Palm Sunday, April 10, 2022. Reading: John 12:1-19
Good Friday, April 15, 2022. Readings: John 18:1-19:42
Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. Reading: John 20:1-18
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
What a day! What a day to celebrate! Here we are, face to face, celebrating Easter in person for the first time in three years! Can you believe that this is my first in-person Easter celebration as an ordained pastor? Our Psalm today says, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Let’s say that together: This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Easter certainly is a day for joy. A day to rejoice in the good news of Jesus’ victory over death and the grave. And yet, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the Easter story begins not with joy, but with grief.
Our story begins today with Mary Magdalene, who comes to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week, on Sunday, before dawn. She comes to the tomb of her friend, her rabbi. She comes to grieve. It was only a few days ago that Mary stood at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother, witnessing in cruel horror the crucifixion of their loved one. I have no doubt that Mary was also there with Joseph and Nicodemus, when they prepared Jesus’ body for burial, with ointments and spices, wrapping him in linen, laying him in the garden tomb, and sealing it with a stone. The Sabbath had come and gone, and now Mary returns to the tomb, in the dark twilight of Sunday morning, to grieve.
Grief comes in many forms. Sometimes it is subtle, like something is missing in your life, but you can’t put your finger on what. Sometimes it is gentle, like a warm quilt filled with memories. Sometimes grief is confusing and disorienting, like getting lost in the woods without a map or a compass. And sometimes grief is raw and all-consuming.
Do you find yourself on a journey of grief right now? If so, what, or whom do you grieve?
As we have weathered two years of pandemic together, many of us are grieving. The pandemic has affected so many things in our lives: our jobs, our activities, our routines, and our sense of community and belonging. Most of us have lost something to the pandemic: perhaps it’s a job, or a relationship, or an opportunity to celebrate a special occasion. Perhaps it’s just a feeling that we’ve lost time. Some of us have lost health, some of us have lost a sense of direction or purpose. Many of us have lost a loved one, and we have not felt that we were able to honour their memory in the way we would have liked.
We’re also aware of the immense grief in our world. Grief of Indigenous communities who have continued to find mass graves at the sites of former residential schools. Grief of a changing climate. Grief for the victims of war and violence.
For me personally, as the brutal war in Ukraine has continued to unfold, I have been experiencing a palatable grief. For the first few weeks, I was waking up every morning with a knot in my stomach, waking up to that heavy feeling of grief.
Is grief a part of your story right now? And if so, what, or whom do you grieve?
Mary is grieving at the tomb. She is weeping. The stone has been rolled away. Why? Who did this? Where did they put him? There are two angels in the tomb, and they ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” What kind of a question is that? She’s at a gravesite, for crying out loud! She’s grieving.
Mary turns around, and she sees someone who appears to be the gardener. But it’s not the gardener at all. It’s Jesus. He calls her by name: “Mary.”
In the midst of her grief, Jesus calls her by name.
And suddenly, Mary’s eyes are opened! The fog of grief clears for a brief second, and she recognizes Jesus. And more than that, she recognizes that God is doing something new. That in the midst of death, God is creating life.
In 1994, a Winnipeg photographer named David McMillan began a project. He travelled to the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, very near the border of Belarus. Pripyat is in the 30 km “exclusion zone” around the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The city was evacuated in April 1986, when a nuclear reactor at the Chornobyl plant exploded, releasing radioactive pollution into the air in the worst nuclear accident in history.
In 1994, David McMillan went to Pripyat, and began taking photographs of the abandoned city. He took pictures of school classrooms and pools, apartments and playgrounds, abandoned places with not a living soul in sight.
A few years later, David McMillan went back to Pripyat, and he took more photographs. As the years went by, he returned again and again, taking pictures of the places he had visited before. And if you look at these photographs, you’ll notice something. You’ll notice that in the midst of this dead place, a place abandoned to the poison of nuclear fallout, life begins to emerge again. In the middle of a classroom, a tree begins to grow. In an abandoned basketball court, a forest starts to emerge. A landscape of apartment buildings is swallowed up by the boreal forest. As time goes on, nature is reclaiming the land. In this dead place, new life is taking hold.
God is doing a new thing. God is saying to the world, “See! I am making all things new!” “Where there is sickness, I am bringing healing. Where there is war, I am bringing peace. Where there is hatred, I am bringing love. And where there is death, I am bringing new life.”
Why? Because in Christ, God has made a promise to our world: a promise that death shall not have the final word! God has made a promise to our world, that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is making all things new. The God who created stars and galaxies, the sun, moon, and planets, and this planet, Earth, with it’s vibrant community of life, this ever-creating God has not abandoned our world to death, but rather, continues to create life anew day after day after day, so that our world may know God’s promise of abundant life. So that we might know God’s promise of everlasting life.
And so, just as Jesus called Mary by name at the empty tomb, the risen Christ calls us by name, even in our grief, stirring up faith in our hearts, and calling us into a life lived in the hope of resurrection. so that we, too, might share this good news with others:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!