Life and Death and Life

I said to a friend recently, “It all depends on the resurrection of Christ from the dead.”

I’ve thought of that often since, as though the truth has become more real each day. It is as though that moment in history, circa 30 AD, is the fulcrum, the pivotal point, the loadstone, from which all else falls away and is reborn.

Or perhaps that moment in time is like the source of light, a burning candle, torch, flashlight, in the way that light, and thus vision, streams from it.

Some folks do not believe He rose. Some do. Some don’t see what difference it makes. But it makes all the difference, and it is important to choose. Life and death and life again.

There are implications to what one believes. As Raymond Raynes, the late Superior of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, England, said, there are two questions to be asked:  “What think ye of Christ? Whose Son was He?” and  “What shall I do then with Jesus who was called the Christ?”

It all depends on the Resurrection, and the Resurrection answers the first question.

Life and death and life again. This last week – Holy Week in the Christian calendar – was full of these things. The borders of this world and the next one seemed hazy, as though in the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day we slipped back and forth with a company of angels. There were the saints too, surrounding us, those from the past, particularly from our own parish, this glorious cloud of witnesses, a communion of saints. There were the words of the great passion story, told by each evangelist, parallel accounts reflecting their own perspectives – Mathew and Luke drawing on Mark and therefore similar; John urgently profound and intimate, that other disciple whom Jesus loved, who understood more deeply the meaning of it all.  Life and death and life again: we were steeped in these passages so that our joy would be complete.

I love John’s account of Easter morning:

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.  (KJV John 20:1-10)

I always smile at the little race he includes, with the clear point that he, John, “the other disciple,” won. The detail makes him seem young.

And Mary Magdalene. Perhaps because I have been writing about her in my latest novel, the scene especially touched my heart.  The disciples leave Mary at the tomb, weeping:

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.  (John 20:11-16)

When he speaks, she does not recognize him. But when he calls her name, she knows him.  He is Love.

We listened to this Gospel read on Easter morning in church. The high altar was ablaze with white lilies. The purple drapes were gone, the sacred images bathed in light, the Paschal candle aflame. The children entered, stepping up the red-carpeted aisle carrying their baskets of flowers, and soon the thick white Easter cross was covered in blooms. We sang and we gave thanks and we received that which we were promised – resurrection. We no longer weep when death confronts us in the midst of life. We have been given hope, no longer groping in the darkness. We see clearly.

Later that day my family gathered around my linen-covered dining table. The youngest grandchild had asked about a photo of my father, then a young Navy chaplain in World War II. He ministered to the terrified boys serving on his cruiser in the South Pacific where kamikaze pilots dove into the seas on either side. My father didn’t want to talk about it much. As we toasted to family and resurrection and eternal life, I thought of him and his sharing God’s love with those boys.

Life and death and life again.

I returned to church today for Easter Monday Mass. I knew it would be a quiet moment to gather and recollect this most holy season, the greatest in the Church Year, the fulcrum, the apex. I was glad I came.  As I entered through the wide-open door, I was surrounded with the fragrance of lilies, and I inhaled deeply.  The few gathered held the moment like a great jewel of joy, borne on angel wings. A simple gift.

Once again, resurrected.

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