Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Sunday, 2016: Christ is alive! Let Christians sing!

One of my favorite times of day, particularly in the spring and early summer when the weather is relatively mild, is just before sunrise. We are usually up early enough to greet the sun as it peeks up through the pre-dawn indigo sky. The clouds catch the first direct light of the coming day, and refract and reflect it into our front windows (or onto the porch, my favorite spot to greet the dawn) with a palette of colors that give testimony to the love God bears for each day as it arrives.

It was on a morning such as this, on the first day of the week after the Passover in Jerusalem, that Mary of Magdala made her way to the newly occupied tomb of her rabbi, her friend Jesus. She had been preparing herself over the balance of the previous day to perform the rites of preparation for burial that she and her companions had been forced to suspend two evenings before as they raced the sun to remove Jesus' body from the cross. They had wrapped him hastily in a shroud and laid him in the borrowed tomb she was now approaching.

What was going through her head? Memories of his words, the smell of him, his touch were prominent. The all-too-tangible recall of the many times she had seen his hands heal. They had brought sight to the blind, cleansing and healing to lepers. They had cast out demons and had stilled storms. They had broken bread as the blessing was chanted over the evening meal. They had held her as she had felt his being reach out to her to call her and to assure her that NOW was the promised time, NOW was the moment the kingdom was to come and NOW was the moment she and all the people of Israel would know deliverance.

She must have so desperately hoped that she could hold on to those moments when she knew the warmth of his living presence. She needed that, because the memory that was fast supplanting those moments in her mind were the ones following his death. She had joined in the removal of his body from the cross. She remembered the slick, sticky ochre of his blood and sweat as it caught at her robes and adhered to her hands and anything that touched him. She remembered the feeling of his cooling, inert flesh, lacking as it did all signs of the vibrancy of life itself she had known in his presence. Instead of feeling his life, she was quickly coming to the sure knowledge of his death.

She was going to wash, anoint and then wrap his body in a clean shroud. She was going to offer him this last, loving service. This was her way of saying goodbye: to him, to the promise of him, to hope.

And then...

Fear, anger and outrage: the tomb is empty. The stone is tossed to the side of the entrance as one would toss a loaf of bread onto the table for dinner. The morning light barely illumines the interior of the sepulcher...but it is empty.

That is the moment when she breaks into a thousand pieces, each one a tear and an anguished, sobbing cry. This is the moment when she despairs. Even his body has been taken from her. She will never be whole again. All is loss...

She is to be deprived of even doing those last things for his corpse that she had dreaded. His body, taken by whom to ensure not only his death but also the destruction of his memory? Where is he? Where have they taken him? Was there at least a witness? Could that gardener over there tending the grounds have seen anything at all!?!

That is when she hears it: "Mary...."

That voice...that....voice....

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