Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Back on Good Friday, about three days ago I was reflecting upon the silence that would have descended on Jesus’ faithful followers as they took the body of Jesus and laid it in the tomb. The silence would have continued as that same tomb was sealed. My hunch was that this silence continued on as people left that place, leaving behind a part of themselves, their hopes, their love, their friendship, their faith, their trust in God’s grace and truth.
If you have ever left a hospital or a hospice or a home after someone has died perhaps you will understand what I am picturing took place on that first Good Friday. Friends and family and followers took the body of their beloved One and bound it with strips of cloth and plenty of spices and myrrh and aloes supplied by Nicodemus. Nicodemus was the one who had come to Jesus at night and perhaps in this Good Friday scene he felt that all was still in the darkness of night. They bound the Christ in strips of cloth not unlike the swaddling cloths that had wrapped him soon after his birth. But this time preparing him not for life but for death.
It is a scene of disbelief and deep pain. A scene where one wonders where the presence of God can be found. Like some other places on this planet where people have asked where God is known in the horrors and violent behaviour of Auschwitz or the killing fields or concentration camps or abuse at residential schools or slavery or violence against women or racial hatred or mass shootings or a local stabbing or drug overdoses… I could go on but you know what I mean. Those places where many might feel that God is no longer near.
I wonder if those beloved friends of our Saviour, Jesus of Nazareth felt much the same thing. As they walked away from the violent conclusion of the cross, they probably wondered where God could be seen or known or discovered in all of this. God felt distant, removed, forgotten.
And so when I hear the beginning of the Gospel passage for this day, for me this is how I see it began… in that same darkness and distance from God. In that same pain and disbelief and sense that she had been left entirely on her own. God had not acted, God was not present, God was not known. In all of this weighing on her mind and heart and soul, Mary Magdalene, that incredible woman of faith went to the tomb. She went, as far as I can tell, not with a sense of hope but a sense of dread. A sense of wanting to be near the final resting place. A sense of being near the last time she had touched the body of Christ, the last time she had seen his face, the last time she had held him, the last time.
And so she came to the tomb not expecting anything, I imagine. Nothing but death and finality. Emptiness and conclusion. But she discovered something else. She discovered life and light. She discovered hope and grace. She discovered the presence of God in her midst. She discovered an entirely new way to consider life and life beyond the grave. For Jesus was alive. This tomb was a link between heaven and earth between death and new life between God unseen to God fully known in our midst. This tomb was a sign that God is with us, amongst us, known to us in Jesus but also within ourselves. This tomb was a sign that God was not angry with us and waiting to destroy us but loves us, blesses us, holds us, encourages us, wishes us to be more and filled with Holy Spirit and grace. The tomb was not empty but filled with God’s hope for humanity through the resurrection of Jesus.
I have celebrated Easter so many times in my life but it never ceases to amaze me the wonder and beauty and transformative power this gospel passage has on my life and my living. All else in life, it seems revolves around this empty tomb. It continues to affect how I look at other people and myself, how I pray and receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, how I view the world and pray for forgiveness, how I see that we all need to be transformed to be resurrection people, Easter people awakened to a new relationship that God has with us and all people.
I am fortunate enough to have walked on a number of pilgrimage routes in my life. From those I have many different memories of people met and stories told. People walk on pilgrimage routes for all sorts of reasons: some just for the physical exercise, some for deeper meaning into the purpose of life. Some just want to spend time with friends, some are hoping for healing or wisdom or deeper faith. Some just want to fill some of their holiday time, some are seeking a connection with the God of life and death and resurrection and new life. There are many reasons for walking but I think all are searching for an elusive something that touches their soul and transforms their spirit, Easter and new life.
One particular memory that I have is the final stretch of the pilgrimage to Lindisfarne or Holy Island in England. The final leg is on the sand, and the tide needs to be out and you need to know when the tide will be coming back in. There are places of refuge for those who lose track of time and tide but you don’t want to be the one who is caught. Walking along the sand, through the tide pools and towards the island one cannot help but think that it is a journey toward holiness itself. Journey toward a deeper connection to God and God’s grace. A deeper connection to see, like St. Cuthbert and many others, that God’s presence is known to us in every aspect of life. Sometimes we cannot see it or are not open to it or are simply too blind to see the light. But God is constantly beckoning us to new life, in this world and a world to come. God is constantly calling us deeper into life to know the presence of Jesus in the poor, in our neighbour, in the hungry, the ignored, the hated, the abused. God is constantly calling us to open our eyes to see not emptiness but abundance, not nothingness but richness of grace, not the evil of this world but forgiveness and peace, not death but resurrection, not the vastness of the universe but the nearness of the One who calls us beloved and expects us to live as if we believe that.
In this pandemic time, this time of near lockdown and distancing and fear and worry, this gospel message delivered by Mary is vital to us perhaps more than we ever realized. Many of us have come to see a different purpose to living and it is much more centred on relationships and compassion. We have been awakened to a new clarity that indeed life is a gift that we often are happy to consume but with little thought to the giver and its purpose. But when we celebrate Easter in a pandemic, we come to see that the empty tomb is speaking directly to us about forgiveness, love, and new purpose. About God’s presence in our lives, of light in the darkness and peace for the soul.
I can’t help but think that Mary Magdalene was searching for those very things on her own pilgrimage as she went to that tomb long ago. Searching in the darkness and discovering the whole universe filled with the glory of God. Expecting only death but discovering life. Looking for a tomb filled with grief but finding an entirely new relationship with God that knows no bounds to forgiveness and grace and our calling.
Even in a pandemic, we are now those resurrection people called to live out this same discovery that Mary made long ago. The discovery that we can no longer be silent for Christ has risen and we are changed forever.