When Mary headed to the tomb so early that first Easter morning, she was heartsick and despairing. Everything was bad. Everything was lost. Her hope had been destroyed. She had seen terrible things over the last few days, heartbreaking things that must have shaken her faith in humanity and robbed her of any belief that the future could be better. Her teacher, her Lord, the kind and wise one they all believed to be the Messiah, their deliverer, the leader of a new way, had been cruelly crucified like a common criminal. She must have been so confused, so shattered. Why did he allow such a thing to be done to him? Why hadn’t he called on God’s angels to save him? What hope was there, now, for a better tomorrow?
As a nation, as a world, we are living through a shattering time. Loss is everywhere—loss of life, loss of our lives as we know them, loss of our belief in our safety, loss of even the simplest common things that lift our hearts, like visiting friends and shopping for Easter gifts for the kids. We may feel robbed of the happy energy that typically accompanies the arrival of spring. This year, in its expansive, joyful place we have anxiousness, cautiousness, and dread. Where could God possibly be in the midst of such heartache and fear?
We know that Mary went to the tomb early in the morning, just as the sky was beginning to show the edge of dawn. In John’s version, which Sherry read for us, Mary goes alone. She likely has a collection of sweet spices she planned to use to complete the ritual cleansing of Jesus’ body prior to his burial. Even though her heart was broken and her life was in tatters, Mary carried out this practical act as a gesture of love, a way to tenderly care for the One who had so kindly and tenderly cared for her. This was something real she could do, a gesture that could embody her love, her gratitude, and even her brokenness.
We too have things we are doing—wherever we are, however much we’re limited—that embody our love, our commitment, our concern for others. We stay home—even when we don’t want to—to care for the most vulnerable among us. We wear masks when we do have to be out in public, not to protect ourselves, but to safeguard others from the virus’s inadvertent spread. We look in on each other and connect when we can by voice and video—like we’re doing now—encouraging each other and letting Friends know that we are separate but not alone, gathered together in our waiting, in our love, and in our grief.
Mary’s sorrow that morning must have already felt all-consuming, and then it deepens even more when she finds the body of Jesus gone. It is hard for us to imagine such despair—now she is unable to even do this loving thing she had planned for him. She drops to the ground and weeps. All is lost. She gives up. There is nothing more to do.
And then Mary hears a familiar voice and she turns to see the gardener, looking at her. “Woman, why are you crying?” he asks her. And she pours out her heart, telling him the reason for her despair. She shares with him this nightmare, the brokenness she is living. He listens and then, right into her suffering, he speaks a single word. A name. Her name.
“Mary,” he says, with all the tenderness of this created realm. One hopeful word of Light, spoken right into her darkness, and instantly, everything is transformed. The stone blocking her hope rolls away. She sees who is addressing her. She is not alone; he has stayed with her—he has stayed with us–as he said he would.
In our Friends tradition, we have a long history of not lifting one day above another as though the holy opportunity on Easter is somehow greater or more pronounced than it might be on an ordinary Wednesday, for example. Every day, every minute provides an invitation to a sacrament—communion with our living, loving God.
In their 1806 Rules of Discipline, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting made it a policy that Friends would not join in “public fasts, feasts, and what they term holy days” that were “devised in man’s will” because the outward observances may distract Friends away from their deeply lived witness of the Gospel. But I think over the years, many Friends have come to understand that our lived witness of Gospel truths—in particular, our intention to live in a way that embodies our hope and honors God—is an important part of the ocean of Light that George Fox saw overflowing the ocean of darkness so many years ago.
We respond to—and embody—the Gospel when we let Jesus speak into our own personal moment of darkness and doubt, whatever it might be right now. Right into the middle of our concern for our Friends. Between our tears of sorrow in a time of loss. Calming our uncertainty about the future. When we hear our own name, whispered lovingly in the quiet of our hearts, our spirits lift. Our hope is reborn. We rise.
As we Friends seek to take this story deeper, we might ask where in our lives we’ve come to believe the darkness that at times seems all around. What stones are blocking our way to the precious and transformative awareness of the presence of God? Have we been duped into believing that anything in this world is stronger than the God’s love?
The Light of Christ knows each of our names, calling out to us as we live through this time of fear, of risk, of seeming despair. The Light is here with each of us right now–guiding, blessing, comforting, being our witness—as the source of our continuing, Living hope. From our tears, from our knees, from our temptation to believe that all is lost, like Mary we rise to meet the Person of eternal, transcendent, limitless Love. From the cracks and inequities in our system, we rise with new solutions. From the disunity and suspicion and prejudice that has plagued us as a people, we rise with new mercy. From the empty chase after material things, we rise with hearts that know, now, what truly matters.
We rise from all that is not God as we let go of the empty idols we have clung to. They were stones blocking our way, weighing us down. We turn them loose in God’s name.
And we rise.
In closing I offer this beautiful poem from Sister Joyce Rupp. It is called, “Sunday Prayer.”
source of inner power
restorer of tombed vitality
giver of graced gusto
you who have been raised
from the cold stone of death
come and resurrect me
from my own entombment
repair what has weakened
in my spiritual endeavors
revive my mildewed
lift up my waning hope
when I wail with the world’s pain
restore my sense of oneness
with all of your creation
refresh my daily call
to embrace the sacred
to find you in every gesture
that dances with your heart
push back the stone
untomb my generosity
renew my dedication
raise up my dilapidated dreams
restore my ancient union
resuscitate my burning desire
re-establish my priorities
so you become the Center
of all I am and all I do.
Amen, Friends. Happy Easter. As we live into this new day, bright now with the promise of God’s revealed and living love, may we always be ready, with gentleness and respect, to give reasons for the hope that is in us.
- John 20: 1-18
- 1 Peter 3:15
- Joyce Rupp: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Rupp