Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed, Hallejuah!
The poet TS Eliot, in an attempt to describe European culture after the destruction of World War I wrote these now-famous words: “this is the way world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” His was an attempt to describe the horror and silence that accompany the end of any such conflict, to speak an ironic word to those whom believed that history must culminate in some Hollywood-type ending with mass violence, machinery and all the rest. One could easily, if so pressed, ply these words against those extreme apocalyptic cultural “prophets” who shout noisily about the end of all things. Here I have in mind not only political commentators on the left and right, but also our entertainment industry and even much of what passes for popular American Christianity. There seems to be at least one apocalyptic blockbuster every couple of years from the movie Armageddon from my time to the more current 2012 and others. Yes, even more so, sources that purport to be religious instruction, like the Left Behind series, attempt to provide you with a treasure map so that you may avoid the world’s ending by believing the right things, but this phenomena is by no means limited to American Fundamentalism. Martin Luther, for his part, believed that the world was coming to an end during the Reformation, and we can all get this feeling from time to time, depending on what is happening in and around our lives. Life can create trauma to the point where we are convinced that the world, if it is not ending, is at least going through some radical transformation and shift.
All good and well, but I suppose you are probably wondering just what any of this has to do with lilies and Easter egg hunts, to say nothing of Christ’s resurrection, that is what we are here to celebrate, after all. Well, the question that I would like to pose to you today is this: what if Christ’s resurrection and the world’s end are in some ways the same event? Now, clearly we have to qualify this a little bit. For when we speak of the end of the world, we do not mean “the massive asteroid ending civilization once and for all unless Bruce Willis can blow up said asteroid in space type” event. No, rather what we have in mind is what the ultimate destiny of humanity just might be. For when we speak of being human, we know only thing that is certain: that we will die and, I guess, pay taxes. Our whole existence is determined by this fact. Even those who claim no belief in God must reconcile themselves to the fact that life comes to an end: hence the optimism of phrases like “live each day to its fullest” and “squeeze as much joy as you can out of life,” which are true as far as they go. These phrases stand as a testament to this all-pervading reality, and so we can say that human history is conditioned by the fact that it comes to an end.
And it is this fact about human life, its ending, that is being confronted by the resurrection of the Christ who just three days past hung on a cross and was really and genuinely dead. This is a fact that Mary Magdalene knows and voices well. The dead do not rise, at least not yet, and this Mary Magdalene expresses this with a clear-eyed logic. Whereas the other disciples run away from the tomb, Mary comes to what can only be the logical conclusion: someone has taken Jesus’ body away from the tomb, and the insult of this would be enough to make anyone weep. So, she pursues a solution to this problem, even ignoring the presence of angels as tip off that some divine and holy mischief might be afoot. Instead, though, of pondering on the presence of angels, she asks this man, this completely and utterly unimpressive man, if he knows what has happened to Jesus’ body. Any respectable groundskeeper should know if someone has exhumed a grave on his territory, of course.
And it is into this water-tight logic, this worldview that knows that being human means dying once and for all, that this simple and world-ending word is spoken: Mary. Yes, this resurrected Jesus now calls out Mary by name, and it only this personal address that grants Mary the faith to perceive what is presently happening. It is when the resurrected Christ calls out her name that this Christ reveals that he himself has destroyed the power of death. Yes, this simple and small word, “Mary,” this transforms the very fabric of reality. No longer will death have the last word; for that world has come to an end. Oh Mary, you may continue to weep, but let sorrow no longer be the source of those tears. For what was once incomprehensibly good and true has now come to pass. Against all odds, against everything she knows to be true, against the certainty of Christ’s death on the cross, Christ now stands outside of his own tomb. Yes, the world that was once conditioned by death and fear, that world has now come to an end. For that most certain fact about life, namely that it results only death, that fact has now been defeated. TS Eliot, then, was only partially correct. The world might not end with a bang, but neither does it end with a whimper. Instead, because Christ himself has defeated the power of death, the world ends with his rising up out of the tomb. The world that was once determined by death and fear, the world in which you simply had to resign yourself to fate and sort of hope for the best, that world has come to a close. For Christ lives and reigns with the Father, and he calls out your name. For that is how the world ends, with the gentle and true voice of Christ calling your name.
Dearly beloved, if Easter means anything, it means that we need not beg at the idol of death, assuming that this life is all there is. To be sure, this does not somehow mean that we are now immortal. For Christ had to pass through the grave, through death and hell itself, in order to come to the resurrection. There is no Easter without Good Friday. But the astonishing, world-ending news of Easter that the grave will not have the last word. Christ has opened to us the way of everlasting life, as we say at the communion liturgy. His Father is now your Father, his God is now your God: which means that you have been gathered into the eternal splendor of the Father. Indeed, the gates of beauty, as the old hymn goes, have been throw wide open. In Christ Jesus, this God has made you his own, and this love of the Father is so true, so broad, that eternity itself cannot hold it. Instead, it spills over into the present and claims you right now. It claims you against forces of fear and decay. It claims you against skepticism and mistrust of our neighbors and bids that we love as fervently as Christ loves us, loving and caring even for those we would name as enemies. In this love that you now stand, you are free to love as extravagantly and widely as this mercy that now claims you, for you are named by God’s eternal care. Yes, this love of the Father, this love that Christ has given us, this love is no theoretical or abstract exercise. Instead, it is the one reality that is truer than the grave and the hope on which the whole of reality now stands. In the marvelous words of St. John of Chrysostom, a bishop in the early church:
“Let no one grieve at her poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.”
This is how the world ends, not with its destruction but with its resurrection. For Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed, Hallelujah.