Greatness, Power and Wisdom
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:1-18
It is been a most unusual Holy Week. Certainly not like any that any of us have ever before experienced in our lives. This year the drama of the passion, death and resurrection has not been not so much played out in the church’s ancient rituals and liturgies, as much as it has been and is being played out in the day to day experience of life lived in the midst of a pandemic.
Yet COVID-19 has not stood as a barrier to our observance of Holy Week. This pandemic has been and is our Holy Week. And for those who would engage it, the shadow of death can be a powerful vehicle for entering into these compelling mysteries of our faith and our very life, possibly as we may never have done before.
We have found that Holy Week is not only about reenacting and telling the story about what happened to Jesus a little over 2000 years ago. It also about giving thanks for and experiencing that same Jesus walking with us through the uncertainty, fear, passion, suffering and death, of life lived in 2020.
And most assuredly, while the end of the nightmare remains unknown, unspecified and most probably quite distant, to pause even in the midst of it, to celebrate Easter, is the very thing we most need to do.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!
As we walk through this vale of tears, we need to remember, we need to connect with, we need to embrace the only thing can might serve to enable us to hold on with hope, namely our abiding faith that suffering and death are, in God’s economy, not the end of the story. And that salvation, in the deepest meaning of what it means to be saved, is not simply to be had in a return to school and work, in restarting the machinery of the market place, or in once again being able to visit restaurants, theatres and sports arenas.
For when these things happen and they will, they will only take us back to where we were before. But hopefully the pandemic experience will have done its work if its impact causes us to question, in a new and maybe even a profound way, those fragile things, unserviceable structures, and incompetent and inept leadership in which we have placed or have been expected to place our trust.
The myth of our greatness has been exposed for what it is. Let’s face it. A microbe, invisible to the human eye, brought all that supposed greatness to its knees within a matter of a few days.
The myth of our power has also been exposed for what it is. Again a microbe has rendered us, for all practical purposed, thoroughly and completely impotent. The billions of dollars we invest in our global defense network, all the arms, missiles and war heads that reinforce a pretend sense of absolute invulnerability to any would be enemy, have demonstrated themselves to be perfectly useless in the face of this assault.
And that sense of being smart, that can puff us up with pride in the knowledge we possess, implodes, when we wake up each morning, as ignorant as the day before, in terms of what needs to be discovered and learned, so as to uncover a real and lasting solution to the mystery of a lethal microbe. I am sure we will find a vaccine and a cure, but many more will die before that happy day.
So maybe this Easter we can allow ourselves to be grateful that the God we worship could not possibly be more with us in suffering and death. Our suffering is His suffering. Our passion is His passion. Our dying is His dying. That while we may be spending more time alone, there is no need to feel lonely. He is with us. Death is not the end of the story. Death is not the victor. As our suffering, passion and dying is His suffering, passion and dying, so too His Resurrection is our resurrection.
Maybe this Easter we will allow ourselves to have our eyes, ears and hearts opened to real greatness, real power and real wisdom.
Greatness, borne of the spirit of God, is found in the, often unappreciated, servants who provide medical care and access to medical care. These number more women than men and more non-professionals than professionals.
Power, borne of the Spirit, is to be found in all those invisible servants, who do their part in feeding all those who would otherwise go hungry and in transporting servants to where they are most needed.
Knowledge, borne of the Spirit, grounds true wisdom in the humility that mystery is always to be apprehended and that it will never be exhausted. That what we do know is only ever but a drop in the bucket when it comes to all that remains to be uncovered and revealed. That the stuff of the material universe that we examine and can hold in our hands, is but a portal to the world of spirit that is ever rutting around in our smallness to plant the seed and enable the expression of true wisdom. The wisdom to know that what see with our eyes and touch with our hands is but a window into the only dimension of reality that has any relationship to what ultimately matters – our relationship with God.
So look into the pandemic and you will see triumphant palm waving that has given way to brokenness and loss. You will see humble and selfless acts of love. You will see feet being washed from which shoes and socks are never removed. You will see not only the deaths of scores of people, but also the deaths of life as it used to be, plans and routines, illusions, exceptionalism, and self-sufficiency.
The people of the earth have really been made of one blood. As Peter will proclaim to the crowd, composed of every nation and tribe under heaven on that first Pentecost Sunday, that we will celebrate, hopefully, together fifty days from today, “God knows no partiality”. In other words, get over that fascist ignorance in all its forms. Allow the risen Lord to save us from all our narrow tribal impulses, nativism, ethnic superiority, and nationalistic bravado. Smallness of mind and heart does not serve and will never reflect the vision of the Living God and the Risen Christ.
We all share the same vulnerability. We all face the truth of our mortality. But gracefully, as the virus is not a respecter of the specialness that some would have us claim, as it demonstrates again and again that no one is safe, so too God has no regard for nations and their boundaries and all the fences, gates and walls that we would erect to separate ourselves. There are not some more worthy than others. They are not some more deserving than others. If, we never before realized how much the same we all are, and how much we need each other, let COVID 19 show us.
Let’s make sure that when the vaccine is discovered it is first distributed to the poor, and that that last one be injected, is the one sits in any seat of power.
On Thursday morning it was already being reported that when a vaccine is discovered the wealthy and powerful nations will lay claim to and take delivery of the first supplies, and only after their needs have been met will those who live in poor countries be vaccinated.
Will we let this happen? Will we in advance of any discovery raise our voices in protest again such a plan? Will we embrace our identity as Easter people and demand that the last be made first and the least be given the first places at any banquet of health? Only then will Alleluia be the song that we raise up from the deepest recesses of our faith, from the empty tomb and from the body of the Living Christ.
No one knows when or how we will get through this pandemic, but we do know this. Every cross flowers with new life. Every tomb is a workshop for resurrection, and every Holy Week is the raw material for a new creation. Let us be that flower. Let us be that empty tomb. Let us be that new creation.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna