Texts: “Keeping quiet” by Pablo Neruda * Mark 16:1-8 (the empty tomb)
Easter is the quietest moment in the church calendar I think; although I would not be surprised if your experience has been otherwise.
Thinking back to previous Easters, you might remember large family meals; breathless Easter egg hunts; The Hallelujah Chorus sung by huge choirs; and colourful parades down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.
This year will be different. Choirs have fallen silent. Fifth Avenue is deserted. Families are meeting by Zoom or Skype with each little shard of the family preparing its own Easter supper.
I am sad that this most joyous church festival has been silenced by the pandemic crisis. Bryan and I enjoyed singing “Hey Now, Singing Hallelujah” a few minutes ago but we are no match for the spirit and volume of a full sanctuary. I hope that everyone has family and friends with whom you can connect electronically this holiday weekend. But this is not the same as an extended family all gathered around one big dining room table.
Like so much of social and economic life this spring, Easter 2020 seems to have been cancelled as part of the effort to stop the transmission of the new coronavirus.
But today I uphold a viewpoint from which Easter joy still illuminates this year’s quiet holiday.
Virtually all the events in Jesus’ life are big and noisy affairs. His birth in Bethlehem is accompanied by choirs of angels. His baptism happens among the crowds who throng to the Jordan River. His teaching draws thousands. His entry into Jerusalem is accompanied by loud Hosannas. His execution on Good Friday is before a jeering mob. But when Jesus is raised to new life on Easter Sunday, no one is there to witness it. Later, when a group of women come to his tomb at dawn on the first day of the week and find it empty, they run from the tomb in terror and tell no one.
Everything in Jesus’ life and ministry seems to happen in public except for the most important moment – his resurrection to new life!
Most stages of our spiritual development are noisy. From our borning cry to our tumultuous lives as lovers, parents, and workmates, we follow our desires and avoid our fears with sturm und drang every step of the way. This is the necessary and messy work of life and love, of study and work, and of stress and relaxation. This is the life we cherish despite its ups and downs, its joys and pains, and its loves and losses.
But then, at one point or another, we run into trouble so grievous it can seem like we are dying. For most individuals and communities crises like this occur many times. They are moments of disillusionment so painful they can feel like death. They are crises like the one that led Paul to write that he had been crucified with Christ. These are the hard moments that we marked on Good Friday.
But then comes an inevitable next step. With Grace, we sometimes accept our humiliations and rise to a new life. It was such a moment that led Paul to write that Christ now lives in him (Galatians 2:19-20)
No one knows what happened after the empty tomb. Matthew, Luke, and John add some fanciful stories to Mark’s account. But Mark’s Gospel contains not one word after the passage Bryan read this morning.
Happily, Paul has experienced the next step. Paul exclaims that the Risen Christ now lives in him. Paul has accepted the Grace to move beyond an ego-based life to an eternal one in Christ.
Mark doesn’t tell us what happens after the tomb is found empty. But Paul lives into the joy of what comes next. The Risen Christ arises in his heart, in mine, and in yours.
Paul’s realization, which is an Easter one, is so joyous that it deserves a thousand performances of the Hallelujah Chorus and as big and noisy an Easter Parade as one can imagine.
Nevertheless, the appearance of the Risen Christ — within Paul, or in me, or in you, and whether at Easter or at any moment — is a silent moment. It is the simple, inevitable, and gracious result of everything that preceded it – the tumult of life, the dysfunctions and wonders of our families, and the pain of humiliations that led us to grief. Once we have shed tears for our Good Friday losses, new life can slip into our hearts as silently and as beautifully as a crocus breaking through newly thawed soil in spring.
This year, we have extra losses and humiliations to absorb. The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the ills of our societies — homelessness, inadequate healthcare, narcissistic leaders. This year, we may be lonely or sick; we may have loved ones who are sick; and all of us are grieved by the toll of death around the world. As rivers run clean and air pollution disappears, the depredations of the world’s economic system are exposed. As hundreds of millions are threatened with destitution in the face of economic collapse, humanity’s need to find new ways to create and distribute wealth becomes more acute.
But no matter how challenged we are this year the light of Easter morning has come. After grief, the Risen Christ arises within us like dawn entering a silent tomb. This leads us to a Love that is infinitely bigger than the fears and desires of our egos. This resurrected life is available in any moment of crisis, as it is at the end of life.
The first Easter was silent, and this Easter may be the quietest one we can remember. But this year is no less filled with Grace, with Light, and with Love than when Paul first noticed the Risen Christ in his heart and when the tomb was first found empty on the first day of a new week that followed the most painful days Jesus’ friends had ever known.
This morning, may we let peace envelop us. In the midst of a silent spring, may we experience God’s Love and its promise of new life, both now and always.
Christ is Risen! Risen indeed!
by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second, and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines,
we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors, would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.