Dear Friends in Christ,
Two millennia ago, on the first Easter Sunday, before the sun was up, when the Sabbath was over and God’s People could venture forth from their homes, the story goes like this: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Matthew), or “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark), or “The women who had come with him from Galilee…prepared spices and ointments…(and) came to the tomb…it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them” (Luke), or “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (John). Apparently, as this remarkable, unbelievable story was told and retold, it got told differently. The details that precede and follow the verses quoted above also vary greatly in detail, as these lines vary in the casting of the story.
Each evangelist tells this “greatest story ever told” (for, indeed, that is what it is) in a different way. Such variances add dimension to the story and sometimes leave the hearer of the Good News with questions. But what is more important than the ways the stories are different is what they say with consistency – and certitude. In all the stories, it is women of faith who are the first witnesses to the Resurrection, the most significant event in all of the history of the creation, as it is the means of obtaining salvation for all of humanity and the restoration of the created order. It matters not which women were actually there (Mary Magdalene is the only consistent initial witness), but rather that what they found was that empty tomb. They had witnessed his death and his burial, and knew what to expect when they went to tend to his beaten, battered, mutilated body. They had overcome their aversion to facing the harsh truth of his brutal death once again, and had ventured forth to do what love and duty required of them. And they then went to share this extraordinary story with the “men-folk,” the Disciples, many of whom met the news with skepticism.
As we end our Lenten disciplines with the glorious triumph of the Easter event, we, too, have the chance once again to open our hearts to the surprise, the mystery, and the power of that empty tomb. Christ rose from the dead that day, but, as we pro- claim in the Eucharist, He IS risen. Now. Today. This minute. He appeared to them for forty days after rising from death (conquering it in the process.) Then, he ascended into heaven. We honor the glory of that morning of the Resurrection for the Great Fifty Days of Easter – Eastertide, it is sometimes called – in order to rein- force its importance to us and to the world. We live with the knowledge of retrospect, with the witness of the evangelists and their Gospels and the whole spectrum of the history of the Church. Let us, at the Great Vigil (as the New Fire brings the Light of the World back into our midst after the blackness of his death on Good Friday) or, instead, on Easter morning, imagine once again what it might have been like for those women, whomever they were. Imagine what it must have been like to have peered into that tomb the first time – and to be filled with wonder and awe!
To experience the Easter event at its fullest, one needs to have prepared for it once again. Our Lenten disciplines have begun that process, but the events of Holy Week are critical to our comprehension of the mystery of the empty tomb. If you are able to attend the liturgies of Holy Week, I heartily suggest that you do so. If you are unable to attend, I encourage you to read the relevant passages of those pivotal events that lead us from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday, with the Great Vigil and first Eucharist of Easter, or to Easter Sunday. Some suggestions are listed below. In fact, even if you do plan participate in worship in Holy Week, you might want to read one or more of the Gospel narratives listed in preparation for worship.
I hope that, especially in a time of transition for the Parish, each of us will avail ourselves of the opportunities which Holy Week and the celebration of the whole of the Great Fifty Days provide to re-explore and deepen our relationship with the Risen Christ – and with one another within the Household of Faith.
Ginny, Matthew and I wish each of you a meaningful Holy Week and blessed and joyful Eastertide.
In Christ’s Love,
Suggestions for Holy Week and Easter reading:
Matthew, Chapters 26 through 28
Mark, Chapters 14 through 16
Luke, Chapters 22 through 24
John, Chapters 18 through 20