We have arrived. Yes? Or better yet—we have started. As Jesus died on the cross he said, “It is finished.” During this Easter season, I believe, he whispers to us—“it has begun.”
Easter Sunday is good, a celebration, a remembering for many of who we are as Christian people—that we are, indeed, EASTER people, people of rising. But that is a reality that, ideally, lasts far longer than a day. It is a lifetime of becoming, of realizing, of embodying what this means. It’s why, every year, we walk through these days anew, to remember, to look at the dying, to sit in the waiting, to experience the disbelief meets reality of the resurrection, and then… to keep living the rising.
It’s the “keep living” that seems to get us, to catch us. We’re pretty comfortable worshipping Jesus, celebrating this great miracle. But what about letting it transform our everyday lives? What does it mean to LIVE rising? What does this mean especially in a world where we encounter crucifixion—death– over and over again?
We all celebrate Easter with great joy and lots of hallelujah’s, but again, I love looking at the scripture readings of the day, and of these coming weeks especially. What really happened that day, all those years ago? At the Easter Vigil, Saturday night, I heard the account in Matthew’s gospel. The two Mary’s actually witness the stone being rolled back. It’s an earth-shaking, fear inducing event. Twice, they are told “do not be afraid”—once by the angel and once by Christ directly. It even says they were “fearful yet overjoyed” as they ran to tell the others. It’s an amazing mix of high-intensity emotions—bewilderment, fear, utter affection and love for Jesus, when they encounter him again. And in the gospel of John on Easter day we hear, in the very last line of the reading, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Again, there’s a lot of running, a lot of confusion, maybe some panic, and in John’s gospel on Easter day, we are left with the empty tomb.
It isn’t until Tuesday’s reading, in John, that we get an encounter with the risen Lord. Here the account of what actually happens is so amazing I’m going to quote it in full. The running to the tomb has happened; Peter has seen it empty and rushed off again. Mary of Magdala sits, weeping. Then this happens:
“…she turned around and saw Jesus there but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni,’ which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, ‘Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and then reported what he had told her.”
To me, this encapsulates the beginning stages of what this Easter thing is all about. Mary is so consumed with her grief, with her sadness, so convinced that the tomb is empty (which she saw with her own eyes) and Jesus is dead (also witnessed by her own eyes) that she literally cannot see him. She assumes he is someone who her rational mind can accept would be there—the gardener, tending to the grounds. She so convinces herself of this that she even speaks to him without recognizing him. Finally, she knows him in the familiar, loving way he speaks her name—Mary! I know you! And then, of course, in that relating, that heart connection, she knows him too.
I imagine that her report to the apostles, “I have seen the Lord” is filled with clarity, with certainty, but also with an edge of awe, of breathlessness: “I don’t know how this is true, I just know that it is.”
This is what happens on Easter day—the witnessing, the disbelief, the gentle discovery giving birth to the continuous unfolding of what, exactly, this means. What does it mean that death is not death in the person of Jesus? What does it mean that he is walking about, being seen after so violent a death? What does it mean that he keeps telling them—us—“do not be afraid?” Something big is clearly happening here, something that he knows might throw us into our old patterns of fear, of disbelief, of clinging to what was, of making sense of it based on our previous categories of what can be.
I’ve read and heard these passages over and over again in my lifetime, but to be honest, none were all that real until my own sister died… and rose. I know that may seem strange, scandalous even, but it is the mystery we are all called into if we really believe in this resurrection stuff. Since Caity’s death, I have become convinced that not only is resurrection REAL, it is not just about Jesus. Jesus opened the way. Jesus turned the world upside down. Jesus did, indeed, destroy death—or reminded us that if we really believe, it has no hold on us. And Jesus invites all of us into this eternal life.
I have had so many encounters with Caity since her death, as have the rest of my family, and many of her friends. (For more details on this, see my post, “Caity Sightings”) She tells me again and again—I am here. After her death, I knew deeply that relationship with her was not ending, just changing. I felt called, and continue to feel called into ongoing relationship with her. Some might say, “sure—don’t we all want that or feel that in our effort not to let go of them?” And I say, yes, and that is the point. We think we have to “get over it” meaning—they’re dead. Let them be dead. But I have found that in his Rising, Jesus introduced a whole new way of living and being with ALL those who have passed on to eternal life. He tells us they are ALIVE, as he is alive, as WE are alive! He whispers to us, “choose Life!” See death (as he tells Thomas to see his wounds) and still—choose life. See violence, and hate and all effort to destroy life and still—choose love.
In these 40 days before Jesus ascends into the heavenly realm forever, Jesus will keep visiting his friends—walking with them, eating with them, inviting them to touch his wounds, look at him. Always, at first, he is unrecognizable. They don’t SEE him, because they are expecting something else. They are not expecting him at all—they think only of his death, and so cannot see his continued life. Something jolts them, reminds them, pulls them out of their grief, until they are so overcome with the truth of his love and his presence that they cannot help but acknowledge his life. They get it with their hearts, in relationship with him, even if they can’t make sense of it in their rational mind.
How many times has this happened with us, in encounter with loved ones who have passed? We hear a song, have a dream, see a butterfly or a hummingbird or a rainbow, know it is “them” but then shrug it off as “not real”? What if these reminders, these nudges are THE most real thing? What if they are a connection, a link, to a communion that we need new eyes to see?
In the gospel of John, in their conversations during their last meal together, Jesus tells his followers, “In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” In this passage and ones similar to it he seems desperate for them to know: “I will ALWAYS be with you.” What if he meant it?
That is Easter. That is resurrection. That is something to rejoice over!! And to live into, one day at a time.