“Easter Reflection”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

April 16, 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

 

It felt like the world was falling apart.  Dreams in pieces, hopes dashed.  It felt like the power that be had won again, like they had tightened their grip on the reins of the world, like the poor and the powerless should probably just give up and resign themselves to staying that way forever.

The ones who had believed that things could be different, the ones who had built a movement based on that hope, were devastated.  Eyes red and puffy from crying, minds foggy from lack of sleep, hearts heavy from the weight of grief.  They did the only thing they could think to do—they retreated into ordinary life.  Mere days after Jesus had been betrayed, abandoned, denied, convicted unjustly, and executed in the cruelest fashion imaginable, his disciples had scattered, fled, gone into hiding, retreated from the world because it was just too painful to be reminded of how it had all gone wrong.

When it feels like the world is falling apart, it is only natural to turn away.  When the news is overwhelming, it is only human to withdraw like a turtle into its shell, to simply disengage rather than face the tide of pain and despair.  When everything outside feels scary and hopeless, it is understandable to retreat into your immediate circle, and focus your care and energy on the tiny little piece of the world that’s right in front of you, and let everyone else worry about themselves.

But sometimes, somehow, a courageous person finds a way to keep hoping in the face of despair, to keep living in the face of death.  Sometimes a brave and faithful person finds a way to stay connected with the world, pain and all.  Sometimes, somehow, two women, both named Mary, show up at the tomb.

You remember the story.  After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  An angel rolled back the stone and spoke to the women, saying, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”  And then Jesus himself appeared and greeted them as they left the tomb running with fear and great joy.

In a moment, everything changed.  Their foggy minds cleared; their heavy hearts lifted like helium balloons that slip from a small child’s fingers and soar into the sky.  Their eyes might still have been red and puffy, but they were bright and sparkling, too, glowing with the hope that burned anew in their hearts.  All was not lost as they had thought.  What had seemed impossible was possible again.  The powers that be were not invincible after all.  Alleluia!

 

The poet Wendell Berry writes this:  “Unless we grieve like Mary / at [Christ’s] grave, giving Him up / as lost, no Easter morning comes.”[1]  Unless we grieve like Mary at the grave, no Easter morning comes.  Unless we keep awake, unless we stay attuned to the sufferings of the world, unless we feel them deeply enough to break our hearts, we will not have the chance to witness the rebirth of hope.  Or perhaps it will not come at all if we do not await it, long for it, yearn it into being.

Surely the Marys could see the tide of current events as clearly as the other disciples could.  Surely they were equally aware of the danger Jesus’ followers faced in the aftermath of his death—the risk of being rounded up by the Roman authorities to face the same fate as their leader.  Surely they also were brokenhearted at the loss of their teacher and friend.  Surely they were also terrified at the way the world was headed.

But they did not turn away.  They kept watch as Jesus was crucified.  They were there as his body was laid in a borrowed tomb.  They returned after three days.  And it was then that they discovered the truth:  that Jesus was there waiting for them, that life had triumphed after all, that the powers that be in this world have nothing at all on the power of love.

 

So I wonder, where is Jesus waiting today for you, for me, for us?

When it feels like the world is falling apart, it is only natural to turn away, to withdraw like a turtle into its shell.  But Jesus is there in every place where there is fear or pain or suffering, just waiting for your heart to join with God’s heart and bring hope back to life.

In the destroyed cities and towns of Syria…  In the bomb craters of Afghanistan…  In the VA hospital…  In the homeless shelter…  In the immigration detention center…  At the nursing home bedside…  In the fertility clinic…  In the refugee camps…  At the payday loan counter…  In the detox facility…  Where is Jesus waiting for you, for me, for us, to stay present to the pain, to feel the depth of the hurt, to become part of the healing?

 

God could do it without us.  But that doesn’t seem to be how God chooses to work in the world.  Ever since Adam and Eve, God has chosen to work in partnership with humanity to make God’s love real on this earth.

God worked with Abraham and Sarah, with Moses and Miriam…  With Ruth and Naomi, with Esther and Mordecai…  With Mary and Joseph, with Simon Peter and James and John, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary…  With Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Ávila, with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, with Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day…

When it feels like the world is falling apart, it is only natural to turn away.  But sometimes, somehow, a courageous person finds a way to keep hoping in the face of despair, to keep living in the face of death.  Sometimes, somehow, a brave and faithful person finds a way to stay connected with the world, pain and all.  Sometimes, somehow, two women, both named Mary, show up at the tomb, and everything changes.

Jesus is there in every place where there is fear or pain or suffering, just waiting for your heart to join with God’s heart and bring hope back to life.  God chooses to work with you, with me, with us—to join God’s heart with ours and yearn new life into being.  This is our role, this is our calling, this is what we were made for:  to be partners with God in the ongoing creation and re-creation of the world—to long for God’s realm, and in so doing, to help it come.

 

[1] Wendell Berry, “The Way of Pain”

 


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