As we await our celebration of the resurrection tomorrow, I have been thinking about how surprisingly biblical it will be this year. The first Easter happened utterly without fanfare or crowds. In our earliest Gospel, Mark, we see the women running away into the quiet early morning unable to speak after they hear the news. In Luke, Jesus shows himself when he breaks and blesses the bread not before a congregation of thousands but at table with two people who have walked along with him on the weary road from Jerusalem to Emmaus but have not yet recognized him as the very one for whom they are grieving. Mary Magdalene is completely alone in John when she makes her way to the empty tomb while it is still dark, and when she fetches Peter and John, they each enter the tomb alone and experience it in silence. Then Mary is alone again weeping when the angels speak to her and then Jesus finds her there, and she mistakes him for a gardener-thief until he speaks her name and sends her off with the extraordinary proclamation that she has seen the Lord. The disciples (who clearly didn’t believe her or not completely, and Peter and John clearly didn’t completely grasp what they were seeing either) are locked away in fear when Jesus finds them that night, and even when they see him, they do not understand at first – not until he shows them his hands and his side, and then they rejoice, and he breathes out the Holy Spirit over them. Thomas is not with them. (Maybe he is the one who has been sent out for food – as now for us, for different reasons, maybe so also for them then it was prudent for only one to go out alone.) But he is there a week later when the disciples, still behind locked doors, are again visited by the risen Lord. Thomas (who has not believed the others as they apparently did not believe Mary) is there standing in for everyone for all time who struggles to believe but shows up anyway and waits and hopes and grieves, and Jesus shows him his wounds, and Thomas sees and believes.
In this year, we are perhaps especially aware of hearts and bodies breaking in the world – because how can we not notice that we are not gathering for Easter services – even people who go to church only twice a year will notice that it isn’t happening this time. So even as we celebrate, we are aware of what has happened and is happening, and that too can be part of our beautifully biblical Easter because when Jesus appears to the disciples in their locked room, they believe not because every trace of the suffering is gone but because they see the scars themselves, and it is in the wounds that they recognize him. It is then that everything changes, and no one can take their joy from them.
Paul, our first theologian, never forgets that Jesus is both crucified and risen. And we have a Holy Week when we walk the way of the cross again and again each year so that the Easter hallelujahs will always be for the one who was willing to be with us in all of our humanity, even death on a cross, and is now with us always even to the end of the age, as he tells his disciples on the Galilean mountain in Matthew, in love that never ends.
Then later, when the first rush of joy has perhaps settled a bit, he appears again to the disciples, and we read about this in John 21. On another early morning, just after daybreak, when they are weary from a fruitless night of hard work, he appears on the shore and makes their work fruitful and meets them with breakfast and calls them to tend the world – his flock – as he had shown them how to do – tending and feeding and loving it. And we get a final glimpse of the disciple whom Jesus loved who will tell the story, which we love to tell.
So what I wish you this year is a beautifully biblical Easter day and Easter season (it is a season all the way to Pentecost – and I think we should mark it as enthusiastically as we do Lent – we need all those weeks of resurrection memory) of holy quietness and wondrous love and, if you are lonely or grieving or anxious or weary (the first friends of Jesus were certainly all those things on Easter before they saw him), I wish you the mysterious joy that we couldn’t manufacture on our own no matter what we did and the peace that passes understanding, which is God’s antidote to all that ails you because the Beloved can carry it right in underneath all the rest of what you are feeling and experiencing and just abide there with you until you notice, no matter how long it takes, because it is peace from before time and into forever.
And then I wish you beauty and courage and awareness of God’s great love for you and in you, day by day, especially whenever you need it most, as you do your own resurrection work of tending and feeding the world and embodying the old, old story of Jesus and his love in the way only you can.
As Mary Magdalene proclaimed it to Jesus’ friends then, so I say it to you now, “I have seen the Lord!” And if you’ve not seen him yet, I’m sure he’s on the way through your locked doors and will be sitting with you as you eat your Easter meal (even, and especially, if it is not what you normally have and you are missing people you love and you forgot to buy any chocolate on your once-a-week shopping trip) and is even now calling your name in the garden (or at your window if you don’t have a garden or in your heart if you do not have a window) and making you a bearer and bringer of good news.
It is now Easter Sunday, and I have made a video of Mary’s story in the garden from John 20:1-18 in case you’d like to hear it; it is pasted in below the photograph below. (If the sun comes out later, I might have another go. The birds are singing like mad now, and I think they weren’t in the video, but I’ve not listened inside where I can hear well, so I could be wrong. I hope there are birds singing for you.) And here is a link to one of my favorite UK Easter hymns, Now the Green Blade Rises. Here is another of my favorite UK Easter hymns, This Joyful Eastertide. They are both wonderful renditions but in differently wonderful ways, so if one isn’t your thing, try the other one — I love both. I hope your Easter brings the precise moments of holy goodness your heart needs most today, or something close enough.
Hallelujah and Happy Easter, beloved!