Easter – April 4, 2021
John 20:1-18

          While it is still dark, Mary arrives at the tomb and finds the stone has been removed. The entryway is open wide. Mary was grieving – imagine how she must have felt when she realized Jesus’ body was not there. It’s odd, mysterious, uncomfortable, a little scary – they’re just a few descriptors that come to mind. And then she runs to share this news with two other disciples who then run to the tomb.

So, perhaps we are in a strange, uncomfortable space and time today as we proclaim our Alleluias!, as we proclaim that Christ is Risen.  We are doing so in the shadow of all those we have lost to COVID-19; in the wake of mass shootings; chaos at our southern border; mass unemployment and food insecurity; a deepening crisis of pandemic-induced loneliness, depression, and anxiety; and the ongoing scourge of racial tension, violence, and injustice in our streets and institutions.

We have endured quite a lot between last Easter and this one. We’ve witnessed or sustained losses on a scale we’ve barely begun to register, much less to grieve.  We’re weary, we’re numb, we’re bewildered, we’re sad. And so, it may not be so easy to absorb and celebrate the Easter story even though we know it is the most consequential story we have ever heard.

Perhaps we need to practice a slow Easter, as Debi Thomas shares:

She says: “This year, I’m allowing myself to practice a slow Easter—an Easter that takes root within me as imperceptibly as seeds break into life beneath the earth.  Anyone who grows green things knows: the process of transformation is hidden from our eyes.  Every spring, it is shrouded in mystery. It has a timeline of its own, and we tremble at its seeming fragility.  And yet?  And yet the tender shoots break through the soil, and new life emerges.  Every time.

Likewise, I believe that there is life we cannot see, the life of God hidden within us, tenacious, dynamic, and sure.  It might take time to emerge and flourish.  But the life itself is certain.

Every Gospel account of the resurrection tells us that the most important event in history happened in total darkness.  Sometime in the predawn hours of a Sunday morning two thousand years ago, a great mystery transpired in secret.  No sunlight illuminated the event.  No human being witnessed it. And even now, centuries later, no human narrative can contain it.  The resurrection exceeds all of our attempts to pin it down, because it’s a mystery known only to God.  Whatever the raising was and is, its fullness lies in holy darkness, shielded from our eyes.  All we can know is that somehow, in an ancient tomb on a starry night, God worked in secret to bring life out of death.  Somehow, from the heart of loss and misery, God enacted salvation”.

Our Diocesan staff recently had Courtney Cowart speak to us about ‘enduring beyond the crisis”.  Courtney is a theologian who witnessed two great catastrophes in recent American history – the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina – and she actively participated in the healing of both.

She shared a story about Grace, who had suffered much loss in New York City during 9/11. She went to the World Trade Center site one year later and as was standing there, she heard birds chirping loudly. And she looked for those birds and saw them in their nests. And as she looked more closely, she realized that the birds had used debris from that awful day to build their nests. The nests contained charred paper and tattered cloth. They had taken the remnants from that day and made them into building materials for their house. Of course, the birds had no idea it was from a tragedy. And she felt the tears come, tears of awe and wonder.  Somehow, transformation was taking root.

Often, it is only in retrospect, as we look back at the “gravesides” of our life, that we see how God has opened our hearts to understanding.  Poet R.S. Thomas describes the process this way in his poem, “The Answer:” “There have been times when, after long on my knees in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled from my mind, and I have looked in and seen the old questions lie folded and in a place by themselves, like the piled grave clothes of love’s risen body.”

The Easter story is filled with powerful images, wrapped in evocative mystery. The ominous dark unknowing of the beginning that first day; the faithful disciple longing to be close to her Rabbouni; the newly unblocked opening; dazzling angels in place of the dead body. And then, turning around, the holy one she is looking for is right beside her. Speaking her name. Seeing Christ, the anointed one, in a new form.

Jesus instructed her to go and tell the others. But first there is personal guidance. He says, ‘don’t hold on to me.’  Do you sense Jesus saying that he is in flux, everything is in flux, and from now on there is a new reality, the resurrection reality. Time and space are redefined, matter is redefined. Everything is shimmering with revolutionary newness, movement, and divine possibility. It’s only the end if you see it as the end. I’d like to see it as a new beginning.

The narrative of Mary’s experience shows us a pattern of spiritual movement, from confusion to clarity, from unknowing to illumination, from suffering to joy. It is transformational movement. The door is open wide, the stone is rolled away. Love is knocking at our door.

May we, on this Easter Day, join in prayer together to hear the birds chirping and to see anew, with resurrection eyes, because Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen, Indeed!  Alleluia!