My days always begin the same way: I get up before the sun, put the coffee on, and spend the next 30 or 45 minutes walking and talking with God. My prayers usually follow a pretty well-worn path: I start by praying for each of my children and their spouses, then my grandchildren, then our pets. My prayers move outward as I pray for us here in our meeting, for my team at hospice, for our patients and families. I pray for my neighborhood, my town, our city, state, and country. I pray for the world and all that extends beyond it, concentric circles moving outward, cosmos upon cosmos upon cosmos. I also talk heart-to-heart with God, just sharing whatever bubbles up in my awareness. A new ache; a nagging worry, something I’m struggling with, or maybe a hopeful opportunity for someone I know or someone I love.
The long wall of my dining room is covered in photos that span seven generations, reaching back to my great-grandmother all the way forward in time to my grandkids. Perhaps that’s what inspired me one morning last week to say a prayer of thanks for all those who have gone before me—my mom and dad, my grandparents, my wonderful great-grandma and her courageous, independent mother—whose happened to be named Alice Wimp, even though she was anything but. Right after I finished that prayer, something else bubbled up and I was surprised to hear myself praying for a group of people I’d never prayed for before: My descendants.
I prayed for those in the far-away future I would never see, babies I would never hold, five, six, and seven generations out. I prayed for their wholeness, in body, mind, and spirit. I prayed that they would know God, feel the comfort of God’s presence, and trust in God’s leading. I prayed that light and love, a world of balance and harmony, would be their experience. And that they would have compassionate hearts and reverence for life. I prayed that they would enjoy and take care of the beauty and blessing of the natural world—and that it would be vibrant in their day, with all its joys and wonders and mysteries.
It felt like a really powerful prayer. I felt suddenly connected to these new members of my family that will be arriving over the next 20, 40, 100 years. Maybe my prayers for them today will add a blessing to what they experience tomorrow. It’s a hopeful thought. We won’t be around to see how it all comes out, but we do know our loving actions matter. They plant seeds. And those seeds bloom. We see it happen every spring, as the world comes back to life around us.
Suddenly it occurred to me that Jesus might have been doing something similar, with us in mind, more than 2000 years ago, as he ministered and taught, as he healed and loved, as he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, as he stood before Pontius Pilate and approached the end of his life. He wasn’t looking back, telling people what they should have done or pointing them back toward past mistakes. He was releasing and healing and pointing them forward. He was teaching them how to be in relationship with God and with each other—fair, equitable, faithful relationship—from that day on.
Of course, he well knew and cared about his history. He knew scripture inside and out, and the law, and the hearts and souls of people. The gospel accounts tell of the many ways his life fulfilled Old Testament prophecies that had predicted his coming. But with his daily actions–teaching, healing, leading, forgiving, and feeding–he was planting seeds for the people of his day and for us—generations and generations of us. We are the ones in this time, in this place who retell, relive, revisit, and reflect on the miracle and mystery of Jesus. And we are the ones who share our understanding of his story each day through our actions and hopes and prayers.
To the people of his day, who witnessed the events of that first Good Friday, it must have seemed that all was lost. This amazing prophet who had taught about the love of God was suddenly gone—executed at the hands of those he had sought to save. Now there was no reason to believe things would get better. Probably none of his promises would prove true. Maybe all his stories were just that—stories.
I love how Quaker pastor Scott Wagoner captured this. On social media, he posted a prayer yesterday that said, “Loving God, on this day we are reminded that life is often lived between the pain of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow. Help us live with a hope that calls us to live courageously into the future.”
That dreary sabbath, the day after Good Friday, must have been a day of despair and despondency. But then, early the next morning, Mary Magdalene—who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair just days before, went with Mary the sister of Martha to see the tomb. Matthew doesn’t tell us what drew the women there, what they were hoping to see. But as they walked up in the quiet dawn light—probably being careful not to attract the attention of the men guarding the tomb–there was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord, “descended from heaven,” Matthew says, and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. The guards fainted (I mean really, wouldn’t you?), and the women probably did some major quaking themselves. But the angel tells them not to be afraid. “I know you are looking for Jesus,” he says.
How do we get our minds around something so huge? First, there’s an earthquake. Then an angel descending from heaven—and he must have been terrifying to look at, with an appearance like lightning and clothes white as snow. That sounds blinding. And then he simply sits on the stone and speaks to them, like it’s something that happens every day. He tries to reassure them; he wants them to be comforted, and he gives them a message for the disciples: The living Jesus—Jesus, alive!--will meet them in Galilee. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to hear this news on that day in that time, in that way. My brain would have gone on tilt. I probably would have passed out alongside the guards.
Except the hearts—the hope, the faith—of the women urge them forward, leading them from the inside out. Somehow they are functioning well enough that they can hurry away to do what they’ve been asked. At this point in the book of Mark, the scripture says the women rush off in fear to tell the disciples, but Matthew reports that they hurry off with “fear and great joy.” I like that much better. Of course there would have been joy, even if a bit of fear remained. Jesus was alive! What he’d told them about had actually happened. It wasn’t just a story, a wild hope, after all!
It isn’t just a story, a wild hope, after all.
Our Old Testament reading from Psalm 30 fits perfectly at this point. This must have been just what the women were feeling. “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” The women must have been so incredibly happy—and probably also confused, and anxious, and maybe a bit doubtful too—as they ran off to tell the disciples what they’d seen. And then—as if they hadn’t had enough supernatural intervention for one day—here’s Jesus himself. He simply steps into their path and says, “Greetings!” They rush to him and hold on to his feet, Matthew says, celebrating his presence and worshiping him.
Jesus repeats the message the angel told the women, but he inserts one important difference. Instead of saying, “tell the disciples,” as the angel had said, Jesus says, “tell my brothers.” That’s so Jesus. He’s all about relationship.
In Native American tradition, there is a call to consider the future impact of choices made in the here-and-now as a way to love and care for the people of tomorrow’s world. A common saying attributed to The Great Binding Law of the Iroquois Nation is “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.”
The original language of The Great Binding Law says, “In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the past and present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”
I love the idea that Jesus was thinking of us—you and me, the unborn of future generations—and of our descendants and their descendants, when he gave us a perfect model of how to live in tune with God’s light, how to make peace with our fellow beings, how to create a harmonious world with the power of love and truth.
In his book, The Life We Prize, Quaker author and theologian D. Elton Trueblood writes, “Man is so made that he cannot find genuine satisfaction unless his life is transcendent in at least two ways. It must transcend his own ego in that he cares more for a cause than for his own existence, and it must transcend his own brief time in that he builds for the time when he is gone and thereby denies mortality. A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”
This Easter, perhaps we can take comfort and find joy—like the Marys did—in knowing that Jesus had us in mind from the outset of his ministry, blessing not only us, but those who have come before us and all those who will come long after. May our grateful prayers—however we feel led to offer them–extend across all time, as we seek to love tomorrow’s world. Perhaps our prayers for their blessing tomorrow will help lift up the arrival of the Light—the love and presence of God that heals our pain, illumines our path, ignites our hope, and gives us the courage to do what we can to bring more peace and joy to our world.
Thank you, Friends. Happy Easter.