My Dear One,
Blessings, grace upon grace, and peace to each of you this Easter morn!
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
On that very first Easter Day the great sign heralding resurrection was the discovery that the stone, that threshold doorway between life and death, had been rolled away from the tomb. The power of death which bound Jesus our Lord inside a dark grave was overcome, announcing newness of light and life not only for Jesus but by his gracious gift now to us all. On Holy Saturday, one beautiful tradition says, Jesus descended to the dead, stood upon the gates of hell, grabbed hold of the arms of his beloved Adam and Eve, lifted them and all those trapped by the grave’s grip, and then returned to offer resurrected life to all of humanity! As Matthew’s gospel recalls in words we seem to always overlook:
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Matthew 27:50-53
What joy! There is no more powerful story to tell in all the world than the wondrous miracle of God’s forgiving, redeeming, resurrecting love on Easter Day.
It is good news still. And yet how, we might wonder, how are we to celebrate this Resurrection Day while death is so forcefully exerting its power over the world in a way none of us has ever experienced before?
This year we celebrate the resurrecting power of Easter not within the joyous confines of our fragrantly flowered sanctuaries but instead confined within our homes, unable to gather and glorify, celebrate and sing, eat and embrace. There are no children running out the door to find eggs on the church lawn, no families traveling great distances to greet one another, no songs of loudest praise but rather a certain silence reverberates within our church walls, quiet as a tomb.
And yet even now, my beloved, take heart! It may yet be that perhaps, just perhaps, this Easter season will prove the most profound of all! For this year, as none that has come before, we are not simply retelling the story, we are living it ourselves.
The grief of death is not only that of Mary at the foot of Jesus’ cross, it is our own as over 100,000 worldwide have now died from COVID-19. There are likely many others uncounted. This week, I received the heartbreaking news that my cousin, Cristina, who was hospitalized with pneumonia last month, died in her sleep on Maundy Thursday. We are awaiting word from the medical examiner about the exact cause of her death. Only a year younger than me, in childhood we were more like siblings than cousins. Along with her children, the youngest only 11 years old, the rest of her family and I grieve her death. As with many families now, we don’t even know when we will be able to gather together for a funeral, which they have asked me to lead. I will bear the grief and burden of what to say, and how to say it, until some unknown future time. I only take comfort in the knowledge that this Easter she celebrates beside our grandparents and her father who have gone before us.
The tombs are not only the newly-carved cave wherein Jesus was laid. They are for each of us our own places of isolation, cut off from the rest of the world. It is not only Christ who is sealed within this year but all of us who by the power of death are unable to come out. We still await the good news of the day when these stones may be rolled away for us.
The fear is not only that of the disciples, locked away behind their own closed door dreading that they might be the next to die. All of us now stay away from others, knowing that being out in the streets might bring about our own death or the death of someone we love.
BUT, if the grief, the tombs and the fear have become our own, then we should take heart that the resurrection shall surely be ours as well! And I pray that when it comes it will not only be a physical resurrection back out into the world but a spiritual resurrection from the death we were already in.
This is not a foregone conclusion, as Joseph Campbell notes in The Hero With a Thousand Faces:
“eon after eon of earthly history rolls by, revealing ever the harmonious form of the total round, so that where [mortals] see only change and death, the blessed behold immutable form, world without end. But now the problem is to maintain this cosmic standpoint in the face of an immediate earthly pain or joy. The taste of the fruits of temporal knowledge draws the concentration of the spirt away from the center of the eon to the peripheral crisis of the moment. The balance of perfection is lost, the spirit falters, and the hero falls.” THWATF, p. 192
Many people during this time are coming to a renewed realization of what is ultimately most important. We are cherishing anew the communities we have taken for granted, the treasures to be found in living slowly, the gift it is to spend time in the flesh with family and friends, the holy hands of the church that bear us in times of both joy and sorrow, sustaining us with the bread and wine of Christ’s body and blood. These are powerful lessons we are learning, a collective human remembrance of all that is silently sacred.
So in our rush to get back to “the way things were” let us not pass by this opportunity to instead make them “the way things should be.” When we step out from beyond our own thresholds, what newness of life and light will we bring with us? Will we simply enjoy the regaining of our individual freedoms or, like Christ, might we emerge carrying in our wounded palms the marks of redemption and resurrection for others as well?
And what might that even look like? I would humbly suggest a resurrected world begins with Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God is not something yet to come but is already here if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear it.
This isn’t something we merely believe to be true, it’s something we experience as true. Easter always has carried with it an element of the unbelievable. Many have wondered, for instance, if Jesus actually rose in bodily form. It seems too fantastical to some that such a thing could happen. In our experience the dead tend to stay dead. So, for some, the story of Jesus’ resurrection itself proves a barrier to faith. That need not be so. Though I whole-heartedly believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, I also believe that his physical resurrection isn’t by itself the full miracle of Easter. As my friend Jim Flowers recalled his mother always saying about the Jesus rising from the tomb, “Honey, it’s at least that true.”
I’ve always thought that was one of the most profound theological statements I’ve ever heard. “It’s at least that true.” Whatever good news it might have been that Jesus’ body came back to life, it’s that good and oh so much more. Our modern minds always seek to separate “truth” from “fiction.” But the good news of Easter is that some of what we believe to be true is not, and some of what we believe to be impossible is possible!
Ultimately, the mystics say, there is no distinct line between fiction and non-fiction, there are only different ways of telling the same true story. Jesus preferred to preach in parables, stories we might otherwise call “fiction,” and yet the truths he told were infinitely more real than our supposed “reality.”
Again, Campbell puts it well as he says about death and resurrection:
“The hero adventures out of the land we know into the darkness; there accomplishes his adventure, or again is simply lost to us, imprisoned, or in danger; and his return is described as a coming back out of the yonder zone. Nevertheless - and here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol - the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know.” THWATF, p. 188
A forgotten dimension! Jesus’ resurrection is not something that was, it is something that still IS. It is not from a place that is somewhere “out there” but is both from and to a place that is already right here. His death is most fully understood not as a chronological event from ages past but rather an eschatological event that offers resurrection to all people in all places at all times. Every Sunday is Easter just as surely as the first. In his rising from the tomb, Christ reveals that we are no longer bound by the irreversible forward march of time (a concept of time known as chronos) but now it is fully revealed that we live within the eternal now of God’s presence (a concept of time known as kairos). Everything is here. Everything is present. Everything is now, both Christ’s resurrection on the very first Easter and our own day of promised re-emergence.
The mortally human Jesus is revealed to be the immortally divine Christ and, what joyous news, these two natures turn out to be not two but one. His resurrection turns out to be not then but now. And our resurrection turns out to be not there but here, wherever “here” is for us today.
This truth has been contained within the Easter liturgy all along. As we gather to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, have you ever noticed that the Easter acclamation is not in the past tense but the present tense:
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
Christ wasn’t raised, Christ is risen. This is our good news to share this year as much as ever. Salvation isn’t somewhere beyond the grave, it is offered freely here and now. Even stuck within these walls, we are more free than we have ever been. Let us live into the full realization of Christ’s resurrection, and our own, this day and forevermore.
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
following The Way,