Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd Easter Sunday April 1, 2018
There was no joy in their steps as they left the empty tomb. They were amazed, but they were also terrified. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, left quickly in fear and told no one, according to the Gospel of Mark (our earliest gospel). They were traumatized by Jesus’ cruel death and the empty tomb may have seemed like another cruel trick.
When one is in the midst of resurrection, we are sometimes stunned into paralysis, unable to comprehend it. When we have been surrounded by loss, it is hard to embrace new life when it appears. My partner has said, “If it’s still Good Friday for you, then Easter Sunday can be difficult.” Our Moderator, Jordan Cantwell, writes “Resurrection is, by its very nature, unexpected and unimaginable. We cannot see it coming; we are never prepared for it. It is the revelation of new life where, just moments ago, there was nothing but the possibility of despair and loss.”
And so neither the women nor the other disciples sang hallelujah—until much later, when Jesus began to appear to them. They tried to understand what was happening but were at a loss. Slowly, they realized that Jesus was living again, but in quite a different form. Sometimes he walked through walls or locked doors yet other times he ate and drank with them. He then told that he could not stay with them—that he was going to be with God. And then they remembered one of his teachings. He told them that he would only be with them a little while longer, but he would send the Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and guide them. Slowly, but surely, they regained their faith and their hope in new possibilities and new life.
I was speaking with someone a couple of weeks ago who was a leader in a church community when one of his children died. His faith was deeply shaken, but somehow, he managed to still find God in the midst of his grief and questions. And then, his second child died. His faith also died in that moment. How can you believe in a God who would allow such tragedy?
There are no easy answers to this. However, we might want to consider our assumptions about God. Instead of believing that God randomly intervenes to save some and not others, we might believe that God created a world with its own laws of nature and gave freewill to humanity. Instead of intervening and breaking these laws or taking away our own freewill, God sends us the Holy Spirit as a companion to grieve with us, comfort us, strengthen us, and rejoice with us. God’s Spirit nudges us with conscience and with wisdom so that we may be the hands and feet of the living Christ.
During last week’s Good Friday service, when we were hearing the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, a baby began to fuss in the sanctuary. I was struck with how new life rises out of death every day in God’s wondrous creation. The healing balm of nature teaches us the same lesson.
Poet Helen Lowrie Marshall wrote:
A garden is a growing thing.
Each day, each passing hour,
Some bit of newness there unfolds—
A leaf, a bud, a flower.
A garden is a living thing,
And even when the snow
Has blanketed its silent form
It does not cease to grow,
For every tender seedling there,
Each hard, encrusted pod,
Contains a tiny spark of life,
A living bit of God.
Life, also, is a growing thing;
Each day, each passing hour,
Finds something new unfolding there—
New thoughts, new strength, new power.
And when the snows of sorrow come,
As snows of sorrow will,
The seeds of Hope lie dormant then
But go on living still.
And, just as Spring returns to bring
The garden fresh new leaves—
So does the Spring of Life return
To every heart that grieves.