Death is a part of life.
It’s all too easy to fear that death is the end of life and it is, certainly, in the end of a physical existence. But I think those who experience grief at the loss of someone they love know that it’s not the end of a life. They know it in the sensation of disbelief: they can’t believe they’re gone. They can’t believe they’re gone because they’re not. They’re still very much alive in memory, in the many, many ways in which the experience of that person has impacted, even transformed, their life and the lives of others. That life doesn’t end with death.
Nor does the life that we hope for beyond this existence, the life beyond death. I believe we all come from God and return to God. God is home. This earthly journey is just that, a journey through this part of that existence.
All journeys have to end. They have to so that the next one can begin. But that’s not where we are at first. We’re broken. We’re grieving. We’re lost. And each of us, individuals that we are, will only move forward as we are able.
Death is full of emotion. We grieve, and loss, hurt and sadness may be joined by anger, regret, even relief, if they have suffered, and many more complex and conflicting feelings. It is all these feelings that are the rich soil from which new life springs.
This, for me, is the essence of the Easter story.
Jesus was dead. Whatever Jesus had told them before he died, the grim reality they experienced cut all that away. He died on a cross and was buried. Some of them might even have seen that. Others might have been hiding, trying to avoid it. Imagine, by the third day, what they might have been feeling. I doubt that this where they thought it was leading, despite Jesus words. Jesus was dead. They would be grieving the painful, agonizing end of his life. They’d be feeling lost and alone, wondering what was next. They’d be afraid of what others might now do to them as his closest followers. Some of them might even be relieved that it was over, imagining the struggle that could have been ahead for them if he’d lived. They’re just human beings, after all, they’re not Jesus. Jesus was more. But. Jesus was dead.
This is where new life begins. Resurrection doesn’t happen in the light of day with birds singing and bright spring flowers blowing in a gentle breeze. It happens in the darkness of the cold, damp tomb.
As John tells the story, Mary is the first to see that the tomb was open. She goes and tells Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.” They run to the tomb, they go inside and see that it’s empty, but, says John’s story, they still didn’t understand “that he must rise from the dead.” So they went home.
They went home. Imagine what they were feeling. On top of everything else. And yet, they went home. I can’t help but wonder at how defeated they must have felt. How broken and confused. Not only was Jesus dead, his body was gone. What else to do but try and escape, to get away from here and go home.
But one person stayed. The first person in the story to see Jesus does so because she stays with her grief, right there at the grave. She sees the angels, she sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him. Only when he says her name does she know him. Resurrection began in the darkened tomb, but for Mary, new life began in her grief, hearing her name call her to hope.
That was the first Easter hallelujah. It wasn’t a cry of joy, but a desperate affirmation of hope.