“Christ is risen!” the faithful cry.
“He is risen indeed!” the faithful reply.
Every Easter Christians throughout the world greet one another with this joyful announcement. It is a reminder of the empty tomb.
In many ways we have been entombed over the last year. We lived in the darkness of isolation during the threat of the Coronavirus. We hid from one another, fearful of contagion. Today, Easter 2021, many are vaccinated, and many look forward to their own resurrection from the cavernous and deadly lockdowns.
We have been deadened by this time, a time that has stood still. Some think of 2020 as the year that was lost. And yet no time is lost. No minute forgotten. No life unimportant to God.
And that includes the unborn, who also live in the shelter of the womb, a dark place, a tomb of life. After nine months, the child breaks into the light.
Hermits are also entombed, in their caves, retreating from the light, from the business of the living, to commune quietly with God, the saints, the angels. My recently released novel, Angel Mountain, is about such a hermit, an elderly Holocaust refugee who converts to Christianity and lives a life of prayer in a sandstone cave in the hills east of San Francisco. The story opens as he leaves the darkness of the cavern and steps into the sunlight, a moment when he speaks the words of repentance and baptism, when he speaks the words of God’s love for mankind, for each one of us.
In an odd way, I am grateful for this last year of darkness, isolation, and reflection, for I appreciate resurrection so much more. Yet surely the lockdowns were not worth their cost to human livelihoods and children’s growth, and so many other losses. The masks became hideous, dehumanizing, cancelling expression, cancelling love, cancelling touch, cancelling smiles, cancelling personal connection. The social distancing mandates separated us, divided us. And so the turmoil of the year was to be expected – the imprisoned energy escaping and vandalizing and raping our towns, stealing our peace, used and abused by the unscrupulous and the Machiavellian.
The virus fueled fear, and the fear spread faster than the virus. The fear fueled lies and manipulation and government control.
Each person became master of his own isolation, protecting himself from others who had become the enemy.
To Christians, the dark, demonic aspect of this year has been all too clear. And it continues today.
Yet today is Easter, a day when we celebrate resurrection and life, a day to rejoice in the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb so many years ago.
And so, when my husband and I tuned in to our virtual church liturgy, we were flooded with memory of a better time when we were present, kneeling and singing, in the nave of our parish church, a kind of ark-cavern. And as the memories returned, so too did the recognition of the words and hymns and actions of the morning. A union of past and present birthed a dove rising from the ashes of our lockdown, resurrected by joy. We sang,
“Jesus Christ is risen to-day, Alleluia!/ Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!/ Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!/ Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!” (#85)
We listened to the familiar Gospel lesson, in which Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb:
The Gospel. St. John xx. 1.
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. (Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
We walk with Mary Magdalene in the dark before dawn to the tomb. We see the stone taken away. We run to tell the others. We too fear He has been stolen and we cannot find Him. We run with Peter and John who outruns Peter (a little pride?). With John, we see the burial cloths.
We do not know what to think… and they do not know the Scriptures.
But we know the Scriptures. We know the miraculous magnificence of this morning, Easter. We know the love of God made incarnate, His blood shed for us, His hand reaching for ours, pulling us out of the dark and into the light of eternity. We know. We believe. The testimony of two thousand years is abundant and convinces us that there is more to life than we can see; there is divine meaning to every minute.
And so we sang into our screens, the chapel organ booming,
“Welcome happy morning!” age to age shall say:/ Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!/ Lo! the dead is living, God for evermore!/ Him, their true Creator, all his works adore!/ “Welcome happy morning!” age to age shall say. (#87)
As we sang, our age joining with all the others, past and future, the priest set a wooden cross in the central aisle and, with the help of one or two others, gently placed flowers in the holes on the cross, resurrecting the cross of death to one of life, flowering the cross and flowering us as well.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. The simple truth of the risen Christ is enough. It is more than enough. For we have laid in the tomb all this year and happily emerge, like Lazarus, like Christ, from the dark. We take Our Lord’s hand, and He pulls us into the light of Eternity, today and always.