Mary Didn't Know it was Easter
Mary is in shock. Something is terribly wrong. She
has been distraught since Friday and now she is finally able to go to the tomb where
the remains of her beloved Jesus are… and they’re not there. And in her grief
she sees Jesus but she does not recognize him.
This week we have witnessed the shock and horror of
a terrorist attack in Brussels. People just going about their regular lives
suddenly had everything turned upside down. Lives lost, lives broken. In too many
places in the world such fearful and terrible disruption of life is a daily
event. People live and survive in the midst of great suffering. Suffering which
we inflict on one another.
Centuries after that first Easter morning, the world
still does not recognize Jesus. It does not recognize the truth that he
brought. The truth that violence is not the way forward. That only love
conquers violence and ends the cycled of retaliation. That is the message of
Easter. Love is greater than violence of any kind. Perhaps we do not always
remember the power of love because we think of it in Hallmark terms. We think
of the excitement of romantic love or the close bond of parent and child. Yet
love is much more than that; it is not a mushy sentimental kind of thing but a clear-seeing
intentional will-to-good. The love of steel that Jesus showed is a love that
conquers all things.
But Mary didn’t know that. Mary didn’t know it was
All she knew was that her life had been turned
upside down, and she could not find the body of her beloved.
This week the clergy of the deanery met with Bishop
Mary. As many of you know, she lost her husband in a cycling accident almost
two years ago. She shared with us that in that magical thinking that comes after great grief, she is still hoping for the day when the Easter bunny comes.
But the Easter bunny doesn’t come. Because
resurrection is far more complicated than that. The Easter bunny never came for
Mary Magdalene. Yes, she recognized Jesus in that life-changing awe-filled
moment of overwhelming joy, “Rabbouni”, but she also saw that he had changed,
that things would never be the way they had been.
Resurrection does not mean that things go back to
the way they were. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Resurrection means
that things change. Jesus is changed, so much so that at first Mary does not
recognize him. We are changed. In the resurrections of our personal lives, in
the resurrections of our social and political lives, things change. And it’s
often not comfortable.
Butterflies are a symbol of resurrection. The
caterpillar eats and eats and grows and grows until one day it stops, goes
still and apparently dies. Inside the cocoon it auto-digests itself, until it
is nothing but goo. Then, amazingly, its DNA rereads itself and transforms it
into an adult butterfly. I can’t imagine what happens to the consciousness of
the creature in this process. When it is just protected goo, does it know that
it is goo? Does it go into a suspended state of consciousness? Or does it hover
somewhere waiting until the goo resolves itself and then re-enters its body?
I have no idea. But what I do know is that we humans
do something rather similar. When we are transformed, when disaster hits, when
grief happens we are reduced to a state of goo. Unfortunately we don’t have a
protective cocoon, we are usually expected to pick up and carry on.
Resurrection comes out of the goo.
We don’t know what happened to Jesus after he was
placed in the tomb and before Mary saw him that first Easter morning. Our
ancestors believed that he went to hell, perhaps to bring back those who were
there, or perhaps to look for his friend Judas. But to believe that, you have
to first believe in a literal hell. Perhaps Jesus found himself in a state of
goo. After the horror and agony of his death, was he ready to just get up and
go, already completely the Christ? Or did he, human as he was, require a time
of change, a time of protection in the cave of the tomb, while he transformed
and adjusted to his new resurrection body?
Our God is a God of resurrection. After disaster
there is always resurrection, if we choose it. But it is rarely immediate, and
like Mary we often do not recognize it when it comes. In the middle of our pain
and confusion, we don’t know that it’s Easter. When we are reduced to goo, we
don’t realize that we are being transformed.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to look at the
pain of Brussels, the plight of refugees, bombing in Syria, the millions in
South Sudan at risk of starvation, and see in it resurrection. But we are an
Easter people and we are called to see, not with rose-tinted glasses but with
the perspective of that steely love that Jesus showed us. We must do all we can
to alleviate suffering, but we can also know that out of this too, God will
It doesn’t look that way. It looks as if the tomb is
empty and God has deserted God’s people. It looks like a mess from which there
will be no deliverance. But we are given hope. We are Mary in the garden; we
can see the presence of the Christ. We are the ones who can see that love
conquers; that even when human love fails and we revert to our violent ways,
God’s love still triumphs.
For Jesus’ resurrection shows that even when humans
do their very worst, even when they betray and lie and torture and kill, God
still loves. God still keeps coming back offering a different way. We don’t
recognize Easter in the middle of the goo, but it is there. God is transforming
us and the whole of Creation.
And we are called to be a part of it. We are called
to keep faith. To know that the resurrected and ascended Christ will one day
put all things right. That is part of the movement of Creation - that all will
be reconciled with God. Our task is to continue to hold that resurrection hope,
to continue to look for the things that God is doing and to cooperate with the
Holy Spirit in doing them.
We are a resurrection people, and we serve an Easter