But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”John 20:11-15a
Early on the morning of the very first Easter, Mary Magdalene stands, weeping, outside the empty tomb. So much has happened – so much hopeful excitement, followed by so much sorrow, so much loss. And now, when she has come to say her goodbyes to her friend, to her hope, it seems that the universe has added insult to injury and someone has taken his body, so that she cannot even mourn him properly.
The worst thing imaginable had happened to Mary and the other followers of the Way – they had watched helplessly as the Roman Empire crucified their Messiah and Lord. Their hopes for God’s reign were snuffed out.
Yet God was not done.
Jesus rises from the dead, and he comes to Mary in the garden. In the midst of her deep sadness, she does not even recognize him at first, until he gently calls her name. Her hope lives. Jesus lives. And there will be rejoicing, there will be feasting, there will be breakfast on the beach, there will be a chance for redemption and reconciliation.
But in that moment of darkness, in the early morning outside the empty tomb, it is difficult to see or to imagine all the things that will come.
Right now, we are living in our own moment of darkness. The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our daily lives in so many ways. In a short period of time, it has come to dominate what we think about, what we hear about, what we talk about. We are afraid of catching the virus, of what it might do to us and to the people that we care about. We are afraid of what all this isolation and social distancing might do to the economic well-being of our communities. We are afraid because there is not yet a clear end in sight; we don’t know how long this moment of darkness will continue. We don’t know when or if life will go back to something we recognize as normal.
Yet Christ is here with us, just as he stood with Mary in the garden on that first Easter morning. Christ is with us, acting through us, as we discover new ways of being church together. Even in the midst of social distancing, the body of Christ is finding more ways than ever to connect with one another. In the absence of our physical gathering, we are forging church together on a digital frontier. There is an unprecedented sharing of worship and resources and solidarity that is bringing churches from across the globe together in unexpected and holy ways. Oh yes, Christ is at work – even here, even now.
Even in these times of uncertainty and fear, the story is far from over. We are discovering – like Mary Magdalene and the earliest disciples – that we are living only part of a long story of salvation that is still being written. God is not done yet.
However you may be feeling as the time of Holy Week and Easter approaches – whether you are ready for the jubilation of Palm Sunday and Easter, or you feel the fear of Maundy Thursday, or you carry the aching loss and grief of Good Friday – know that the good news is as true in this very moment as it was at the moment Mary stood weeping outside the tomb: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
First published in St. John’s April 2020 newsletter.