It’s been a while since we’ve had a “normal” Easter, hasn’t it? Easter 2020 was like none other, of course, but do you remember what happened two years ago? On the Monday of Holy Week (April 15), the world was shocked by the news that the iconic building of Christendom was engulfed by fire. The Cathedral of our Lady in Paris was at the time being rebuilt and encased in scaffolding. The fire destroyed not only the hope of restoring it to the past glory, but robbed it even of what it was in 2019. This news colored that year’s Holy Week for many of us, as we grieved the loss of one of the symbols of our faith, but Easter morning brought the news that were much more tragic - the bombings in Sri Lanka, mostly targeting churches, took the lives of 269 people.
Yet, here we are, Easter 2021: Notre-Dame recently celebrated a major milestone in its rebuilding process, in spite of the pandemic, as the 200 tons of scaffolding, which have melded to the cathedral during the fire, were successfully removed without letting the building crumble. We, too, are beginning to rebuild our world with the advent of vaccines, even though it may not look so yet in the midst of the “third wave” in Toronto. Nonetheless, many of us feel that aspects of our lives, which previously supported us and guided our growth, have been irrevocably damaged, and will now need to be removed. How do we do so without letting our lives crumble? How do you feel about this process? It is normal to be afraid of starting over, and to be daunted by the need to clean up before rebuilding.
You’d think that the women who came to Jesus’ tomb were quite familiar with the theme of “starting over”, which is quite prominent in the Jewish scriptures. From the time Eve is told that her offspring will crush the head of evil, through the historical ups and downs of the nation of Israel, the building and rebuilding of her Temple, and to the sacred promise of the arrival of the Messiah, the arc of the scriptures is clear: one day, the world will have a fresh start and will be made right. And yet, in spite of all this that they heard in their synagogues, and all the ways that Jesus connected it to his own teachings, the women who came to confront the reality of his death... were afraid.
These women had followed Jesus, learned from him, received his affirmation of their worth as human beings, and accompanied him to his death. The same love that motivated them to support Jesus in his life and ministry now moved them to pay their last respects. Yes, they were afraid -- but not of the dangers involved in leaving the safety of the city walls, and walking in darkness to a criminal’s tomb. Not of the airlessness of the burial cave and the dead body within. No; what they feared was the newness of the empty tomb they found instead. What they feared was the realization that the closure they were seeking was unavailable, and the “normal” life they expected to return to was no longer there. And, they were also afraid of what the rest of the disciples might say in response -- would the men accuse them of delusion or lying?
In our own lives, we’ve walked into an untold number of tombs. We each confronted our own losses, illnesses, divorces, unemployment, rejections, and betrayals; we were shaken by the news of two Easters ago, and we shared the weight of the last 12 months. When we find ourselves in that dark, lonely place, we search for closure that seems to promise a return to normalcy. We yearn to recover and “go back to Galilee”. Yet, deep in our hearts, we also know that each tragedy is a moment of no return, and to want to “go back to normal” is essentially to look “for the living among the dead”. The Galilee we are going to is never the same place as the one we’d left. It’s never the same place, precisely because Jesus had already gone there ahead of us, and made it new. The transition from darkness to light brings about the new day, not the previous one. It is so since the first day of Creation, through the story of the Israelites, on the morning of the Third Day, in each person’s life, and in the post-pandemic world.
How does your context shape your experience of this Easter, 2021? Do you long for something new, or for the many Galilees you’ve left behind? Are you ready to rebuild, or are you still melded to the charred remains of life you knew before? In the gospels, Galilee is not only the place of ordinary life before the world got turned upside-down, but it is also the place of all beginnings, first callings, and miracles. To return there, means to come to the place where we meet Jesus for the first time and every time; whose presence makes ordinary life - new.
Of course, we all have stones in our paths that, at times, block the light of God’s presence. And, we all know people, in our lives and on our screens, who will mock our hope in the New Creation, call it delusion, and laugh at our stories. Whom do we expect to roll the tombstones away? Which authorities -- the teachers, the government, the clergy, the doctors -- will fix the world this time? What is our own part in starting over, changing, and rebuilding?
There is much for us to discern in our lives, in this parish, the world. Possibly, there is also much to be afraid of. And yet, the women at the tomb felt a mixture of fear and joy. In the same way, our fears and doubts are never without hope. Our faith assures us of one thing: Jesus was born, and lived, and died simply because he was fully human (perfectly one with God, to be sure, as we will be one day -- but, still one of us). He is ahead of us every step of the way, as he follows the exact same path as we do: if he died and lived again, so will we. We are all born to experience joy and sorrow, to lead our imperfect existence, to misuse God’s good gifts and feel estranged from him/her, and to die a million little deaths before the final one. Yet, we, too, carry within us the divine spark, we are all capable of the self-sacrificial love that defeats all evil. As such, we are all called to do our part to make the world new, again.