Today, I Will Rise

Easter Sunday – April 8, 2012

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

If we are paying attention, there is a moment – a second in time – between when we open our eyes in the morning and when we get out of bed, when everything seems to take a pause.  That moment, the space between the warmth of the covers and the dash to get everyone out the door, is rich with expectation and potential.  It says: Anything is possible. Today is a fresh beginning. Today, I will rise.

The image of rising up is rich with meaning. It suggests a transition from being asleep to being awake. It speaks of courage: rising to meet a challenge.  It feels like resurrection, the return from insurmountable odds. There is a reason why so many movies have that moment we all know to expect: there’s something exhilarating about being caught in that space, between what has happened and what will happen. Everything seems lost — when the hero is surely dead, when breath stops – but we don’t despair. We know it’s coming: the life-saving gasp, the final comeback to victory. The resurrection. The Rising Up.

That is the story of Easter: the rising up of Jesus, the conquering of evil in the face of certain darkness, the coming of the light of the sun over the horizon. We experience in this morning’s gospel the dawning truth falling upon the faces of the women who have come to the tomb of Jesus and found him vanished. “Why are you weeping?” the angels ask Mary. “Why are you weeping?” Jesus asks her.  And slowly, she realizes what has happened – she emerges from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. And she spreads the news of the Resurrection of Jesus to the disciples.

But it is not only Jesus who is resurrected at Easter: the gift of Easter is extended to all of us in turn. God is telling each of us to rise up, to start new. That moment between waking and getting up is not just the possibility of a new beginning: at Easter, it becomes a new beginning. And not just this morning, when we are basking in the glow of a happy day, but every morning. Easter is the salve that says to each one of us: rise up, God has a plan for you, and it is a good plan. Rise up!

Earlier this morning, our youth shared with us the tale of the three trees that had big dreams that didn’t go the way they wanted. But their story is ultimately about rising up to what came next: accepting the past and facing the future. To rise anew on Easter doesn’t mean we forget our mistakes; it means that they don’t weigh us down so heavily that we can’t start again.

But Jesus says another thing to Mary at the tomb: “Do not hold on to me,” he tells her, “for I have not ascended to God.” And this is the part, I think, we often neglect at Easter: the not-holding-on part. Maybe, you can all agree, it sounds like a great offering from God: the promise of a fresh start, a new rising. Maybe you can even resolve to make it happen, right before you jump out of bed.

But if you hold on to the things you need to let go of, you won’t get very far. What might those things be? We know them all: lies we’ve told, insults that have slipped out, acts of selfishness or cruelty, careless anger. Some of it’s been against ourselves and some against others. “Don’t hold on to it,” God says at Easter. Let it go. Rise up!

Now what does Jesus mean when he says to Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” Surely, he’s not telling her to forget him, or to abandon his teachings. He is urging her not to hold on to him in an unhealthy way, where her grief will weigh her down. So it is with our own personal baggage of weights: don’t forget them, don’t abandon what you can learn from them. But don’t let them weigh you down. Easter is when God’s step in and says to each of us: here is the weight you need, so you might rise in the direction of the gospel, flawed but not flailing.

What gives us the power to rise? To overcome sadness and disappointment? Easter is the act of life defying death. It is the moment when God reaches out a hand and yanks each one of us to our feet. And then, we might ask, what happens next? Well, too often, we quickly pile on the burdens that flatten us down to the ground again. We seek the wrong things as if they will help us rise, when instead we should to look to the disciples for our lesson.

Mary leaves the tomb.  She walks away from Jesus and runs off to tell the disciples. She rejoins community, and her rising becomes a contagion for the others, as the news spreads. And so empowered, the disciples begin the work of the gospel, a selfless and dangerous act for a greater good. If they had just sat around, enjoying the fresh feeling of Easter, the lift of the resurrection would have lasted for a while. But for how long? That’s a hard feeling to sustain, especially when you are relying on memory to do so. No, the disciples had to go out and recreate Easter with good works; they had to rise each day spreading the teachings of Jesus. In this way, the resurrection remained a powerful force in their lives.

Easter Sunday is my favourite morning of the year: full of energy and promise. There’s a sense of shaking off the shadows and austerity of Lent and certainly the darkness of Good Friday. But to hold on to that feeling, as Jesus would say to Mary, we must walk away from this place today and be people who are trying to rise to God’s challenge everyday. We have to find the right balance between savouring the moment and taking inspiration from it. After all, one cannot rise by standing still.

Savour the joy and warmth of the resurrection on your face today, and the possibility and potential that it signifies. Feel the hand of God this Easter yanking you to your feet. Rise up!

Christ is risen! Alleluia!