It has been a long week since last Sunday when we entered into Jerusalem with Jesus waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna. Learning from him about the role of discipleship in the washing of feet, we went to the garden and waited with him. We were witnesses to his trial and torture, and we walked with him to the cross. And now, the tomb is empty.
I try to imagine those women walking in the cool morning to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body. Do they talk amongst themselves about the events of the preceding days, or do they walk in silence carrying baskets of oils and herbs? The gospel of Luke tells us that the women going to the tomb were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other unnamed women--these were the women who had followed and supported Jesus’ ministry from the beginning--Luke first named them in chapter 8, and then in chapter 23 they are among those who witness his crucifixion. These women, who are never named as disciples, are the first to experience the empty tomb. These women had come out in the early morning and discovered the unexpected. They are the first messengers, the first evangelists, the first bearers of the Good News of the Resurrection. They are the first to tell of new life.
One of the most interesting icons I have on my office wall is a copy of a traditional Orthodox Resurrection icon. At the center is Jesus, robed in white, with beams projecting from all sides of him, and he is lifting up a man and a woman from their tombs. It has been explained to me that these figures represent Adam and Eve, and that through this action of raising Adam and Eve, Jesus is restoring all of humanity--that our sins have been overcome. That this is the essence of what is meant in the Apostle’s Creed when the early church fathers said that Jesus descended into hell prior to his resurrection--to bring up all those who had gone before into new life.
The whole idea of the Resurrection is pretty puzzling and amazing. While this story is not new to us, it does beg the question--did it really happen? Even the disciples weren’t so sure; when the women returned to tell them that the tomb was empty, the disciples thought they were telling an idle tale. Even Peter had to check it out with his own eyes before he believed! And now, well over 2000 years later, we still have theologians and scholars and commentators trying to prove (or disprove) the story of the resurrection.
For me, it isn’t so much a question of did it really happen, as what does it mean? Does it matter in my life as a Christian that Jesus was raised from the dead? I have to say it does.
The good news is that the unexpected is possible:
--that the stones which block our hearts can be moved
--that we can be messengers of God’s abundant love and healing to others
--that we can be amazed by the holiness that is all around us
--that we can help others roll away their own stones
Sometimes, showing up is the most important thing. Those women in the early morning, carrying their baskets of oils and herbs showed up. They showed up to care for the body of their beloved friend and teacher, and instead had their own hearts transformed. Jesus broke the bonds of death--the stones which close our hearts--in order that there could be new life.
I invite you to pray with me:
On the first day of the week, as the sun rises, may we come seeking You, bringing all that we have prepared. May we experience the blessing of the stone rolled away, that we may enter in, and discover it empty. When we do not encounter what we expect, may we recognize your messengers among us and be dazzled. So often we look for the living among the dead and fail to notice holiness. May fear and trembling bring us to holy ground reminding us who You are. May we remember all that You have told us. Human sin, death, and violence are not the end. Divine Love rises again and again and again. Let us hear these sacred promises once more and leave behind emptiness as we share love with all the rest. Our lives are to be testimonies to You. We are to embody Love enough to call others to life.
(“Easter then and now” adapted from Rachel Keefe’s blog Write Out of Left Field)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.