The fire rages. The steeple consumed in a reddish-orange blaze topples. Unrehearsed, a collective gasp erupts from the watching crowd. A great symbol of the Christian faith, Notre Dame Cathedral is gutted. On Easter morning itself, seven different bomb blasts rip through Sri Lanka killing close to three hundred people. Close to home, a border crisis continues unabated. Income disparities blight our society. On a more personal level, virtually every family knows some kind of struggle or loss. Both practically and metaphorically, the pain of the cross and of our loss looms over us.
Easter dawns in the cemetery of human longings and anguished hopes. The bare outline of historical data cannot explain the triumph of Easter. We know in our heart of hearts that our effusive worship is more than a celebration of new clothes, Easter bunnies and the pagan rite of spring. It represents a deeper stirring and longing which resides in every human being. We come as searchers; as those who know full well the grief, despair and desolation of life. Most of us have, at times, wondered if the line Shakespeare puts in the mouth of a character in Macbeth is correct, that life is “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” (John 20:11)
Allow the witness of John’s gospel to linger in your consciousness. The struggle of grief and despair are tattooed on the core of her being. She thought she had discovered the answer, yet the horrible death on Friday had apparently proved otherwise. Someone once said, “Sunday’s glory can only be truly be understood in the shadow of Friday's horror.”
John’s Easter morning lesson finds Mary as a searcher weeping outside the tomb. Questioned by two figures (who only later she discovers are angels) she replies, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." (John 20:13) Turning, she sees Jesus but does not recognize him. He inquires: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" (John 20:15)
Whom are you looking for? It is a question that is uttered not just to Mary but us as well in this 21st century. It slips down the ages and nestles against our inner-most identity like a persistent child tugging at the pant or skirt for our attention. It quietly haunts our days and nights in this post-Easter world.
Reflecting on the Easter drama, I surmise that we come like Mary as searchers in a graveyard. Whatever transitory joys and delights we might behold, we still know the restless search for hope which transcends despair, triumph which scales defeat, joy which engulfs discouragement. Like Mary, we know instinctively the truth of the words etched in parchment by St. Augustine so long ago: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord; and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”
Notice the transaction which takes place in that cemetery. "Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni!' (which means Teacher)." (John 20:15-16) He names her and, in the naming, claims her for a greater reality.
When you are named in love, you are claimed in love. In Christ's one word 'Mary' (or is it Tom or Tina), not only does she know he is alive; she also knows she is alive! “Because I live," said Jesus, “you shall live also.” (John 14:19) The promise made on the Jerusalem journey is kept. Death and sin are not the end, then or now.
I remember when our son was born. I was there, Nikon Daddy, camera slung around my neck coaching Jolynn with inane comments like a basketball announcer gone mad. The doctor picked him up, cleaned him off and started weighing him and take measurements. As he did so, he dictated to the nurse: "Baby boy Lowry, . . . " I interrupted him, "He's not just a boy, he is Nathan. He's got a name!"
This is the fundamental message of salvation. In the human situation, searching in the graveyard, the Savior calls us by name. No more is life a futile questing for the babbles and beads of achievement and accomplishment. No more is reality bracketed by a vain attempt to set right that which has gone wrong. No longer is death a mere tragic end. As my spiritual mentor, Dr. Sid Spain, put it, “It either changes you or you don't get it.” Our search encounters the Savior who brings salvation.