Many of you will know that for most of the years I have been a pastor, I have started Easter Day in a cemetery.
Anymore I rather delight in the shocked looks which sometimes cross the faces of others when they hear this. But the truth is, I have always heard the Easter Promise most surely in a place where death is near.
As much as that, it is so that I rather prefer that early service for its quietness. There is little to distract from the essential message that Christ is Risen there. No loud trumpets, no beautiful lilies, no crowds of people. Not that I do not cherish all of those, but I always do well to start the day in a quieter way in a place where I need to receive the gift of Easter most of all. For in a place where the losses are unavoidable, somehow the gift of Easter is all the more precious.
And yet, again this year we hear the voice of a young man sitting inside the tomb announcing to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and to Salome and to all of us that Jesus is not there. Not in that now empty tomb and not truly even in a quiet cemetery service where we gather to speak the resurrection promise to one another. Indeed, we hear once more again this year that not only is death defeated, but that God is not done yet. For Jesus has returned to where he lived and loved, healed and fed and taught those many months before the fateful death he met that Friday.
And that is where we find him still.
So it is now I am reminded of Jesus ‘going ahead of us to Galilee’ and I am wondering at where that ‘Galilee’ is now…
Surely it is at a hospital bedside with an elderly woman who is working out her life in words: telling stories of her childhood which make her smile, repeating out loud an awful tragedy which those who are alive still grieve, speaking words of grace as only an elder can who has seen and heard and known heartbreak: who has been wounded and has wounded in turn and who has known forgiveness and extended it, too. Surely we meet Jesus there.
And oh, in a courtroom in Minneapolis this week and in all those times and places where God’s beloved have wondered how it is possible that too many have not been able to see God’s Own Image in them. In all those courtrooms and households and hallways were the suffering have cried out for justice, isn’t Jesus there especially for those who lament? Especially with those who seek to make it right?
And yes, in bare arms exposed and shots received and reunions made possible for which we have ached too long. And yes, too, in all those times and places where science and resources have seemingly passed them by, where a deadly virus still holds sway. Won’t we meet Jesus there as well in hugs delayed and hugs still hoped for?
Among all those who have traveled to countless cemeteries in these last many months — or who were not able to go at all — whose grief is heavy still for unfinished grief made more complicated by all this season has held. Surely Jesus is there in all that heartache and in those who try to ease it…
And surely in classrooms where young people are delighting to learn in old ways seeming new again and in teachers whose deep joy is in welcoming them back. In churches where we are figuring out how to safely gather once more. And yes, in pipe organs where the dust is being blown out and where music is being made again. Surely we meet Jesus in all these places, too…
And yes, walking wherever you walk this day, wherever you are called to run or drive or call or text or respond. In all those times and places where too much, too often death seems to hold sway, Jesus is there speaking the truth that he did not stay in a place where death is all around, but went right back into the world where you and I find ourselves even now: as a living, breathing reminder that God is not yet done.
And yes, this is so as well. For all the things we’ve grieved, all those we have lost, all those moments we have wondered if we would make it to the other side of what has been an unimaginable year. As we pause in the echo of the Easter Promise, still shy of a world we once knew and took for granted, we realize anew that though perhaps we could not yet see or hear or comprehend, Jesus was already ahead of us in this Galilee of which we have not been able to see the ending.
Indeed, again this year, we are called to leave the empty tomb behind and to meet Jesus in Galilee once more, joining our hearts and hopes to his as we, like him, in our living and breathing and loving also remind the world that God is not done yet.
For Easter may begin in a cemetery, but it doesn’t end there.
Not this year and not ever.
- How does the Easter Promise that “Christ is Risen” speak to you this year? How does this compare to years past?
- What does it mean to you now that God is ‘not done yet?’
- Where and how might you meet Jesus in Galilee this year?