Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;
Easter moves around a lot from year to year. Unlike Christmas, which always falls on December 25th, no matter the day of the week or the number of shopping days left, Easter can fall on most any Sunday, and it is always a Sunday, on most any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. There is, in fact, an entire science, if I may call it that, for determining the exact date of Easter. For Anglicans, this can be found in an online supplement to the beloved Book of Common Prayer.
Look it up and read it some evening if you are having a difficult time falling asleep. Before you drift off, you will learn about golden numbers and Sunday letters, astronomical and ecclesiastical equinoxes, and the phases of the moon, all of which are crucial in determining when exactly it is that we celebrate the festival day of the Lord’s Resurrection. As a practical matter, and to impress your friends, just remember that, with few exceptions, Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full-moon after the spring equinox.
Time has always been important to Christians for the simple reason that our Redemption takes place in time. Unlike the gods and heroes of mythology, Christ actually lived among us in time and history. As the Gospels tell us, he was born; he grew up; he went about preaching the coming of the Kingdom; and, he died, horribly. And yes, he was raised. Despite the misgivings of skeptics, the reality of our Lord’s life, death, and Resurrection are among the best attested historical events of the ancient world. But for us who profess faith in Christ, the Resurrection is not just ancient history, it is salvation history, something entirely different. The Resurrection is essential to the story of our Redemption; it is in other words part of who we are still to this day, part of our spiritual DNA. History in the here and now.
It is no wonder then that over the centuries the Church has been so precise and meticulous about the timing of such an important festival day. But as arcane as is the computation for establishing Easter Day, it is only part of the story. For, not only is Easter a special time, it is quite literally special time. It is time out of time, if you like, time like no other. The Resurrection is something completely unique and unprecedented. As one New Testament scholar explains, “it never happened before, and it has never happened again… It is in the full and literal sense a mystery. It occurred beyond the boundary line of our existence.”
Which perhaps helps us understand why the Resurrection likewise occurred beyond the scope of human vision and sight; very nearly beyond the scope of human insight and understanding. No one as far as we know actually saw the Resurrection take place. And despite the fact that over the centuries painters famous and obscure have offered their imaginative depictions of the Resurrection, as you can see from the first page of our Order of Service this morning, the Resurrection itself remains forever a mystery.
The vivid description given to us in our passage today from the Gospel of Matthew probably comes closest to an actual attempt at a portrayal of the Easter event in the Gospels. “Suddenly,” Matthew tells us, “there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” You cannot get more dramatic and other-worldly than that. That is almost Hollywood, if I dare say. Matthew is telling us that this is no ordinary everyday historical event.
The Resurrection in other words, while a part of ancient, and salvation, history, nevertheless occurs beyond our ordinary everyday experience and senses. Other scholars explain the Resurrection as the bursting forth into time, into history, of eternity itself. The Resurrection is in this sense time yet to come; it is the Kingdom come; the future determining the past and present. It is as if all eternity were somehow concentrated into this moment when Christ overcomes death and the grave, and the infinite sweeps away the temporal. Yet if the Resurrection is unique in experience, it is essential to our existence as Christians. And so, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary we too must go “to see the tomb.”
And at this tomb, at this great earthquake, we find the Christ alive in the here and now. From this tomb, a symbol of death and defeat, a stone is rolled aside, and victory and life come forth. From this tomb, God’s love pours out upon our parched world of sin and death, of indifference and greed, of war and hatred. We do not know how this is so. But then there are a lot of things we do not know: How life began in some ocean lagoon billions of years ago, for instance. Just as our lives today are in some real sense mysteries we shall never fathom, so is the Resurrection for us a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life. Or perhaps more to the point, it is a sharing by God in our lives.
And so, time is very much with us. And so is the eternal, the ineffable. In the Resurrection of Christ, our life and our world gain true meaning. They are no longer random events, and we are not lost among the dust and detritus of history, footnotes in a dusty book or misplaced and forgotten thumbdrive. We are not after all lost in a vast cosmos of unimaginable dimension, devoid of love and hope. In this single event, in the Resurrection, everything is changed for all time. Love is made real. And we live now in Christ forever. No wonder the Angel, and later our Lord himself, tells the women, “Do not be afraid.”
In one of the great Anglican liturgies of Holy Week, we pray, “Let the whole world see and know, that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.” That is the Resurrection. So, mark your diaries and calendars, my friends, as this first day of the week is at last dawning. Christ’s Resurrection is after all the most real thing there is or ever was or ever will be.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs