(ˈrɛk wi əm, ˈri kwi-, ˈreɪ-) noun
Also called req′uiem mass′. the mass celebrated for the repose of the souls of the dead.
A columnist for the Dallas Morning News, who also happens to be a Christian, once wrote an article lamenting the commercialization of Easter. We expect such reports this time of year. But one paragraph from his well-meaning article struck me particularly odd. He talks about what he calls the pageantry of Easter, he writes, “… some of it, in its own right, is a good time. I like seeing the gleam in my children’s eyes when they find a hidden Easter egg. A picture on my desk shows them with baskets in one hand, eggs in the other.” But then he goes on,
“But how that part squares with the drama and even violence of the biblical message being observed this week beats me. This is a pageant largely about rejection, death, rebuke and division – not exactly what you associate with a bunny, a basket and brunch.”
On the one hand, what he says is true. There is a disconnect with how the world will observe this Easter season when confronted with the brutal reality of what actually happen during that first Holy Week; when Jesus of Nazareth after being welcomed as a king was then tortured and crucified not a week later. And yet, on the other hand, I believe that through faith, one can easily see how the joy of Easter connects to rejection, death, rebuke, and even division.
Even though the suffering and death of Jesus will occupy most of our thoughts, liturgies, and lessons this Holy Week they do not–they cannot—compare to the joy of knowing that Jesus did not stay in the tomb, but rose victorious over death, conquering sin and Satan along the way. That is where the focus of Easter should be: on the jubilation we feel that can only be appreciated once we understand the how much our sin has condemned us and the suffering that had to take place to atone for that sin.
To the world, what we celebrate on Easter morning is impossible. They say to us, “You fools! A man cannot be raised from the dead!” While they’re at it, they’ll add that Jesus could not have been God and man, cannot come to us through bread and wine, and does nothing for us in either water or Word. But, I regress. The world would rather we disregard any thoughts of joy and keep our focus on the rejection and rebuke of Jesus, to go on thinking that Easter, even Holy Week, is just about the death of man on a cross, nearly 2000 years ago that brings so much division today. They demand not a celebration, but a funeral; a requiem for Jesus.
John 20:1-9 begins with Mary Magdalene heading to the tomb early in the morning. We know that also with her was Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Salome, although John omits their names. Mary and the others were not going to the tomb on that first Easter morning to celebrate, they were going to mourn. Mary did not have in mind any thoughts that Jesus would not be there, she was bringing spices to anoint his body. They were preparing for that funeral the world wants so badly. When they discovered the tomb was empty, Mary ran to Peter and John, again not in celebration that God’s Word had been fulfilled, not with joy that Christ has risen, but in fear. They were afraid that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. Peter and John themselves then ran to the tomb, John got there first, but Peter pushed by to go inside and they both discovered that what Mary had reported was true! Jesus was gone. Did they break out in hallelujahs as the first witnesses that death could not hold their Lord? No, as John writes, “they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”
The reason the world wants a requiem for Jesus so badly is because they do “not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” Rejection, death, rebuke, and division: these things the world understands and undoubtedly why they are so intertwined with God’s plan for our salvation. The entirety of Scripture testifies to the fact that God would send a Savior; and Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the means through which God has reconciled us to him. Jesus lived the perfect obedient life we could never live, took our punishment in death, and rose again from the grave to declare to the world that the victory is His! Rejection, death, rebuke, and division have been defeated in Christ and that defeat is our inheritance when he returns. The world cannot understand these things, not because Scripture is unclear, but because the life-giving Gospel is being actively rejected the world over.
Nevertheless, Easter joy is found in rejection, but only for those who believe. For unbelievers, it’s a continued rejection of God’s grace and mercy that leads them to look upon our joy and jubilation at Easter and try to mimic it through empty traditions and false sentiment. For believers, it is an active rejection of Satan and sin armed with the knowledge that our God lives!
After Peter and John returned to their homes, Mary Magdalene remained behind at the tomb. The closest thing to a funeral happens at this moment when Mary breaks down in tears at the entrance to Jesus’ grave. When confronted with the death of a loved one anyone is driven to weeping. After all, death is the consequence of sin. Death is never a good thing. Mary loved Jesus not only as a friend, but as her teacher, and as we know from Jesus’ own teachings, to be his disciple meant abandonment of self and dedication to God.
To think that her beloved rabbi was now gone is understandably painful. And yet, when Mary looked into the tomb she saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been. They knew something she didn’t, they asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” The angels understood that despite the terror of death, her weeping was not necessary! Jesus was alive! Mary turns to see a man she did not recognize, and he also asks her, “Woman, why are you crying?” and when this man, who was Jesus, calls her by name she instantly recognizes him and cries out “Rabboni!” (Teacher!).
The angels knew as God’s Word declares that in this case, the death of Jesus brings life to the world. It is in this way that Easter joy is found in death, but only for those who believe. Unbelievers hold that death is an end, but for believers the death of Jesus brings comfort because by faith we are witnesses to his resurrection. We are overjoyed that Christ rose from the dead and that we too will rise to everlasting life with him when on the last day he calls us by name!
When Mary recognizes this man is in fact Jesus—alive and well—she clings to him not wanting to let him go. Now understand this, Mary did not merely touch him, but grabbed a hold of him with a combination of joy that he was truly alive and fear that he would leave. I can only imagine what went through Mary’s mind. Perhaps all the times she had taken his presence for granted or all the questions she wanted to ask him but never did, and now here he was back to life like he had promised. Of course, the surprise comes when Mary is rebuked by Jesus for holding on to him. Not because he was leaving her, on the contrary. Jesus wanted her to know that he was returning to the Father, and from there he would always be with her and accessible to everyone who believes. She was not to keep him to herself, but to share his comforting message with others. If only we would be so willing to cling to Jesus when he comes near.
For us, the fact that Jesus is with us always is something we often take for granted. In catechesis, I teach the children that because Jesus is God, he is everywhere, all at once and all the time. One problem we have when thinking about the ubiquity of Jesus is to think that because Jesus is everywhere, we can encounter him anywhere. No need for worship on Sundays: Jesus is just as close to me at home as he is at Church. No need for prayer: Jesus knows what I need and how I feel. You get the idea.
What we fail to grasp is that Jesus does come to us in a special way through his Word and Sacraments. That this same Jesus who was crucified and rose to life again actually comes to us in a way we can’t understand. He comes to us in a sacramental way through the Lord’s Supper. Jesus rebuked Mary so that she would know he is God and even when he would no longer be physically with her; he still would be with her and all believers until the end of the age. We deserve rebuke for taking this promise for granted and not seeking Jesus out where he may be found.
Thankfully, Easter joy can be found in rebuke, but only for those who believe. For unbelievers, the rebuke is harsh – to turn from their unbelief and their wicked ways to God! For believers, we cherish each rebuke from our Lord and Savior as a reminder that He loves us and desires that we walk according to his ways.
I’m curious if Mary knew when she, in obedience to her Lord, went to tell the news that Jesus was alive that she was bearing Good News that would ultimately divide the world. The world is expecting a funeral this day, a requiem for Jesus, because the Good News we bring cannot be accepted by the sinful human heart. So long as there are those who reject the free gift of faith there will be division. Jesus knew this was the outcome. Well before he went to the cross he told his disciples, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” The division that the gospel brings is unavoidable because of sin.
Now we know that Christ Jesus is the Prince of Peace and although his words here seem like a contradiction we must consider what he says in faith. The peace Jesus brings is between God and Man, is free to all, but rejected by so many. There seems to be no Easter joy found in division, unless you are on the right side of the dividing line. For believers, the joy is that God has claimed us as his own in Holy Baptism, given us life, and will sustain our faith until the very end. But that necessarily divides us from those who reject God’s peace. Nevertheless, this division gives us purpose: to reach out to the unbelieving world with the Good News of Easter that brings life everlasting.
Tell the world that there will be no funeral for Jesus this Easter. Although God did deign to become man, and face rejection, rebuke, and division, and even death on a cross, to take away our sins, he rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father! There is no need for weeping, you are forgiven and because Jesus lives, you will also live.