and interesting plants of all sizes and shapes. By the time we moved in, the garden was waning, and soon it was just a mess of dried, tangled stalks that needed to be cleared out and sent to the compost bin. The couple who sold us the house had spent many years creating the gardens. On the day after moving out of the house, the gentleman who owned the home returned to patch some holes in the walls and had a massive heart attack and died right there, alone. I’ve thought about him quite a bit this spring. The flowers are starting to bloom. Right now there are tulips by the driveway, and Irises are rising and showing their purple faces by the back fence. It’s as though the ground is trembling with an urgency to show off all of the beauty that is still contained within dried branches and beneath the bare earth. I never met the prior owner of the house in person. I did go to his funeral, so all I know about him is what others have said. He was a priest who left his vocation to marry a woman with eight children who he raised as his own. In his later years, he returned to ministry and served as a chaplain to those who were dying. His garden tells me a great deal about who he was: from the hops plants that he used to brew beer in the basement, to the delicate flowers that inspired the neighbors to get busy and beautify their own yards.
Who do you know like that? Our lives are enriched and animated by those who have died. Many in our congregation have experienced losses in this past year. And the legacy of each of those who has passed from this life continues to grow and add beauty to our world.
Jesus said to Mary in the garden, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Jesus was right there; she just couldn’t recognize him because she was not accustomed to seeing what she thought shouldn’t be there. Mary had her eyes ready to see death, so she didn’t recognize life when she saw it.
I’m getting a bit weary of hearing about bombs. Last Sunday bombs killed worshippers in Egypt. A few days early, children and adults in Syria died after a bomb containing poisonous gas was dropped on their neighborhood. This week, the unfortunately named mother of all bombs exploded in Afghanistan. And this weekend the world held its breath, waiting for North Korea to test a nuclear bomb, and wondering if testing will advance to warfare using weapons in a conflict where there are no winners. We seem to have short memories when it comes to such things. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should prevent anyone from even thinking of detonating such weapons.
We have eyes that are accustomed to seeing death, just like Mary. We see the specter of death on the news as we wait to hear whether the state of Arkansas will execute eight prisoners by lethal injection over the next eleven days. The death of Jesus on the cross was not just a symbolic religious act. It was a state-sanctioned execution. We can’t stop violence through new acts of violence. Bombs and executions can only inflict death on the world. The message of Easter is that God through Jesus is inflicting life. Jesus’ death was gruesome and unjust, but his followers experienced life in the wake of his execution because they refused to let go of his message of hope.
When I lived in the city of Buffalo, the route from my work to my home took me right past the city zoo. I drove past the giraffe House every day. The giraffes were curious about the traffic, and they stretched their long necks over the fence. I was always amazed by their odd beauty. Yesterday morning, millions of people watched the live streamed birth of a giraffe in New York State. More evidence that the best things happen in the morning! Facebook erupted with joy when the baby giraffe emerged and dropped rather inelegantly to the ground. What is it about birth that is always so surprising and amazing, no matter how or when it happens?
Regardless how we understand this event that we call the resurrection, it is at its core an affirmation of life.
A poet named Richelle Goodrich penned these words:
Joining in a birdsong,
Eying an early sunrise,
Smelling yellow daffodils,
Unbolting windows and doors,
Skipping through meadows,
Reviving spent life,
Inhaling fresh air,
Sprinkling seeds along furrows,
Tracking in the mud.
Easter is the soul’s first taste of spring.
We are Easter people, and therefore we are morning people! God is continually doing a new thing in this world, and the signs of life are all around us. Open your eyes. See the unexpected. Receive God’s love for you today, and embrace God’s gift of hope! Amen.