I made the mistake of going to Zehrs last Thursday just before Good Friday. Apparently, the rest of Welland had also decided that this was a good time to pick up some eggs. Busy as it was, however, the atmosphere was most light-people were in a good mood, joyous, preparing for family homecomings, students were preparing to head home, people were planning meals they could take over to the in-laws.
Maybe the bright blooms in the entrance helped, suggestions of spring, the lack of boots and coats weighing the spirit down, more light in the sky. Hope-anticipating the days to come.
Coming out of Zehrs , I stood in the parking lot for a drizzly moment and watched the procession trail in and out. Judy Garland’s and Fred Astaire’s song Easter Parade came to mind. Okay, I know I am digging a little deep here, folks, but surely some of you will remember that wonderful scene when Judy and Fred are parading down Fifth Avenue in New York on a fine Easter morning. “In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.” If you have never seen it, it’s worth a Google search. Nobody could sweeten a note like Judy Garland and nobody, and I mean nobody, could move like Fred Astaire.
Anyway, that’s what it felt like last Thursday, this joyous Easter Parade. As I stood there, eggs in hand, I thought to myself, “But what’s it going to feel like come Monday morning? I saw a bag lady sitting on the bench waiting for the bus, hugging her precious bag possibly containing her Easter joy. Some hot-cross buns perhaps, or a bag of jelly beans, or maybe even a Kinder Surprise.
I then spied an elderly gentleman tottering cross the lot a bag in one hand, cane in the other, and a Remembrance Day poppy still pinned to his lapel. Come Monday, how will this Easter experience affect their lives? I mean, after all, don’t we confess that Easter is the time that the world stood still, the time that the deep vibrations of love’s voice rumbled through the ground, rolling the stone of death away? Is not Easter celebrated as the highest and holiest day of the year? So shouldn’t this experience of Easter touch us at least a little, leaving us changed? Or are we just full of it, delusional people holding on to an archaic tradition, a story, a myth?
You and I know the reality of this. For most people the joy of Easter is getting a long weekend off, a reprieve from the daily caffeine awakening, lunch box making, work-a-day world that makes up most of our lives.
To be honest, I have no problem with this. People should take time to break bread with their families whenever they can. It is far too neglected in these days. However, as much as it maybe refreshing, it doesn’t really lead to any real change, does it? Next week that bag lady will be waiting for that bus and that gentlemen will probably still be wearing that same poppy. Why? Because, in my opinion, we are a people reluctant to experience Good Friday.
Our world has taught us to avoid such things, not talk about them. Pain, grief, darkness, they are all considered ‘bad’ things. It is better to skip right over all that and go straight to the Easter joy, to the Easter egg hunt, and all that fun stuff. But the truth is, and this is the truth of our humanity, there is no Easter without Good Friday. There’s no new life without there first being death, no light without darkness. No change without the recognition that some of the things in our lives need changing.
Hear John’s truth about that first Easter story. Note: there’s lots of weeping in this story. Mary is a broken faucet. In John’s story, she comes to the tomb alone. Note that. Mary comes alone in the darkness of predawn, and comes weeping.
Is Pilate weeping, or even tossing and turning in his bed tormented by the thoughts of the innocent life he condemned to death? Not likely. He’s probably already back at his lakeside palace in Caesarea not giving the incident another thought. He did his job. He kept the peace. The needs of many outweigh the needs of the one.
What about the cursing crowd? At this time of night they are all nicely tucked away into their arranged accommodations after the Passover feast. And talking about the Passover, what about the High Priest? I’m pretty sure he’s latched the door on his holy chambers, hung up his robes and has descended into an exhausted sleep, relieved the services are over.
Even the guards at the tomb have gone home. “This is nuts,” they say to each other. “Who is going to steal this body?
His disciples? Nobody carefully wraps a body in fresh linen and covers it with 75 lbs of herbs and spices, not just rolls a stone into the mouth of the tomb but actually take the time to seal it mud and clay, nobody does that if they are planning to come back and steal the body. “This is nuts and its cold out here. Let’s go home.”
And where are the grieving disciples? The ones who seem to be able to sleep even when Jesus asks them to stay awake in that garden as he wraps himself in anguished prayer. They’ve all hunkered down in the upper room and if they can’t sleep, it’s not because of the hard floor but fear which has caused them to bar all the windows and double latch the door.
Nope, no one else around except weeping Mary stumbling alone in the predawn darkness. Feel the isolation in this scene. The moment time stood still, the moment God declared death no longer had dominion, the moment God’s paradise was regained, the moment God called us blessed, this greatest act in history did not happen on the holy mount of Jerusalem’s temple, didn’t even occur within its city walls. It happened in a vacant, secluded little garden hidden away somewhere outside of Jerusalem. Just Jesus and weeping Mary.
Mary’s grief has so overcome her, her hope so devastated, that when she reaches the tomb, she can’t even conceive that anything but bodysnatching has happened here. She doesn’t even look into the tomb to verify her belief but runs straight to Peter and the disciple who Jesus loves. “They have taken my Lord!” Peter really isn’t of much help for he comes out of tomb, having seen the burial cloths, shaking his head. He doesn’t offer a word of comfort to weeping Mary but walks away as if to say, “Well, that’s that. The world has completed its terrible mission. They now have taken everything from us.” Then he goes back to the locked room.
The night is still dark. What else is there to do? Mary enters the tomb and what does she behold there but two angels. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask. Remember, these are two angels she is speaking to, and what does she say? “Because they have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have laid him.” She thought that maybe these celestial beings could offer her some hope doesn’t even enter her grief soaked heart. Hear what she says, ‘…where they have laid him.”
Jesus is dead, laid out somewhere. She just doesn’t know where. The tears still blur her sight for she supposes Jesus to be the gardener. Again, her pain lashes out, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have taken him.”
Many people believe that the moment of resurrecting Mary’s soul from this darkness came when Jesus said to her “Mary” and the revelation came to her that he was not dead. But I disagree. That may have been the spark but the full moment when resurrection sparked into life for Mary was when Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me for—– now, wait for it—- hear the words, I have not yet ascended to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” To my God and your God. When Mary ran back to the disciples rejoicing that she has seen the Lord, it’s because she is now pronouncing that she has been given the power to become a daughter of God. Imagine what that meant to a woman of low estate.
Jesus had done, in his life among them, what no one had ever done for her. Jesus saw this woman, called her by name and lifted her to become one of his disciples. With his death, all that had disappeared and she was left back in the dirt of her peasantry. But now, now, she has been raised again and called the daughter of God.
I wonder how different Monday mornings would be for those parading in and out of Zehrs on that Thursday if they were to recognize that this is what Easter is all about. That Easter is not some spectacular event but rather an extremely intimate personal encounter with the one who calls each one of them by name. That through the Good Fridays of their lives, and everyone has a Good Friday, God stands before us with holes in his hands and the torn skin on his back and says, “See, the world has not won. Evil does not hold all the cards. It may be dark in the predawn but it is pre-dawn. I have come to offer to you the same relationship I have with my God, the God of life, and in that encounter nothing will ever separate you from that love. Nothing. No amount of weeping will ever keep you from seeing me and knowing I am your God. That each one of us is being reclaimed as a son or daughter of God. At least, that’s how John saw that first Easter morning.