The Collect: Almighty God, who through your Son overcame the world and conquered death, grant that we might not only live in him, but that we might daily rejoice in this gift of life through thy Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
At last the day of rejoicing has come! Our Lenten afflictions now past, we echo the Psalm: “The LORD has punished me sorely, / but he did not hand me over to death.” Indeed, through Jesus we have been handed over to life! Whatever satisfaction we found in anticipation during the dark days of Lent has now become reality with the risen Jesus. “[We] shall not die, but live, / and declare the works of the LORD.”
Even Jeremiah, a Lenten prophet if ever there was one, anticipated the day of restoration and rebuilding, when the vineyards will be replanted and with merriment and dancing the people would proclaim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, / and to the LORD our God.” This restoration will come, he shows the Lord saying, because “I have loved you with an everlasting love; / therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Easter truly testifies that not even the grave could extinguish Jesus’ faithfulness and love for us.
Similarly faithful was Mary Magdalene, who went to the tomb even before the sun was up. Her anguished words to the other disciples—”They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him”—suggest that she did not expect Jesus to have risen, and yet, even though he was gone, she wished to be where he was. For this faithfulness, she became the first witness of the resurrected Lord, the apostle to the apostles, sent by him to those whom he had sent. With what tenderness did he call her name, and with what love did he honor her faith!
May we follow Mary in striving to be where Jesus is, even when he seems to have gone from us. In the lonely quiet of such moments, our names, too, might pass his holy lips, the love that breaks forth unexpected only by us.
Indeed, Mary’s example reminds us that Lent was never really about deprivation. If in the deprivation of his death she still sought his presence, we must also learn, in the words of the epistle, that our “life is hidden in Christ with God.” We can “set [our] mind[s] on things that are above” even while we are on earth. Mary’s lesson is that every day can be Easter, even before we realize the truth of it.
George Herbert gives beautiful expression to this lesson in his two-part poem “Easter”:
RISE heart ; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise :
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long :
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied ;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
I got me flowers to straw thy way ;
I got me boughs off many a tree :
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume ;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour ?
We count three hundred, but we misse :
There is but one, and that one ever.
As the Psalmist writes, “On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” With Herbert, let us remember that there is but one day—Easter day—and then, like Mary, let us proclaim the good news, joining our voices with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon: “This is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: that he lives!”
He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!
For the music, a hat tip to Jill Austin for introducing me to “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” with words by John MacLeod Campbell Crum (1872-1958) and set to the 15th-century French carol “Noël nouvelet.”[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVduV0ustWw]