April 12, 2020
Welcome to an Easter reflection at a time when we need, really need, to feel the presence of the Crucified and Risen Jesus. Every day during this pandemic I have been saying this prayer from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Written in 1968; I believe it speaks to our time.
“God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbor as ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and sorrow.”
“When the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail.” Easter began in just such a moment. In John’s Gospel we hear that “while it was still dark” Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus. Mary Magdalene got up from bed after what was probably a sleepless night spent reliving the horrific death of her friend Jesus. How would she ever get those images of a tortured man out of her head? And “while it was still dark” she left her home and walked to the tomb to go and anoint the body of the one she thought could save Israel. Mary walked to that tomb in sadness, in grief, in disappointment, in loneliness.
After Mary sees the empty tomb, Peter and the other disciple go in, see the tomb is empty and return home. Mary stays, weeping. As she wept she looked into the tomb and saw two angels. The angels don’t say “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” They don’t say “Hail, Thee Festival Day.” They say “why are you weeping?” She tells them why. And then the one she thinks is the gardener – who is actually the Risen Jesus – asks her the exact same question: “why are you weeping?”
You see friends, New Life, resurrected life, begins when compassion comes into the darkness. “When the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail” that’s when Jesus and his Mission of mercy, compassion and hope rises.
The next thing that happens in the story is that Mary hugs Jesus. At a time of physical distancing we might feel jealous of Mary. But Jesus says “don’t cling to me.” He has to be on his way. The great preacher Barbara Brown Taylor explains: “The only thing we cannot do is hold on to him. He has asked us to please not do that because he knows that all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are than let him take us where he is going. Better we should let him HOLD ON TO US. Better we should let him take us into the presence of God, who is not behind us but ahead of us every step of the way.”
Death could not hold Jesus. When the problems of this world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, the Risen Jesus cannot be held down. Jesus, the crucified, risen, compassionate one holds us in faith, hope and love. And gives our spirits New Life.
Remember Ash Wednesday? That might seem a world away. On that day ashes were placed on our foreheads with the words “Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return.” That is a true statement. But is only part of the truth. On Easter we hear the rest of the truth: “Love is stronger than death. And to that love you are returned.”
Death could not hold Jesus. But resurrection on that Easter Sunday was not just for Jesus. It was also resurrection for Mary Magdalene. In the darkness and the chaos she experienced the compassionate love of Jesus. And she joined him in a mission of compassionate love in this world. A mission that goes on even “when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail.” A mission we see every day in the hospital workers and first responders who keep healing at the risk of their own lives. A mission of compassionate love that expresses itself in the many ways we stay in contact with friends and neighbors and church members even while we can’t physically present. A mission of compassionate love expressed in staying home to keep others safe. Because you see St. Paul got it right:
“Love is patient. Love is kind. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three. And the greatest of these is love.”
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop