St. George's Episcopal Church, Summervile, South Carolina
Good Friday, 2017
The church is looking steadfastly toward resurrection now. We will have faithfully opened our schedules and our hearts to Jesus’ hardship and agony. We will have been impacted deep within our souls by the pathos of Mary as she watched her innocent Son die upon the horrible cross. We will sense the uneasy hush of Saturday, when Jesus lay dead in the tomb, and we will relate to all the deaths of all the friends and all the loved ones we have ever lost.
I like to visit my father’s grave on Holy Saturday. As a priest I don’t always get the chance (this is the busiest time of the year at the church), but at least in my heart I go there. Off to the right a bit in that same graveyard is my sister’s gravestone. And now, within a mere few feet, the body of a dear, dear friend lies in waiting, having just been buried there last month. Waiting for what?
Whenever we lose someone we love, we begin the slow process of reconciling with death. People encourage us to get to the place of “acceptance”. They bear us up in our shock. They listen to our sadness, our anger, our emptiness. And they wait. They wait for us to return to “normal”, to be restored to them as the old friend we used to be before our life was altered by the finality of death. We try to reconcile with the fact that they’re not coming back. We have to find a way to go on. We have to find a way to be happy again.
On Sunday we will read the story of the greatest joy imaginable; that is, the resurrection of Jesus. The reversal of death. The stunned near-disbelief of his friends and family. He is alive! It was grief in reverse. Now they had to get used to the fact that He is alive. They had to come to the acceptance, not of death, but of Life. It must have felt so weird and exhilarating all at the same time. It was as though they were going to have to figure out how to live with Life-- as though they were going to have to figure out how to experience sadness again because, after this, there was no more reason to be sad or to be afraid of death—ever again.
These disciples were altered by Jesus’ death. But they were altered by His life even more. It is that way with the entire world. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, death does not mean what it used to mean. Death is now no more than a doorway. Jesus’ bodily resurrection was a sign and a promise that our own physical bodies will rise again to new life, as well. We say it every single Sunday in our creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. Amen.” This Easter Sunday is the signature Sunday of that statement. The rest of Eastertide will be a time for us as the church to come to the acceptance of Life.
We have been altered by the deaths of our loved ones. And it feels so permanent. But even more permanently will we be altered by their life. My friend, recently buried, is not “waiting” for anything. He is enjoying the fullness of the presence of God. But his body waits, as mine will wait, in the hope of the resurrection.
I wait now to celebrate this mystery of God again this Sunday. And I pray for the joy of that hope to be with you all this Easter.
See You Around the Church,