So many times we preach Easter as the end of the journey, when here we are at the first steps of a journey that is just beginning.
When you and I walk with someone whose loved one has just died, we say, and they say, “He’s in a better place.” “He’s out of pain.” And it comforts us in our grief. But the death of a loved one, no matter how much you and I believe in what comes next, hurts like nothing else. It is brutally raw. It is white-hot fire and hypothermic ice all at once. For those who walked Jesus, knew Jesus, loved Jesus, the un-anesthetized pain of having watched him die did not go away. Jesus was resurrected, real, and not a ghost – but he was not the same Teacher they had walked with, broken bread with, and listened to.
Every one of those who loved him skin to skin still had a lot to work out. And so do you and I. All of us are at the midpoint of our journey. We are traveling through a narrative that is still unfolding.
Throughout the season of Lent, we have been journeying with the figures of the Old Testament and the Gospel parables. We have found ourselves, with them, again and again, on the midpoint of the journey. Not yet where we were when we began, not yet having completed the journey, and often not knowing that there is a midpoint and that we are at it.
On March 31, which now seems like such a very long time ago, we heard about Joshua and his people pitching their tents for one year just inside the borders of the Promised Land. And we heard about the younger of a man’s two sons, who had to travel to a distant country and squander all his property and find himself starving and huddled in the corner of a pen full of pigs before he discovered where home was and where he needed to be. Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.
On April 7, celebrating this church’s fifty-fifth anniversary, we heard Bishop Tim Smith retell the story of the pope’s favorite movie, Babette’s Feast. And he told with fine dramatic flair about the Happy Danes and the Sad Danes. And he shared that there is a time to mourn and weep and there is also a time to turn around and discover that the gardener is the Savior for whom we are looking.
The bishop also referred to the story of Jesus’ visit to the home in Bethany of Mary and Martha and their recently resurrected brother, Lazarus, who had to stink, and Mary’s choice to anoint Jesus with phenomenally costly oil and her own tears and use her own unbound long hair to dab her Savior dry. And how Martha gets criticized for getting the covered dish on the table. And the bishop reminded you and me that there is a time to get the food on the table. And there is a time to sit quietly at Jesus’ feet and weep and anoint. One of my favorite Lenten hymns has always been “O Come and Mourn with Me A While,” because it reminds us that, like Job’s true friends, there is a time to sit quietly on the ash heap, saying nothing, being present.
The old spiritual says, “Mary, Don’t You Weep.”
I say, and you say, and Jesus says, “There is a time for weeping. And there is a time that, as Truvy says in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” And Mary’s, too. And ours, too. And also, I suspect, Jesus’ too. Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.