When the sabbath was over,
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.
Very early when the sun had risen,
on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to one another,
“Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?”
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed.
He said to them, “Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter,
‘He is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him, as he told you'”.
This Easter has taken on a different tone than in years past. A few weeks ago, my mother in law passed away. The story of Easter has death playing a leading role. Each mention of dying poked at wounds in me that have not yet begun to heal. The passing of my mother in law was still too fresh to ponder any death and not think of her. It wasn’t until Holy Thursday that I realized that my recent loss was very much intertwined with our Triduum traditions here at the parish. After communion on Holy Thursday, the acolytes stripped the alter. The candles, altar cloth, corporal, even the flowers were removed. All that remained was the bare wooden frame of the altar. This is such a beautiful church and so much care is taken by so many people to keeping it looking this way. And when the altar gets stripped, we are only left with the absence of something that was once so perfect and reverential. As the movement ceased and the acolytes completed their task, moving everything away, I found myself longing for the altar to return to a state which was more familiar to me. The altar is the focal point of the sanctuary and I wanted it back the way it was. I guess deep down inside, what I was really feeling was the loss of my mother in law, Diane’s mom, our kids’ grandmother. She was gone. She was a big part of our lives and I wanted to have her back.
Up here on the altar, I thought of the apostles. On Holy Thursday we recall the last supper, the agony in the garden, and Jesus being taken away. The absence, the feeling of loss that I felt was also felt by the apostles. They had been with Jesus for three years. They witness marvels at the hand of Jesus. Not just the miracles but the insights they received about God and his kingdom. There is no doubt that they grew to rely on Christ’s presence. Then on Holy Thursday, outside the garden of gethsemane, Jesus is stripped from their lives. They now find themselves lamenting his absence. They were alone. In this uncertainty, fear must have entered their hearts.
But then Sunday comes along. The Easter miracle begins with Jesus’s mother, Mary Magdalene and the other women bringing spices to anoint Jesus Christ’s body. When they get to the tomb, they see the stone which covered the entrance rolled away and the tomb empty. They are also greeted by an angel who proclaims that Jesus is raised.
I imagine the joy that must have crept into their hearts at hearing that their beloved Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. In an instant the grief that had overwhelmed them just days earlier had gone. Now hope emerged with the angel telling them that they will see Jesus in Galilee. These women left the darkness of pain and entered the light of hope.
And really, that is the promise of Easter. Hope. We hope to be acquainted with Christ face to face when we pass from this world to the next. Jesus shedding his bodily form freed him to enter each of us. Christ’s sacrificial death really becomes our birth into a life made new.
Last night at the Easter vigil the newly baptized and confirmed folks in the RCIA gathered in the sanctuary and began the process of dressing the altar. How fitting to see these folks still glowing from receiving the sacraments, taking the bare altar and making it beautiful again. It was so touching to the to see the tender care they used to make sure everything was placed exactly as it should. Their movements were portraits of reverence and grace. And when they were done, the altar was restored to its resplendent beauty.
Experiencing all of this brought a change of heart to me. The absence of my mother in law will always be with me, but with me now are also the stories that each of the folks in RCIA brought to my life. But what really transformed my heart was knowing how my life was now enriched by the relationships I’ve created with these people. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that God filled a void in my life created by loss with the love of these 21 people in RCIA. But it’s not just me that is blessed by them but our entire community. Our family has grown with their initiation into the church.
The focal point of our liturgy today is the Eucharist. We all will process to this altar – made beautiful by the hands of many. We approach as a community to memorialize the sacrificial death of Christ. We receive communion to take the presence of Jesus far beyond the walls of this beautiful church to love others as Christ loves us.