by Fr. David May.
How I love the stories of Easter in the Gospels! Every year we hear them, yet they remain ever fresh, ever new. I love carefully reading each one. I note the similarities, and I love the differences, which add to the richness and wonder of the event.
Easter morning begins in a garden. The women make their way to the tomb. Mark and Luke tell us they were intending to anoint the body of Jesus. In Matthew they go "to see" the tomb.
In John, only Mary of Magdala goes at first, presumably to mourn there, as in this account the body was anointed the day before.
They arrive at the site of Jesus’ burial. From this moment, nothing will ever be the same again.
Matthew tells us they experience an earthquake and a mighty angel rolling the stone away. In Mark, the stone is already removed, and an angel clothed in white with the appearance of a young man sits peacefully inside the tomb. In Luke, there are two men in dazzling white rather than one.
In John, first Mary of Magdala, and then the two disciples, discover only an empty grave with the burial cloths rolled up in a very particular way. At first, no angel is present to tell what happened.
But when Mary remains behind after Peter and John leave, she suddenly finds two angels in the tomb, and they pose questions to her: "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"
In Luke, too, the angels ask a question: "Why are you seeking the Living One among the dead?"
The single angels in Matthew and Mark do not ask questions. Instead, after urging the women not to be afraid, they get right to the point. They announce the Resurrection of Jesus.
Details vary, but they all testify to the essence: the man who died on Good Friday is no longer dead. He is risen, and he is Lord of all!
Against all the forces of death, darkness, and sin, the Church proclaims these stories.
It is the destiny of faithful, loving people to minister to and face the suffering and death of those dear to them. It is their astonishing glory to discover death vanquished and their Beloved risen from the dead.
Yet, what kind of weapons are these ancient narratives? What lasting effect will they ever have against the dark forces hurling themselves at the human race today?
If we are to find, and find again, the answer to these questions, we have to journey to that garden with the faithful women. For Easter begins in a garden.
Have you journeyed lately to that place which was your garden of tears? Where your tears watered the desiccated earth and your cry of anguish filled the air?
Perhaps that place was a cemetery, where you laid your beloved one to rest. Perhaps it was a room in a house or a hospital or a care facility, where you accompanied a dying relative or friend to the very end.
And now, with the women, in spirit, or even literally, you must return to that place—however much we want to put behind us all memory of the suffering, passion, dying of our loved ones!
I remember once reciting some graveside prayers for a family that were not practicing the Faith, but who out of respect for their deceased father, consented to "a few prayers" at the graveside.
Afterwards, they invited me to their home for a bite to eat. Since I hadn’t known the deceased, I asked if there was a picture of him with his family. There was not a single photo of him in the house! Every last memory of him had been erased, "so as to not think about his death!"
Yet if we accompany the ointment-bearing women to the place of our "tomb," we will discover, as they did, an astonishing fact: those we thought lost or forsaken, those who suffered so terribly and unremittingly, are now at peace. There is a presence that surrounds them and fills them.
This cannot be explained or proven. It has to be experienced by "going there," either literally or in spirit.
This sort of journey can be made not only to a cemetery or through the pages of an album of old photos or to the family home which is filled with memories.
It can also be made to the tomb of our own painful memories, to a time when Christ and all hope of love seemed lost or utterly distant.
It can be made to a time when we suffered innocently as children. Or to a period in our lives when we rebelled against God and despaired of ever changing or being forgiven.
Or to a time when we were rejected by those we loved or persecuted by those we sought to help. The list is endless.
With the women, we too can journey to these "places," these memories, in order to find there now, on this Easter Day, what was all but impossible to perceive in the time of trial.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day. And they remembered his words (Luke 24: 6b-8).
Yes, at last they remembered his words, which had been blotted out of their consciousness in the crucible of Christ’s terrible passion and death.
By the grace of God, we, too, can remember these words and treasure them as our own story. We, too, were "handed over to sinners and crucified," even if at times that sinner was ourselves.
But now, "on the third day," we meet the One who journeyed with us at every step, especially our most forlorn.
"Peace be with you!" he says. And this peace, that no one can take away from us, has a power which can raise us from a past steeped in death.
Easter begins in a garden. As we return with the faithful women to the place of sorrows, we will discover that it is only by going there and meeting the heavenly messengers and ultimately the Lord himself, that these sorrows will be turned to joy.
Now, every garden we ever visit—be it an olive garden of sorrows or a glorious landscape filled with flowers of joy—sings to us of this truth: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs, lavishing life!
This victory extends to the whole cosmos, but it begins on a quiet morning, as the sun slowly rises, when you and I journey to the tomb once again, to hear the astonishing message and be ministered to by angels. It is this tiny seed that has the power to turn every garden of sorrow into a flowering meadow of joy and victory. Let us hasten to the site!
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