Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!
I must confess I have found it a bit jarring to think about jumping into alleluias this year after the lenten journey we have taken. We started this season with hopes held high – exploring what it means for us to live expansively, seeking that which fills our spirits to the brim and invites us into rich living in our relationships with ourselves, each other, and God. And yet as we have drawn nearer to this day of Easter celebration, our community has experienced the deep grief that comes close when loved ones die unexpectedly. The loss of beloveds affecting several households in this congregation makes this story of the death of Jesus – particularly the story of those gathered together after his death feel so human and tangible.
Many of us, of course, have a hard time hearing the Easter story in scripture without jumping ahead, in heart or in mind, to the ending that we know so well. Yet at the start of today’s scripture passage we are in the company of grieving women. Friends of Jesus who don’t have the luxury of knowing what is to come in this particular tale, who instead are doing what they know how to do in moments like this: gather together, do what needs to be done, prepare the spices, rest on the sabbath, and at the very next opportunity, take the prepared spices to the tomb to as part of the ritual of burial after death.
When they arrive at the tomb they find the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising to them. Perhaps a kind stranger moved the stone from the entrance knowing that someone would be by to care for Jesus’ body. We see all sorts of significance in that rolled away stone, but for the women in the story, it isn’t until they go into the tomb and do not find the body of Jesus that they find themselves surprised and confused.
It says in the text:
While they were still at a loss over what to think of this, two figures in dazzling garments stood beside them.
If the missing body of Jesus wasn’t surprising enough, the appearance of these figures moves the women from confusion to fear.
Terrified, the women bowed to the ground.
I can only imagine this would be a terrifying moment. Already off-kilter from not finding the body of their beloved Jesus in the tomb where just two days earlier they themselves had followed Joseph of Arimathea and watched Jesus’ body be put in place. They now find themselves in the presence of radiant beings – figures in dazzling garments. The powers of the systems and empire at play in the death of Jesus could be capable of any kind of trickery – were these beings friend or foe?
When the figures speak, they confirm that Jesus will not be found in the tomb:
Jesus is not here; Christ has risen.
And they remind the women to remember. Remember what Jesus told you – that the Chosen One would be crucified and on the third day would rise again. Remember.
With this reminder, the words of Jesus came back to them.
The words of Jesus come back to them and now, in this moment, the words that seemed so cryptic when first spoken have new meaning. Hindsight can be a bittersweet gift. It can open paths to insight and clarity that bridge gaps, form new connections, and propel us forward, while also reminding us of what no longer is. Looking back allows us to see where we have come from, what we have journeyed through, and remember who we have journeyed with.
In an unexpected turn of events, the rearview mirror in my car randomly fell off the windshield this week as I was driving to church for the Maundy Thursday service. It was a surprising moment. And even more surprising was how disorienting it was to drive without that vantage point in my field of vision. I no longer had constant access to the scene behind me. I could glimpse pieces of it from the side view mirrors, but the picture as a whole was broken – and all of a sudden it felt unfamiliar to be driving on a very familiar road. I didn’t realize how much I relied on that mirror until it was gone.
Its absence spurred me to extra attention in my driving. Instead of relying on occasional glances in the rearview mirror to keep track of the cars behind and around me, I was extra vigilant about checking my side mirrors and even turning my neck from side to side more often than usual. In an attempt to reassure myself that I was going to be okay without a rearview mirror, I started looking at all of the big trucks around me which also did not have rear view vision options but instead relied on a set up of multiple side view mirrors to keep track of traffic around them. While it offered a bit of comfort, I also realized that with those multiple sets of mirrors, not to mention the possibility of unknown rear view cameras, the truckers had different tools at their disposal. And so I stuck with my commitment to extra attentiveness to the moment at hand.
The women at the empty tomb were extra attentive to the moment at hand as well. A moment where looking back has grounded them through memory and connection; filling them to the brim with wonder and awe of the radical transformative power of the present moment. And the wonder and awe of this moment isn’t satisfied lingering in memory, instead it opens their senses to the realm of possibility. In the emptiness of the tomb the women find themselves no longer able, or even needing to do what they know how to do, instead they realize that in the wake of this transformation, this resurrection, the path ahead is expansive and uncertain. And though they do not know what will come next, they are compelled to head home and share the news of their discovery with the other followers of Jesus still gathered together in grief and fear.
You may or may not remember that the week before last, after 3 days of cloudy skies that were gray and rainy we had a supremely sunny morning. As Simon and I walked to school we passed another caregiver who had also dropped kids off at school. As they passed us they desperately proclaimed with great joy and delight: “Did you see the sun?!?!?!”
The person spoke with such boldness and intensity that I was surprised and momentarily confused. Much like the disciples who heard Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Mary the mother of James along with other women share the shocking news of the empty tomb and the revelation that was made clear to them through the reminder of Jesus’ own words: resurrection – Christ has risen, the possibility of expansive living is upon us. It’s a surprising and confusing tale – one that is hard to wrap one’s head around. And the scripture says that many of the disciples didn’t even try:
The story seemed like nonsense and they refused to believe them.
The story seemed like nonsense and they refused to believe, perhaps because they were rife with grief, weary and unable to process additional layers of detail at this time. Capacity in the face of shock and grief is real. Perhaps the fear and terror that gripped the women in the garden at the sight of the dazzling figures is present for these disciples as well and in the gathered group they are not yet able to hear the reminder to remember. Holding space for grief to take its own path, in its own time, is also hard and holy work. Perhaps the surprise of the revelation transitions to a confusion that feels too uncomfortable and overwhelming to lean towards in the midst of fresh grief.
Leaning towards confusion means opening ourselves to the unknown, letting go of what we know, in order to make space in our living for something different. It is an act of curiosity. Brene Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart, writes this about curiosity:
“Curiosity is recognizing a gap in our knowledge about something that interests us, and becoming emotionally and cognitively invested in closing that gap through exploration and learning…Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing…and sometimes make discoveries that lead to discomfort.”
It is with curiosity that Peter responds to the story the women tell:
Peter…got up and ran to the tomb. He stooped down but he could see nothing but the wrappings. So he went away, full [to the brim] of amazement at what had occurred.
Curiosity moved Peter to action – to an investigation, a seeking, that opened Peter up to the expansive living realm of resurrection possibility. The same expansive realm of possibility that the women at the empty tomb also encountered. Possibilities of dynamic transformation not bound by our expectations, possibilities of transformation that instead make space for new ways of being in the world, new ways of living, new ways of relating, new experiences accessible to us when we lean with curiosity towards the invitations of expansive living.
Expansive living invites us to pay attention…
Expansive living invites us to engage our imagination…
Expansive living invites us to hold space for grief…
Expansive living invites us to remember…
Expansive living invites us to curiosity…
Expansive living invites us to healthy vulnerability…
Expansive living invites us to uncertainty…
Expansive living invites us to connection and relationships…
Expansive living invites us to hope…
Expansive living invites us to wonder and awe…
Expansive living invites us to bear witness to what it is that fills us to the brim in each moment of life…
In, around, and through it all, expansive living fills us to the brim and invites us to love.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!