Early on the first day, while it was still dark, this is how the most important story in all of Christian tradition begins in the account in the Gospel of John. While it was still dark.
Before there was clarity. Before light makes a way. Before peace is found, when disappointment abounds, this is where the most important story begins…in the dark. Mary weeps alone outside the tomb.
She is the only person at the empty tomb in all four of the gospels. Let’s just stop right there. This is no April Fool’s joke. Mary is the only person at the empty tomb in all four of the gospels. I can’t believe some traditions still won’t ordain women!
Mary is the one who refused to turn away from the tragedy unfolding in her heart and her town. She showed up when the crowds were gone and the hope for another way seemed gone too. They expected their king to show up on a horse with swords and an army, instead Love was made manifest in the flesh, in the form of king who wore a crown of thorns and armed with healing ointments, he rode in on a donkey. The light came into the world and it was extinguished. Early on the first day, while it was still dark…
They were all forced to witness state sanctioned violence, where their friend and lover and brother Jesus had his life taken too early, this seemed to be end, the worst thing. All that seemed left now was an empty tomb.
I don’t know about you, but I know a little something about weeping outside the tomb of disappointment and despair, where the world suddenly seemed so different and indifferent to hope, where possibilities and plans died and it felt like God maybe didn’t see you. Do you know what that’s like? I know I do…
But as the story unfolds we learn that this tomb is in a particular place. Only the Gospel of John has this tomb in a garden.
A garden is a powerful metaphor throughout the sacred stories in the Jewish and Christian traditions. And it is only a couple of chapters earlier in the Gospel of John that we encounter the garden at Gethsemane, a place whose name literally means “oil press,” and is located on the Mount of Olives just across a valley from Jerusalem. Jesus went there to pray and it also a place where he would be betrayed.
Here we find ourselves in a garden again. The empty tomb is in a garden. Mary awash in the madness of grief and misunderstanding, mistakes Jesus for the gardener.
She was weeping outside the tomb of disappointment and despair, where the world suddenly seemed so different and indifferent to hope, where possibilities and plans died and it felt like God maybe didn’t see her…but then Jesus says her name, first he calls her woman, which is like what? But then, he gets it and says “Mary!!!!”
She is named, being called out by name is being invited in and blessed, reminded that she is seen by the Divine, even in tragedy and pain, a stone of hopelessness was rolled away.
Because the thing about the tomb of the Easter story is that it is in a garden. And the truth of life in a garden is that while it is still dark, something new is fighting to break through to the light, the truth of life in a garden is that death and life, struggle and sprouts are all intricately woven together like a messy ball of roots deep in the cool soil.
This tomb is in a garden.
This morning I wonder whether Christian communities have been asking the wrong questions for a few thousand years: Jesus rose from the dead, do you believe it? Maybe the questions the Spirit offers us in this time are more like: How do we show up to the heartbreak and pain when the crowds are gone and hope seems gone too? How do we show up for one another even when all we can do is weep? How do we not let the worst thing be the last thing and have the last word?
Maybe this is captured in the words of Frederick Buechner, “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that … that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven…”
How do we live as people of faith and hope invested not just in the truth that Jesus’ body was freed to rise that morning, but also in the truth that we are freed to choose to rise too? We can keep showing up, even through tears, one day at a time.
In the words of one writer as ,“beloved community we look for the work of divine love amid the tragedies of personal existence and the injustices of social experience, even when most of the world believes that dream has long since died.” We show up knowing that just maybe in the words of one writer, “Our hurts (can) now become the home for our greatest hopes.”
This week after the glorious turnout for the March for Our Lives across the world, an outcry demanding change, taken to the streets, the students from Marjory Stone Douglas High School have been mocked and ridiculed and shamed by those invested in the status quo. Amid sorrow and suffering and terror and tragedies these students could choose to stay in their pain or to pass it on to others. Instead, even as they weep, they are pushing back, not with the swords of hateful words, but with boycotts and boldness. They are not letting the worst thing be the last thing. They are choosing to keep rising.
Toward the end of this part of the Easter story Mary proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!” and I wonder if she was saying something like, even outside the tomb of disappointment and despair, where the world suddenly seems so different and indifferent to hope, where possibilities and plans died, where there is sorrow and suffering and terror and tragedies, she begins to fully take in this truth: I am seen! You are seen! We are all seen. We can lean toward love and life and light even while it is still dark… We can choose to not let this worst thing be the last thing. We can choose to keep rising.
Even an empty place that feels like a tomb, even that sad or hard or worst thing, doesn’t have to have the last word. Maybe that tomb seems like the end, but maybe it’s a tomb… in a garden…
And the thing about a garden is that while it is still dark, something new is fighting to break through…some day, at some point, some thing new will be rising…
This meditation was followed by three minutes of silence.
 D. Cameron Marchison Feasting on the Word Easter Day
 Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation April 1st, 2018, Week Fourteen: Human Bodies, Jesus Bodily Resurrection http://email.cac.org/t/ViewEmail/d/675B331BC12E769B2540EF23F30FEDED/887B5458B26326910F8C96E86323F7F9