I cannot help but think of how the awful events of those last few days must have erased so much from their memory as they walked to the tomb that early morning. Even that which they had believed they could not possibly forget.
For while, no doubt, these women had encountered death countless times before, I expect it was not often, if at all, that they saw it come so brutally to one in whom they had put such hope.
Indeed, surely their place at the foot of that cross, looking on as suffering and shame piled on while they stood by helpless, must have caused them to forget the power that resided in the One who hung there.
For this is so. Earlier in the Gospel we hear that there were a number of women then who had been ‘cured of evil spirits and infirmities,’ Mary Magdalene chief among them, having been set free from no fewer than seven demons. (Luke 8:2-3)
So, they knew, surely. They knew to the core of who they were what it was to be given their lives back. To be ‘resurrected,’ if you will. But on that first day of the week as they walked together, we do not sense that they remember at all. No, we do not hear that their steps are light with joyful anticipation. Rather, they are weighed down not only by the spices which are theirs to carry to that place of death, but by confusion and fear which often accompany grief such as this.
And yes, one can understand, for they have seen death before and they know if its finality. Indeed, this cannot be the first time they carried those same spices for this same purpose before.
And what had been theirs to see three days before was something which would likely never leave them.
Surely it left little possibility for anything different from any other time when they arrived where the body had been laid a few days before.
Only nothing is the same this time, is it?
- With the stone rolled back and the body gone.
- And two men in dazzling clothes asking them a question which only moments before would have had an obvious answer: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” For in fact, they had seen the tortured, lifeless body of Jesus there just days before.
- And then the words which summed up those last few days: the ‘handing over and the crucifixion.’
But somehow, they had forgotten what came next. What was promised next. Something they already knew.
That where Jesus was, suffering and death never had the last word. Indeed, how many times had they seen it for themselves, in so many lives restored, physically and otherwise? And how deep did this truth live within them as well?
Oh, as I walk with them today, at first I wonder how they could possibly have forgotten.
And then I realize how this has also been so for me, again and again. Perhaps it is for you as well.
For over the last few years I have sporadically written it down, recording for myself the struggle of this time. As I look back on my own words in black and white, I find that I do recognize myself in these faithful ones who made their way to the tomb that early Easter morn:
- In their confusion.
- In their fear.
- Indeed, in the grief which would not let go, urging them forward, to do what they knew to do next, but doing so with no joy as they tend this death, perhaps like many you and I have tended, too.
For us it was not that, or at least not precisely that.
- For us it was word of a virus the implications of which we could not yet imagine, but which froze us in fear nonetheless.
- And the inability to gather, to know the physical presence of others who bolstered our own hope, our dearest held beliefs.
- And the grief which piled on and piled on in a thousand ways.
- And the exhaustion which comes from too many tears wept and too many stored away for later.
- And the wondering if the world would ever again resemble what it once did.
So I know how quick I am as well to forget the many times I have known the power of God bringing life and hope and meaning and purpose and joy again and again. And again. For maybe it was different for you, but there have been days when I could not imagine resurrection anymore. Or at least I forgot its meaning for me then. Hours when I made my way to the ‘tomb,’ failing to remember that God is always poised to do a new thing.
But then these words, for you and me as well:
“Why do you, why do we, look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
- Indeed, could it be that once again this time, Jesus will not be where we expect to find him now?
- That maybe our hearts have been clouded by all that has been, causing us to forget for a while just what God can do, what God promises to do?
Oh, I cannot think of an Easter when I have needed to be reminded of this more, this certain truth that like those women, I carry in my bones the memory of resurrection — of God giving me my life back again and again:
- In the strong sense of God’s presence in the hardest of times.
- In opportunities to be and serve and love again in the wake of heartache and loss.
- In faith born and reborn, witnessed in others, surely, but also in myself.
- In congregations, gatherings of God’s beloved, which keep finding ways to witness to the good news the women proclaimed that first Easter Day. And yes, even in the heart of a global pandemic.
- And on and on…
Ours has long been a story of resurrection.
For a while, I just forgot. We just forgot.
And now we are reminded again.
And today, once more we are those carried forward not by grief, but by the powerful experience of what God can do, of what God does, that we, along with those women, might bear this promise to all the world.
This one which we now so gratefully remember:
That Jesus is always found among the living.
And that just God is poised once more to do a new thing.
In stones rolled back and unexpectedly empty tombs.
And hearts awakened once more to what God has always done.
Bringing life again where we thought death had won.
- Do you, like I sometimes forget what God can do? Indeed, do you see yourself in the women on their way that Easter morning? Are you able to remember now what you had, like them, perhaps forgotten?
- If you are remembering, when had you already known such resurrection? What has God done that is written on your very bones?
- There are those who wake up this Easter with no earthly reason to expect that God will do a new thing. Indeed, one does not have to travel far to imagine such despair. How might not only our voices, but our very lives extend this promise to those who need it most?