Sunday, April 16, 2017
Christmas to Easter
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“Nani ke ‘li‘i ki‘eki‘e” may seem like an odd anthem to sing on a morning such as this. The lyrics themselves make the point: “This song was sung by the multitude of heavenly hosts above, this night when Jesus was born.”
Well, it’s morning, not night. It’s Easter, not Christmas.
Yet we know in recalling the birth of Jesus, we also recall his death. Birth and death are realities we know all too well. They are realities that Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James came to know for themselves when they went to the tomb where Jesus was buried to anoint his body with spices on that Easter morning centuries ago.
Like them, we are faced with the heavy burden death places on us as we stand and wait. For many of us today the burden comes from “the stress of caregiving, the anxiety of finances, the challenge of placing one’s own life on hold, and the . . . numbing sameness as one day unfolds into the next . . . ” as we await death. (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 352)
The psalmist sought to provide us with words of encouragement by declaring: “The Lord is my shepherd” to reassure us that God is with us with every step we take each day. (Psalm 23) But walking through the valley of the shadow of death is no easy task.
For the women who went to the tomb that early morning and for Peter, Thomas and the other disciples, it was a time of profound grief. That was especially true for Mary Magdalene.
At first Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. (John 20: 11) As she wept, she bent over and looked into the tomb and discovered that Jesus’ body was not there. “She runs to tell the disciples, and two men rush back to the scene with her. When they see for themselves that Jesus is indeed gone, they turn and go home.” (Christian Century, March 29, 2017, page 20) There is nothing more to do.
But Mary stays though it is clear she is as bewildered as the others. She remains - and she cries.
Two strangers ask her why she is weeping and she finds herself revisiting the pain of Jesus’ death once more. She is so overcome with sorrow that when Jesus appears to her, she does not recognize him and in a moment that seems like misplaced humor, she supposes him to be the gardener.
But Mary’s sorrow like our own sorrow will diminish over time – like ocean waves that ease up little by little after a winter’s storm - but grief will always remain. A woman who experienced two miscarriages within a six-month period recalls: “I kept looking for the right way to grieve. Falling apart didn’t seem right – not in the face of so many daily responsibilities that needed my attention. Skipping over the grief,” she continued, “didn’t seem right either. Not just our loved ones but our hoped-for ones had died.”
“Some friends recommended moving through the grief slowly, “ she added “ . . . that seemed like an unbearable torture – and it seemed that if I moved too slowly, I might never emerge. I literally felt like I was left at the site of an empty tomb, an empty womb. I didn’t think I could bear to stay there.” (Op. cit.)
“But,” she continued “Mary stays. She stays and cries; she lets grief prevail.”
Someone else put it this way, “Rather than ignore or avoid grief, we must make grief a friend.” Grief comes to us not only when we lose those whom we love, grief comes to us through all of the losses we experience in our lives – whether it is losing those whom we love through separation and divorce or losing our health or our work, even our faith.
By letting herself experience and express her grief – Mary encounters a revelation. When the strangers she meets asks her to name her pain, she realizes for the first time that things are not as they seem.
“Mary’s turning point comes when she tearfully describes how Jesus . . . is not only dead but missing – utterly gone.” Mary grieves and in her grieving she is resurrected with a new understanding of herself and of God. She is called by name, “revealing that the one she thought she lost was right in front of her. She brings her tears to the tomb and leaves celebrating new life.” (Op. cit.)
On a day such as this it may be enough to announce the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is only one proclamation that matters and that is “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 377)
That may seem like it would be enough. The Easter story is familiar. The tomb is empty. But the proclamation would ring hollow if we did not acknowledge that it is made real for Mary and for us when she finally recognizes Jesus and announces to Peter, Thomas and the others, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) It is through her weeping that joy has come to all of us on this Easter morning.
It was not so long ago that we celebrated Jesus’ birth. We know that in recalling his birth, we must also recall his death. Birth and death are realities that have marked and continue to mark our own lives.
When sorrow and grief overwhelm us, God calls out to each one of us. “Woman, why are you weeping?” “Child, why are you weeping? Tūtū, cousin, mom, dad, auntie, uncle, cousin, friend, neighbor, why are you weeping?’”
In that moment, we are reminded of the gift of God’s amazing grace born on Christmas day - a gift that invites us to live a life of aloha. It is a gift of God’s promise of a new life that is to come for us and for those who have gone before us.
“Nani ke ‘Li‘i ki‘eki‘e,” indeed! Whether with the heavenly hosts at Christmas or with Mary Magdalene at Easter, we “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
“We rise and we sing...” and we praise his holy name. Amen.