A few days ago, a colleague did not arrive at work. His absence caused the usual consternation, rush to arrange coverage and inevitable irritability. Then came the unexpected: he had passed away in his home, in his sleep, in the night. In daylight, we grappled with that truth and the incredible change his passing represented. I wondered for a moment at the grace of it for him, and then the struggles ahead for those who knew and loved him, for the survivors. Two camps of thought clamored for attention among his colleagues: how to take care of ourselves in the shock, and how to move forward with the least disruption. The first garnered lots of textbook responses, and the second focused purposefully on process and goals. There was no mention of the person, no time to think about the meaning of his life and its entanglements with ours. It was really all about us. That makes the response almost the antithesis of an Easter moment, and the Gospel calls to so much more than that. The Gospel is all about daring to be involved, daring to love and to believe Love bears all things.
In John chapter 20, Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb of Jesus. Her act of love becomes a mission to inform others. The stone was rolled away. Jesus’ body was missing. She sought help.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.
Death is the common denominator to all our lives, but we fail to grasp the breadth of its scope or the depth of its impact. In grief, they were bewildered. The possibilty of Resurrection could not be entertained. And so, of curse, they did not understand. Truthfuly, neither do we. Even after decades of experiences and lifetimes of study, we are always only beginning to understand elements of the story and how it interfaces with our lives. Allowing oursleves the freedom to grow, to learn, to know the finitude and limitations of humanity enables us to continue. Each of us grasps at different elements to find anchors for life and for meaning; the other readings point towards that. There is Peter’s gradual discovery and understanding of Jesus’ life and mission, and his own embrace of the mantle of leadership. But that shift is actually an invitation to all of us to allow for the importance of something we cannot see, hear or touch, but can believe. Then the second reading shows how life is changed by belief, how this kind of commitment changes who we are and what we are about. Even in our lack of understanding, we can be touched by and drawn to belief.
Picture Mary again, pausing at the opening of the tomb, and the belief and love that brought her to that moment. There to grieve and mourn, she was not yet aware that her relationship with Jesus was changed, not ended. She ran to those who also loved Him, and they were able to be bewildered together. Belief means trusting in the power of love and relationship, in the intimacy of personal commitment and choice, within the broader context of community. It means remembering the stories, treasuring the lessons, discovering the depths. Just as Mary crept towards that crypt, just as Peter and the other disciple came forward, belief builds real and genuine connections among people, draws people closer to one another so they can interact together.
The Easter Gospel is a reminder that our stories matter so much more than we realize. Sharing the stories is a reminder life is never really all about us. It is always about other, always about reaching out and sharing, searching and caring together. It is always about coming to understand that there is so much we do not understand. And that is okay. There is a God who has already shown each of us how very much we matter to Him in the story of the cross. And a God who shows how very much he is still with us in the love which births the Eucharist. Daring to trust that means there is so much more to life than we can ask or imagine.
Rest in peace, Blake. Enjoy perpetual light!