We have seen the death; the coronavirus death toll surpassed 10,000-mark last week. And now it has surpassed 20,000-mark. It’s not easy to fathom this surreal number. But what’s more tragic is that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg because there are so many unidentified deaths and misclassified deaths in the absence of available testing.
We have seen the death; the coronavirus related death of our friends, coworkers, their family members, and our family members, our neighbors. The pain of loss and grief breaks us down and leaves empty holes in our hearts. And there come fear and sorrow, fill us with the dark and bitter foretaste of death.
We have seen the death; the economic death. Numerous people have been laid off, closed their businesses, worked reduced hours, lost their new job opportunities. They suffer from financial crisis. And it’s frustrating that we don’t know how long this tragedy will last. This can possibly make many people’s lives a little less than dead.
We have seen the death; the spiritual death. Social distancing and self-quarantine increase anxiety and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Many people suffer from weariness of heart, depression, a sinking feeling that everything is falling apart. These mental effects can drag anyone to the edge of graveside and give them a walk-through of death.
Death is close to us than ever before. And in this time of hopelessness, we are fearful and helpless behind closed doors.
According to today’s Gospel story, they have also seen death. The disciples saw the death of Jesus…then, the death of their hope, their faith, and their spirit. Jesus’ death was not normal at all. It was the most painful and humiliating death imaginable. Jesus was crucified as a criminal, as an enemy of the state. And it means that the disciples are also in grave danger—danger of being accused of complicity in the attempt to stir up the crowd and overthrow the current religious and political orders.
Death is close to them than ever before. And in this time of hopelessness, they are fearful and helpless behind closed doors.
But in this real presence of death, something strange happens. It’s on the third day after Jesus died. Mary Magdalene visits the tomb of Jesus. And she finds the tomb open and Jesus’ body is not there. Receiving this striking news, Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb and get in there one after the other. There, they only see the linen wrappings and cloth that once covered Jesus’ body. They can’t figure out what’s going on. So they just return home.
But Mary still lingers there weeping outside the tomb. And before leaving the place, she bends over and looks into the tomb one more time. Then, she sees the angels. They ask her why she’s sad and weeping, and Mary answers, because Jesus is taken away. In a wonder, she turns around to leave the tomb. But right there, she encounters the resurrected Jesus. With exuberant joy, Mary immediately goes to the disciples and announces the amazing good news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)
“I have seen the Lord!” In the aftermath of the horrendous death of her good Lord and friend Jesus, Mary has deeply suffered a loss. But at the tomb, at the dark domain of death, where her hopes and dreams were buried with Jesus, she meets the Lord, the resurrected Jesus. At the tomb, Jesus comes to her, calls her, and opens her eyes to recognize him. The radiance of new life shines out of death. The way of new beginning unfolds beyond the dead-end of life.
“I have seen the Lord!” On this Easter morning, even if you might join this worship service with a heavy heart, mumbling, “I have seen death,” now may the good news of Mary be yours, “I have seen the Lord!” On this Easter morning, even if you might feel death is close to you than ever before, now may our Lord come much closer to you than death and dwell in your heart with his Spirit of life, with his light of resurrection.
On this Easter morning, when every one of us is simply facing the matter of life and death, I have no sophisticated message or words of wisdom to deliver. What I can only testify is the simple testimony of Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” I have seen the risen Lord, because he still is in my heart and because he still is in your heart. And because he lives, we know, even the worst things this crisis can throw at us are no match for the love of God that sustains us through each step of our lives now and the ones to come. Because he lives, we know, nothing—neither grief, nor fear, nor sickness, nor unemployment, nor social distancing, nor even this pandemic—can separate us from the life-giving love of Christ that overcomes the power of death.
Faithful friends in Jesus Christ, who are Christians? We Christians are the resurrection people, the people who believe in the ever-springing new life surging even from within the real presence of death. We are the resurrection people who believe that by the power of Jesus Christ, even the tomb, the dark domain of death, can always turn into the place of resurrection. With this resurrection faith, we can discover a possibility of something new even in the tomb, even in our deepest despair and suffering. And we can bounce back, always bounce back from ruins and wounds, into fresh spirit and joy.
The resurrection people, with the Risen Lord, can take courage to turn our dead-ends in life into new beginnings. The resurrection people, with the Risen Lord, can change this death-stricken world into a place of life, love, and wonder.
So today, let us live out our resurrection faith. Let us be the living proof of resurrection, the living proof of life-giving love here and now. “Here,” in this world, where the surge of death engulfs life, and “now,” at this very moment, when the surge of despair buries hope, let us be the resurrection people who bring forth the re-surge of life, the re-surge of hope, the re-surge of joy in the name of Jesus. Today the stone-shut tomb is wide open and the tomb becomes the site of resurrection. Death is not the final word for us anymore, but life is, because up from the grave, he arose. So today, let Mary’s testimony truly be ours. At the tomb, when and where death is close to me than ever before, “I have seen the Lord!” Christ the Lord is risen to day. Hallelujah. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim