Food For Thought
Every year, Easter is a celebration of God’s promise of new life – in both the cosmic sense, life after death, but also in a more everyday sense. It means that in the little deaths of life, in the struggles, the lost jobs and broken relationships, in the tragedies, in the pandemics, there is still the promise of new life, the potential for growth, the seed of something new and wonderful to be discovered even as we grieve over what has been lost. Some years to celebrate Easter we’ve decorated with balloons. Most years we ritually reclaim the cross, a symbol of death and torture, as a symbol of new life by decorating it with flowers. But this year the celebration has been more subdued. We didn’t hang balloons, we didn’t flower the cross. Instead, we came together on a conference call, each from their own home, to proclaim that Christ is risen and offer our alleluias.
This year it feels to me that we might have to look a little harder for the Risen Christ than we normally do. The darkness of Good Friday feels a little more real this year, a little more pervasive – and it’s not only the coronavirus pandemic, but also the corruption in the federal government, racism, poverty, lack of health care for far too many people. All of which have been realities for a long time but are so highlighted by this current crisis.
I wonder if Mary was feeling similar things on that first Easter morning: grief, anger, fear… maybe finding it a little bit harder to think and concentrate. After all, Jesus had been murdered by the State. In a week that started with a triumphant parade and ended in tragedy, the promise of liberation and salvation seemed to have been lost. Then Mary went to the tomb to mourn, perhaps seeking closure, looking for a last connection with her friend and teacher Jesus. Perhaps she went wondering what would happen now, how would she go on. And she finds the tomb empty. Tragedy upon tragedy.
Mary begins her search for new life by looking to the grave. She thought all had been lost and the grave is where she expected to find Jesus. But there she encounters the gardener and the gardeners calls her by name, Mary. In that instant she realizes this is not the gardener, but Jesus himself. Not dead but alive. Not in the tomb but in the garden, a place of growth and new life. Jesus calls to all of us by name, not from a tomb, but from a garden with the promise of growth and new life. And he goes on to say: don’t hold on to me. Don’t cling to the past, to what was, but instead let new life come.
Where are we looking for Jesus this Easter season? Where do we find the risen Christ today? In this strange year we are doing more than celebrating Easter – we’re living it. Jesus isn’t in a tomb but in the nitty gritty of every day life. Jesus isn’t in some far away heaven waiting for us. Jesus walks with us every day through the struggles, through unemployment, poverty, and illness. Jesus walks with us to lead us to new life, to resurrection.
We all have resurrection stories, stories of new life, to tell:
creating a garden
remodeling an old house
planting trees in an over-logged forest
revitalizing a neighborhood
overcoming an addiction
a religious conversion or rebirth
a professional rebirth or career change
a story of coming out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a coming out of one’s sexuality either but anytime we discover something new about ourselves and share that with others, making ourselves vulnerable, it is a coming out of sorts.
Our personal resurrection stories remind us that new life is possible but they also remind us that we have to do our part as well. We might need to lay some groundwork. We certainly have to open our hearts and minds and be willing to let change happen, not clinging to the past. We have to listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Where are we looking for Jesus this Easter? We can look for Jesus in the stories of our own lives, in the story of the first Easter and in the garden of life. Wherever hope and love and justice are needed is where Jesus will be found.
P.S. This reflection is inspired by the sermon from April 12, 2020, “Looking for Jesus.” A recording of this and most other sermons can be found online at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/phx-sermons/.