(Originally published on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries blog. That posting can be found here: https://www.elm.org/2020/04/16/an-easter-reflection.)
“When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” John 20:14 (NRSV)
I write thoughts on the joyful resurrection of Jesus Christ as a dispatch from the front, at the base of a cresting wave of pandemic viral infection, rapid-fire government regulations, and a hotbed of liturgical reinvention. I wish I could speak with singularly joyful affirmation on how our fellow comrades-of-the-keys (that’s pastor slang for well, pastors) are rising equally to the challenge with compassion and vigor. Instead, it’s more apt to say we are facing this uncertain new world like the earnest and imperfect apostles we are.
In John 20:1-18 we read the story of Easter that begins with Mary seeing something unfamiliar happening around the place where her Savior was laid. Neither Mary’s first, second, or even third reaction was to pray or otherwise reach out to God. Instead, in her uncertainly, she ‘run tell’ Simon and Peter, fellow followers of Jesus. Haven’t we done the same? Within the first week of COVID-19 the living room and boardroom warriors arose from their couches and desks with gusto. The interwebs abound with emails from every place we have shopped within the last 7 years letting us know how proactively they are facing the dastardly virus. Well-intentioned watchdogs of virtue are commenting on photos; “Are you standing 6 feet apart? You don’t look 6 feet apart.” The desire to do something, anything – to be in some sort of control – is as understandable as it is an illusion.
Mary, Simon, and Peter were just as clueless together as they were apart. We can hope though, they were perhaps a bit less frightened, more confident, braver, more resilient. That alone is enough to encourage them to at least enter deeper into the tomb of mystery, bringing them closer to the recognition of Jesus in an unfamiliar context. Speaking of context, there are some pretty strong clues here that, to an observer removed by a couple thousand years, scream “divine miracle”. The linen death shroud piled in an empty tomb, a headcover neatly folded and set apart as if removed by unhurried hands…a big glowy set of angels. Mary, of course, sees the face of God and thinks “Hmm..must be the gardener. Nothing to see here folks.” Blessedly, even without the recognition of heavenly handiwork in a situation, God is able to move with freedom, ever patiently creating opportunities for us to catch up.
It is not until Jesus uses his teacher voice on Mary (feel free to pause here and breathe a special prayer of blessing and gratitude for educators) that the blossom of truth flowers in Mary’s heart and she breathes the word “Teacher” to Jesus, and knows him. When Mary remembers that she is a student, and surrenders herself to a position of openness and learning, truth is revealed. Even then, Jesus tells her not to hold her absolutes too tightly. (Feel free to pause here and breathe a special prayer of blessing and gratitude for scientists, and researchers.) Today’s truth will be tomorrow’s journey.
We have seen many such moments of revelation that come only with surrender and humility in the church and the world. The revelation (and many since received gifts) of people of color as visionary leaders, women as dynamic teachers, and LGBTQIA+ siblings of faith as powerful preachers happened only when we stopped talking past each other in stubborn argument and became observers of the world around us with hearts willing to learn new ways. Until we surrendered our illusion of control and stopped forging boldly ahead on a narrow path, we were not able to conceive another way. There is always another way. (Feel free, and this one is highly encouraged, to pause here and breathe a special prayer of blessing and gratitude for faith leaders and pastoral caregivers who have learned in two weeks to Livestream, Zoom, and conference call the Holy Spirit to God’s faithful even in the midst of half-addled trauma-brain.)
Until Jesus completes his journey fully, Earthly adventures abound. Easter ends Lent, but it is not the end. We remain students, learning how to recognize Jesus in a shifting landscape of face coverings and curfews. We seek community, affirmation, and practice what self-care we can to empower our faltering nerves and exited stumblings. Through it all, the Savior is ever-present, known and unknown, leaving signs for when we are ready to receive them. Beginning with Easter, not ending, we go boldly into the new and unknown, as seekers and receivers. We know we will most certainly miss the face of Jesus when we are grieving or scared, confused or lonely. Jesus will still be there. We will still be loved. God will still, without fail, be working.
“God of all life, learning, and inspiration, be with us in the time of pandemic and of Easter. Help us be church together, with compassion and openness, patience and thoughtfulness. Inspire us to receive new understanding and to serve your timeless commands in ways that speak to our modern context with faithfulness and respect. Grant us grace and mercy when we fall short and help us to know you in all places and situations. In Jesus’ lovely name we pray. Amen.