It is my favorite Easter story, this one. For even though it didn’t happen on Easter it is a story of such defiant hope borne of righteous anger it surely had its roots in Easter, even if it didn’t happen then.
No rather, this took place May the spring after we buried my dad in January. As I remember it, it was a hard winter – both inside and out as we stepped into our grief and yearned for the beginning of healing. Oh no, it surely was not an easy grief, and I know no one carried it more deeply than my mother did.
And so it was late in May and she and my sister were here out purchasing flowers to be planted in her gardens at home. And they decided to circle around, as was their practice, to stop at the cemetery on their way home. To be sure, they had been there any number of times since that icy cold day when we traveled there in procession behind the hearse. Still, what met them then just seemed to make it all like that first day. For as they approached his grave, they were met with an open gash of brown much like it was when we first left it a few months before. Apparently those in charge of the grounds had not yet gotten around to spreading grass seed or laying sod. Where he was buried stood out like an open wound in that green expanse of grass.
Now you should know that this section of the cemetery is that part where the stones lie flat on the ground. It is easier, of course to keep it looking nice with a mower I know, so it follows that you’re not supposed to be planting things the caretakers will have to work around. Only in her grief and outrage, Mother didn’t care. In fact, one might safely say that something in her snapped. She was weary by then of grief and loss and struggle and this visible reminder only made it worse. My sister Martha said she marched back to the car and dug around until she found a hammer. She spoke of how they carried those flats of bright spring flowers to the grave and using the claw of her hammer, one by one, on her knees Mother planted them there in that open wound of earth.
Perhaps I love this story so because it was so unlike her. Normally she would follow the rules, but as you know, love and outrage all mixed up together sometimes break all the rules. Oh yes, I do love this story because it is a story of such defiant hope lived out with the claw of a hammer and spring flowers. And yes, I love this story for Martha said that on a later visit when she was there alone to water that garden, someone in charge of the cemetery approached her and told her those flowers would need to be removed. And Martha quietly told her they’d better not. Oh, no they’d better not. For that defiant hope was borne of righteous anger and so they’d better not. Oh yes, it is so that I love this story for it points to the first Easter which broke the rules in ways even more profound and permanent and brought life where there was only death. And something like my mother only deeper still I know, the resurrected life we celebrate on Easter was also perhaps borne of God’s own righteous anger which allows us now still today to hold fast to a defiant hope that never ends.
For think of this with me. When those women first traveled to the tomb they were still following the rules of all that was and ever had been. When people die, we bury them and in all cultures and in all times and places we do so with all the dignity we can muster as we do our best to honor those who have died. So they were doing what they had always done, what people who have loved and grieved have always done. They gathered up the spices they would need and they went to the cemetery expecting to find a body to be tended one last time.
Only they were met with this remarkable news that God had broken all the rules. That Jesus wasn’t there. They were asked, in fact, why they ever even thought they’d find him there for the living aren’t to be found among the dead. Oh yes, they found they had no need for hammer claw for the earth had already been moved, the stone had been rolled away and what was dead, the one who was dead, was alive again.
You and I, of course, live still in a world where signs of death and decay and neglect abound and where we find ourselves kneeling in the dirt forcing life where it seems death reigns. It was just as true on the day when Jesus died so long ago. And oh how God must have wept that Friday n Jesus suffered so. Oh, how deep his grief must have been at what the world can do, at what the world still does to the innocent among us. But God’s own righteous anger rose up… and instead of turning that righteous rage on those who were guilty of this crime, God simply did what God always does. God did the unimaginable. The impossible. And suddenly Jesus was alive again.
And so for you and me and all the world, the promise of this Easter day is that the day will come when we won’t need to dig hammers out of our trunks and use up the flowers that were meant for home. Oh no, that day will yet come the brown gashes in the earth which remind us of our deepest losses will be filled in with so much more than spring flowers which live and die again in just a season. And that day is one we get a glimpse of even now as we follow along with those women to the tomb and join our death defying hope with theirs as we hear the question answered deep in our own hearts, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” For Alleluia, Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
- What is your favorite Easter Story? What makes it your favorite?
- This time through it struck me that God must have been angry that Jesus had to die and that he channeled that anger into life again. This is a new or perhaps just a deeper thought for me. Does it make sense to you? Why or why not?
- In those other places we encounter them, how might we bring life again to those deep brown gashes which mar God’s good creation? How might our righteous anger be lived in hope?