Saint Mary Magdalene, along with some other women who are not mentioned in our text, came to the tomb of Christ very early. While it was still dark, the stone had already been rolled away from the tomb and Christ was gone.
When exactly did Christ rise? We do not know. It was sometimes after sundown on Saturday evening, sometime before sunrise Sunday morning. That is about as much as we can narrow it down, which is not much. We can say that sometime in the dark hours, the Lord of life left His own tomb.
So we have our Easter vigil in the dark hours of this evening. As Christ did not wait for the sun to rise, so we do not need to wait for sunrise to hail His resurrection. Technically, this is Easter. We are here, like Mary, in the darkness, seeking our Lord.
She says to Saints Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” She says pretty much the same thing to the two angels, although she is not aware that they are angels. Then later she says to Christ (just as ignorant of His identity as that of the angels), “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Now, Mary apparently did not get the memo that the remains of a dead person are only an empty shell. Please understand that I am speaking tongue in cheek here. We Christians know that the body of a person is very important, even after death. Many in our culture do not understand that, and so do not understand the significance of Easter. Christ has risen and so resurrection is the destiny of all flesh, some to be raised to unending life, others to eternal shame. The body of a Christian is not forever dead, but is only waiting to be awakened on the last day. Our bodies are precious in the sight of Christ, since He paid so dearly to redeem both body and soul.
Mary did not yet understand the significance of Easter. But she did understand that the body of a person is the person, or at least part of him. After death, the spirit departs, but that does not make the lifeless corpse a meaningless shell, like a candy wrapper discarded into the trash. So she did not say, “They have stolen my Lord’s body from the tomb,” or “They have taken the lifeless shell,” or something like that. No, they had taken her Lord. He was missing, not merely His disposable wrapper.
Of course, since she was ignorant of these facts at first, Mary had the interesting conversation of asking Christ what He had done with Christ. “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” She was practically saying, “What have You done with Your body?” That makes no sense, but obviously she did not know that. We can smugly sit here and think how silly she was, but we sit at a great advantage through the revelation of the Word. Standing there in the dim morning hours, wracked by grief and confusion, I think we would do no better.
Sometimes, even with our privileged position in history with the full revelation of Scripture, we do little better. In worship, how often do we forget that He is here? He is not a figure from history whom we ponder from a distance. No, He is here. The darkness of our old Adam’s dim eyes often makes us miss what is right in front of us. He speaks and we hear His voice. Indeed, He is speaking right now.
From our advantaged position in history, do we miss the significance of Easter? We are here at Easter Vigil, which is a commitment above the average person. We are probably a good sample of those who know their Catechism pretty well. But we still forget.
Let me remind you. Easter is the resurrection of Christ, which means the resurrection of you. You will rise. Indeed, you have spiritually risen already from the death of sin through water and the Word. The dead will come to life, and you will be raised with a glorious body that death will never touch again.
But here in this Service, as we are perhaps as tired as Mary was, our minds may not be grasping much or remembering much. Thank heavens the Lord speaks to us through our confusion and the darkness of our thoughts. His voice is powerful to pierce our sinfulness to speak words of comfort. He says, “I am alive, not dead. I am risen, and you will rise too. This I have purchased for you.”
So even we who see from the great distance of time can believe the resurrection. We can believe in Christ the living One through the witness of Mary and the witness of the apostles. This is the power of the voice of the Risen Lord, for His voice is His Word that He speaks to us.
To Him alone be all power and glory and honor and authority and riches and wisdom and strength. Amen.
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