Easter – April 9, 2023
Happy Easter! Matthew presents us with one of the most dramatic readings of the resurrection. There was a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord descended, his appearance like lightening. In other words, light has split a crack in the universe and everything we thought we knew has changed. To meet Jesus is for the ground to move beneath you, nothing remains as it was.
Now in the early morning, the women encounter grief and joy as the darkness of the tomb gives way to light as dazzling as snow and lightning. The places that we knew were empty of hope are filled with divine presence, and the world as a whole has been remade new. We go to the garden looking only to be near our lost beloved, and find ourselves embraced by Love itself.
Gardens are an interesting metaphor for our Easter story. I continue sharing ideas from a wonderful spiritual author, Joyce Rupp. If you know about gardening, you know it can be hard work. Part of it involves preparing the soil for planting. After a long, hard winter the ground can be packed solid from heavy snows or pelting, drenching rains. The soil can be difficult to turn over. It resists the hoe or the garden tiller and it may take many hours of tiring work before the soil is soft and porous.
This part of gardening is essential, though, if green shoots are to push their way through the soil. A garden that has a hard, packed surface will not be able to receive the life-giving moisture of the spring rains. The water will run off and fail to soak the soil. Earth that is turned over is essential for a garden’s watering.
The human spirit is much like a spring garden. If growth is to happen, it too must be made ready. The human spirit must be opened up if God’s goodness is to grow there. Open minds and hearts are ready to receive the abundant life God constantly offers. Resurrection life.
In Matthew, the two Marys respond in at least three ways: fear, joy, and obedience. Fear is precisely how a good biblical character responds to angels and other divine manifestations. Fear is also how we respond when we are confronted with a new truth that will change our lives. In this sense fear and joy are not strangers. We experience both of them when we draw close to a friend, when we fall in love, when a baby is on the way, and when sickness and death draw near. Why shouldn’t fear and joy accompany us when we are called to live into God’s good news?
Let’s look more deeply into those moments when joy and fear hold hands. Sometimes we’re afraid that if we open ourselves to a new idea or person or a different approach to a situation we may get hurt, or look foolish, or appear incompetent. Nothing prevents personal transformation more than a closed mind or heart. Change cannot take place if we cling to and clutch at what we think is unchangeable. When our security is at stake, we may withdraw or fight instead of listening, instead of thinking, praying and talking about the challenge that is before us. We tend to defend our positions and our feelings, and find others to help us defend them instead of letting go, receiving new information, and listening to different perspectives that call for a change in us or in others.
Resistance leads to negative thoughts and feelings. We can easily criticize and find fault rather than give praise and affirmation. Unopen people are often filled with worries and are on edge with life. They feel angry, prevailed upon and misunderstood.
Open people, on the other hand, are usually filled with wonder and surprise. They are not afraid to hear new things and to meet people who carry beliefs and values different from their own. They are not threatened by diversity and plurality or by questions that differ from theirs or that seem to have no answer. They see life as a joy and are constantly amazed at the wonders and beauties with which God graces their days. New thoughts and ideas enter their life and strengthen them on their journey toward wholeness. They are truly like gardens whose waters never run dry.
Most of us are closed at one time or another. We all seek safety in certain areas of our lives. It is a natural human response. In our desire for security, we sometimes fight the call to grow and to change. It takes trust to open up and to be receptive to Easter moments.
In our personal experiences of resurrection, of Easter moments, there is the element of surrender and vulnerability. We are required to let go of our own agenda. We would like to plan this watering and refreshing of our souls ourselves. Just as surely as we find the date for Easter on the calendar, we want to know when our hearts will be filled with joy again.
But, we are called to be open, expectant, and ready, believing with all our hearts that new growth will come. God is with us, providing for us, watering our inner gardens. We will not be washed away, nor will we be left dry forever. As we enter into the resurrection stories, let us hear God coaxing us to be open like the way a welcome rainfall coaxes green out of a thirsty, dry garden.
Easter is about openness, about God coaxing growth from the turned over soil of our spirits. God waters the gardens of our hearts. Remarkably, the combined experience of fear and joy propels the two Marys to run and tell the other disciples. On the way they encounter the risen Jesus, who commands them to do precisely what they were already about to do. Fear, on its own, provides poor motivation for obedience. But joy, properly guided, makes us run to tell the story.
Fear and joy, despair and hope, doubt and faith, these are the two sides of our lives in this world. But in the end we have heard the resurrection promise that joy, hope, and faith will ultimately prevail.
Are we open and ready to receive the seeds of grace? Will the green shoot of divine life spring up in our inner garden? Just as Jesus promised his disciples would see him when their minds were ready to see the truth of the Resurrection, so we are under the same promise. Christ is risen, and he is here for all of us to meet.
Even now, angels accompany us in the darkness, faith remains possible, understanding will come, the voice of the risen Jesus calls us by name, and the God who destroyed death is ever able to turn our tears into joy. All is not lost. Remember: we have seen the Lord. We go to the garden and find ourselves embraced by Love itself.
Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia!