Alleluia! He is Risen! Easter Day has come at last. Though I know in my heart it is Easter, I’m not sure what day of the week it is most of the time anymore. My calendar has been turned on its head and I am pretty sure most of yours have been as well. When you don’t leave home for days on end and your routine is so disrupted that the things you used to do on a Monday don’t even exist anymore, its hard to keep track. I find myself more than once a day looking at my phone or iWatch just to see what day and date it is.
Though the days of the week seem to matter a little less, the marking of time is important. As Christians, we have an advantage in the marking of time through the liturgical calendar. We entered into this strange, new world in the midst of Lent, this new world started to normalize over Holy Week, and I suspect that in the Easter season ahead we will have established a new, if not temporary, normal. Already the news seems hopeful, the curve seems to be flattening and though we have just seen our highest death rates yet from the outbreak this past week, we have also slowed down the number of new cases being reported. Maybe the lentiest Lent we ever lented actually worked.
To fast from social contact and our normal routines proved a helpful and hopeful response to the darkness of disease and despair that we have experienced these last few weeks. Though the world seems upside down to care for one another by not offering a gentle touch, a squeeze, on the shoulder, a warm handshake—that is exactly how we have cared for one another. And it is precisely this, when the world seems upside down and everything you think you have known and all the things that you have trusted in have vanished in a moment that we encounter Mary Magdalene in the garden.
Mary Magdalene is the first of Jesus’ followers to realize that something has gone terribly wrong. The stone has been removed and her gut reaction is to immediately run to Simon Peter and let him know. Later, after Peter and the other disciple, have seen that the tomb is empty, she will sink into her despair and grief. In that place of loss and anxiety and fear, she will not know Jesus when he appears to her—mistaking him for a gardener—instead of recognizing Emmanuel, God with us.
Mary’s grief and fear have become the center of her experience, and understandably so. Whenever we are faced with loss or threat, it is easy to become imprisoned by it. Our whole world seems to shrink down to this one thing, whatever that one thing might be: death of a loved one, divorce, abuse, illness, a virus. Even if only momentarily, we so often find ourselves sunk so low in our despair we cannot even see the Lord.
Its our human nature, the darkness we wrestle with that distracts us from the light of hope. I’ve read the words of religious leaders who want to attribute COVID-19 to some divine judgement of God for our sinful nature discounting the very fact that Jesus died on a cross to negate our sinful nature and rose again that we might have eternal life. Even more so, if we are to focus on this disease and let it become the center of our experience, we become blind to Jesus’ presence.
Jesus is present with us as family’s spend more time together, pray together, long for church so much that on that Sunday in Lent in which we stopped public worship, we crashed the internet. Jesus is more powerful than an invisible network of telecommunication. Jesus is with us when we are sick and when we are well and when we go to work, even if we have to stay at home. He is present in the midst of our Zoom calls and our social distancing at the grocery store. He is helping us fill out small business loans and leading lawmakers to find ways to stimulate our economy. He was present at the very start of this thing and will be here even after it is over. Our blindness to Jesus’ presence is not because he is absent from us, but because we have lost our focus. Our vision has become blurred in the landscape of fear and anxiety and darkness.
But the light is there—it shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome. If the televangelist and fundamentalist of the world want to see a sign, they only had to look in the heavens this past week and see a supermoon shining brighter than any streetlight or lamppost could.
God Is not a god of punishment but of love. He does not send disease and pestilence, war or famine upon us. But he is present in the midst of the chaos and conditions of this world even if we don’t recognize him. And he will not give up on us especially when we have given up on him and fallen victim to our despair.
In the midst of her desperation, Mary begs Jesus—the one she has mistaken for the gardener—to tell her where they have carried him away too. It is in this moment, that Jesus will call her by name and she will be forever changed. Jesus doesn’t give up on us. He calls to us, even calling us by name, in an effort to remove our distractions and make his presence known as the centrality of our beingness.
Mary had mistaken Jesus for the gardener and had turned away from him, too distracted by her worries to recognize the truth that stood before her. in mistaking Jesus as a gardener some part of her recognized a continued desire for the growth and nurture that Jesus had always been to her. When he calls her name and she leaves her cares and returns to him; she calls him rabbouni. Mary recognizes, in that moment, an instantaneous transformation. She grows in the knowledge that even in death, Jesus has more to teach her.
Already I have heard the rumblings of the Episcopal world in learning what this virus and our response to it has to teach us about how we are the church. Jesus is not the virus. Instead the virus has been the distraction we have allowed to prioritize our focus and keep us from seeing Jesus. The hope of this resurrection Sunday is not the eradication of disease—though that is certainly part of it—it is the continual seeking of something more, something we didn’t know before, some new way of being and growing and transforming the world. It is the courage to continue to seek even when everything has been turned upside down and the things you thought you knew or trusted in no longer exist. It is the willingness to stand in your grief and bear witness to your sorrows that you might also bear witness to God. It is Mary, after all, who not only alerts the disciples to Jesus’ disappearance but also tells them of his resurrection.
The hope of Easter is the belief that there is more than we can imagine. That even in our sorrow and despair, God is with us. That in our brokenness, God is present. That when we are distracted by the cares and concerns of this world, God is always calling to us. Yes, things will be different—that is what transformation is at its core—some of those things will be better and some, not so much. But Jesus doesn’t promise us a fairy tale, he promises to be with us always, even to the end. Even when we can’t be with one another. Alleluia!
Easter Year A: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Church of the Ascension – Montgomery, AL
Rev. Candice B. Frazer