No one witnessed the resurrection itself, only the empty tomb, the angels and the risen Christ.
There can be no real resurrection without someone to witness to its effect. So Mary is transformed – she becomes the first witness of the truth of the resurrection, the woman changed and charged by the risen Jesus to be the apostle to the apostles – to go and tell the disciples the Good News.
It is by the transformation of others that Easter is made real. It is the profound effect of their encounters with the risen Christ that turns the disciples from terrified recluses to exuberant evangelists. When Jesus is arrested and put to death, nearly all of the disciples run away in fear for their own lives. When Jesus is resurrected, nearly all go on to give up their lives. They become Easter people.
They don’t become immune from all suffering – far from it, but they become people of hope, whose song is Alleluia. But even for Easter People our lives rarely fit neatly into the liturgical seasons of the church’s year.
For some, it is still Good Friday or Easter Saturday. Some are still living with the horror of the crucifixion; others are immersed in tomb time – bereaved and bereft, wondering how on earth they can move forward, unable to understand how the world can keep revolving on its axis and life go on.
We all, I’m sure, know people who are in the midst of personal trials and tribulations, people who are sick, anxious, bereaved, betrayed, in debt, in addiction. That may be where you are today.
This Eastertide we know that our news will still bring us stories of terrible ongoing suffering around the world, and in our own community. And we may know that suffering in our families, among our friends, and in our own lives.
Easter people are those for whom their faith is their cornerstone in times of trouble. Easter people are those who come through some of the hardest, most painful experiences in life knowing that it is our faith, our relationship with God, which has somehow sustained us. We can’t always explain it, but we simply know, at a level too deep for words, that somehow, even if we only recognise it looking back, God has been present with us – not always in a tangible sense, and often through the presence and witness of others. God can be present even through a seeming absence – the hole we find so hard is in itself a sign that God is real; you can’t miss someone who was never there.
Easter people are those who know that all our experiences – the best and the worst, the most painful and the most joyous, our deepest secrets – are held in the palm of the one whom death could not contain. Easter people are those who recognise that there can be no empty tomb without the cross.
The resurrection is as big a mystery as the cross. Like Mary and the disciples, we cannot ever fully understand it, but we can recognise it speaks to us of a God who is faithful;
a God in whom we can trust;
a God who doesn’t leave or abandon us;
a God who is present even when we think we are alone;
a God who will go to the ends of earth and the very depths of hell for love of us;
a God who keeps promises and calls us into an ever deeper relationship;
a God who offers new life and fresh hope.
We know the resurrection because of the transformation it brought about in Mary, that first Easter person, and in all those who came to recognise the truth of which she and the disciples spoke, down through the ages. We see it in the faces of those we worship with, each of us opening ourselves to the truth of the resurrection.
We cannot explain, but we can give thanks and proclaim. For we are an Easter people and our song is Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen!