Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020
These last couple of weeks, I have been looking a lot at the Easter accounts found in the four gospels.
In reflecting on the resurrection story found in Matthew, that was proclaimed at the Easter vigil last night, the writer and pastor Joyce Holliday offers this account of our own time:
“There is much around us that is awesome and awful. We know too well the divisions and suffering that plague our world. We have seen that the authorities today use tactics similar to those employed 2,000 years ago, and many people scheme to play to our fear, destroy our hope and seal off our joy.”
Though they differ in the names and the numbers in each of the Gospels, I think it is important that in all four the first witnesses to the resurrection are women. Remember that in that time and place women could not legally give testimony. Dismissing the experience of women was as common then as it is today.
it is equally important for our understanding of the dying and rising of Jesus that these women come to the tomb, for the most ordinary of reasons: whether it is to perform the last intimate acts of love in washing and anointing Jesus’ body, or simply to mourn a beloved friend and child at his burial place. They are doing so at a time that is anything but ordinary, only hours after witnessing far too closely a Roman execution in all its savagery.
For all of the earthquakes and angels in dazzling white that decorate the early accounts, the resurrection story is deeply grounded in ordinary human experience. Grief-stricken and traumatized, the women come. And they are greatly confused when they do not find things as they expected.
It is precisely in this moment of profound disorientation that Jesus appears.
I suspect that that is how many of us, experience resurrection. It begins in profound sorrow and confusion. We come to the tomb
to be present
and in the process of performing those ordinary human acts of being present, anointing or weeping something or someone unexpected touches us-and something new begins.
It may be that we begin to accept. It may be that we begin to heal. It may be that we find within ourselves the greater strength or deeper compassion that we need in order to move forward, to carry on.
On this Easter Sunday, in the year 2020, we live in a world that none of us imagined a mere 40 days ago. We are still very much at the beginning of a pandemic that has already taken many thousands of lives and disrupted our world in unprecedented ways. And, it is only beginning to spread in places where people’s lives were already far more precarious. As we assess the toll in Wuhan, or Milan or New York we can only begin to imagine what the effects will be in the slums of Nairobi or Mexico City, in refugee camps or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
And it is precisely in this moment, however inadequate for the purpose we or the world judge ourselves to be, we are called to witness to resurrection. How do we do this? In the same way that the women of the Gospels did after the death of Jesus.
The women at the center of our resurrection stories, Holliday continues “…challenge us to love and believe. To love Jesus with a perfect love and to believe in the power of his Resurrection. Certainly, they grieved and experienced their hope flagging during the dark moments surrounding Jesus’ death. But they never lost their faith. It remained a small, steady flame that was fanned to brilliant, bold new life in the light of Easter dawn.”
A small, steady flame or maybe even one that is wavering a little in the breeze. This is the faith that is required of us at this moment. Faith enough to attend to ordinary acts of human decency in these extraordinary times. Enough to reach out to a neighbor to ensure that social distancing does not become isolation. In some form or another to be present to those who are most vulnerable and supportive of people on the front lines in our hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters. The ones driving busses and producing food and restocking shelves.
In such acts, the flame is strengthened. It becomes faith enough to respond compassionately to the desperate need of people a country, a continent or even an ocean away.
As candles are lit one-from-another we find faith enough to challenge our economic and social institutions as the pandemic reveals the cracks and the deep crevasses in our social networks that always result in suffering and dislocation falling disproportionately upon those already on the margins of our world.
As the flame grows, so does its power to transform.
Joyce Holliday concludes her reflection with these words:
“The women invite you and me to such faith. Their testimony stands through the ages. It is a reminder to ‘rekindle the gift of God that is within you…for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love’ (2 Timothy 1:6-7). With courage and joy let us claim that same spirit that dwelt within our sisters, the first witnesses of the Resurrection.”