Our Easter gospel starts with tears at an empty tomb.
It doesn’t start with rejoicing and celebration but with loss and grief -
Mary Magdalene, standing at the place where she had seen Jesus’ dead body laid to rest two days before, now devastated that his body is gone.
Everything seems to be lost.
We too are entering Easter from a place of loss and death and grief.
This pandemic has changed everyone’s lives in large ways and small.
Globally almost 100,000 people have died, and more than 1.5 million have been infected.
Like the empty tomb, our church buildings are empty and seem lifeless.
And like Mary many of us (billions, globally) are alone in our sadness and loss, separated from our loved ones, isolated, solitary.
Our Easter gospel starts with weeping, not rejoicing.
And it’s there, in the midst of it, that the resurrection becomes real.
It’s in the place of lonely tears and despair that Jesus comes to Mary and calls her by name.
And later he will come to the other disciples, the ones locked in their rooms in fear and confusion, and Jesus will speak words of peace to them first and foremost: “Peace be with you.” And as he speaks, and breathes on them the Holy Spirit, and shows them his wounds, and helps them understand the Scriptures, and offers them food and forgiveness, they will slowly, slowly realize that something incredible has happened and is happening. Some utterly unexpected new life and joy is breaking in. And eventually they will give it a name, and call it resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus is the encounter with new life and hope and joy now, in our lives, in our sadness and loss and despair. Resurrection doesn’t just belong as an article of faith in creeds and theology books about an event in the past. It’s a present reality and grace and miracle here and now.
Mary nearly missed it. She didn’t recognize Jesus. She was bowed down and blinded by her grief, until he spoke her name in that voice she knew: “Mary!”
How often do I miss the resurrection miracle? How often do you? Especially in sad and difficult times.
I’ve often felt myself weighed down with sorrow in these last few weeks, fearful for the safety of those I love but can’t see, grief-stricken at how much we’ve had to let go of – especially gathering together in community as family, with friends, as a faith community, at this most holy time.
There have been times this Holy Week when I’ve walked into the church and wept for all that hasn’t been able to happen here this year, and for the disruption, the ripping apart of people’s lives.
Our grief takes the familiar stages: denial (“This isn’t so bad; it’ll blow over”) and anger (“Why on earth can’t I walk on the beach anymore?”) and bargaining (“I’ll just pop up to Guelph once to see my kids and we’ll go for a walk but keep two metres apart”) and depression (“This is really awful! How are we going to get through it?”) – all of that before any kind of acceptance can settle in with a new normal.
And in the painful process of moving through those stages, in and out of them, back and forth, not in a straight line, many of us feel a tightening, a constriction in our hearts. Like Mary bowed down by her grief, it’s hard to see the miracle in front of us. It’s hard to “lift up our hearts,” as we say in the liturgy. Hunkering down often closes us in on ourselves.
The people I know who are suffering from COVID-19 speak of the tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and fearfulness that creeps over them at night when they’re alone with their thoughts and can’t sleep. In a way, I think we’re all suffering varying degrees of those symptoms globally: that constricted, tight feeling, mixed with fear and sadness.
We need healing. We need resurrection. As people of faith, we need to “lift up our hearts,” open them from that constricted place, and breathe in the peace which Christ brings. We need to hear and believe the great prophets of hope in our Scriptures. As Jeremiah proclaims in today’s reading, “Once again you’ll take your tambourines, and dance the dance of the merrymakers. Once again you’ll plant vineyards. And there shall come a day when [we] say, ‘Come, let us go up to the city of God!’” That day of hope and celebration and resurrection is coming!
Mary stood at the empty tomb weeping, until she heard Jesus call her name, and then, in that moment, resurrection happened for her.
My friends, we have a long way to go, and the need for our compassion and prayer and action will only grow greater. Those who are always the vulnerable, forgotten, passed over ones will suffer most from this pandemic: indigenous peoples, the elderly, impoverished communities, countries lacking the resources or ability to care for all.
But Christ has conquered death, we need not fear; and with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit we can lift up our hearts, reach out to one another, and be the good news that we tell.
Christ is risen, and he calls us by name. Amen.