An Easter Message from The Land

Leave Me a Note
Inspired by Matthew 28:1-10
This is a story that some of you may have already heard.
Fiona was two years old. It was a Sunday morning. At the time, I was the Assistant Minister at the Church and, as you can imagine, Sunday mornings at the Church were a hectic time for me. The church was small, but they had three worship services that made the morning feel like a poorly choreographed relay race. With all the responsibilities that accompanied a morning of three worship services, Fiona was often entrusted to the care of the members in the fellowship hall.

Easter Sunrise Service 2020

This particular morning, I experienced a slight glitch in my default childcare system.

The third service was just beginning, and, since I had no responsibilities in the third service that Sunday, I was packing up to go home. I was packing up to go home when I realized the only thing that had not been packed up was my 2-year-old daughter.

I scanned the fellowship hall, called into the bathrooms, checked the office, popped inside the youth room, the classrooms, the basement. With no sign of my daughter, my heart began beating so hard I imagined it might break out of my chest. I could barely breathe.

As I stood frozen outside of the closed sanctuary doors, distracted by a Rolodex of next steps rushing through my mind, a congregant quietly exited the sanctuary, looked at me and smiled as she quietly whispered how precious my daughter looked sitting in the chair, next to the Pastor, behind the pulpit, in the service.

My daughter wasn’t old enough to write a note indicating where she was going or what she would be doing while she was there, but when I think back to the fear and helplessness that took years off my life that morning, I can’t help but think that a little note would have been nice.

It could be argued that Jesus did leave a note in the empty tomb for the two Mary’s that morning. It’s actually quite a weak argument to say otherwise. The story is quite overdramatic in its note delivery system.

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.”

Then the angel speaks to the women, saying, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Now, if I were the mother, and this were my child (adult or not), I would argue that in this note, there are some missing details. For starters, how was he raised and when exactly will I see him? Is there a specific place in Galilee that I should meet him, and does he need me to pick him up anything on my way?

Maybe you have your own questions in response to this celestial note but in this story the curiosities are interrupted by a personal appearance. One that, by the way, is not what the angel just said was going to happen!

The angelic note did not say, “He has been raised from the dead and is waiting for you two minutes away at the corner of Jewell and Powhaton.”

The angelic note said, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

The fact that the angel was misleading, aside, bumping into Jesus on their way to deliver the note had to be a relief.; To get a note and turn only to run into the answers. Lucky, Ladies.

Today we would be lucky to receive even one of these two; a note or a quick encounter, and, I am admittedly jealous of both the note and the encounter.

They are running to deliver a note and they just happen to bump into the author. How ridiculously convenient!

Wouldn’t that be a nice, to accidentally run into Jesus on the way to the grocery store…or, maybe, just to be able to go to the grocery store. In light of our situation, don’t you feel just a little envious of the joy of reunion, the ease of their embrace, the gift of his assurance and the offering of clear instructions as to what to do next.

 This week in Wuhan, China, Peso Sekay went outside for the first time in months; 76 days to be exact.
“It was like a kid trying to cross the street without their parents. It’s like we were scared and it’s a little bit exciting,” Sekay told the NPR reporter.

If there was ever a time to crave a Divine Reunion, something a little scary and a bit exciting, a global pandemic seems to be a fantastically opportune time.

But, if an extended shelter stay, if a normalized six feet between us, make a Divine Reunion too complicated to coordinate, an angelic note would be nice.

I would rather if it did not say, “Do not be afraid.”

It feels so cliché. More than any other phrase in the Bible, ‘do not be afraid’ shows up on computer screens like a pop-up ad that we cannot click away.  

It is a difficult request, in my opinion, to resist fear in an environment held so loosely between what has been and what is yet to be. And, isn’t it okay, sometimes, to be afraid?

Years ago, I walked into a hospital room to visit a friend recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It doesn’t take years of ministry to learn the diagnoses delivered with unspoken timelines. I sat next to the bed and listened to fears pouring out from all directions of her experience. I held them for her as best I could without saying a word.

There was a pause where silence crept in and a confession that rose from its space; “I am afraid, Pastor Stephanie, to fall asleep. I am afraid if I go to sleep, I will never wake up.”

You may have already guessed this about me, but I have never died before.

I have sat with many who were dying. I have held their hands, rubbed their feet, kissed their foreheads. There are things you see and facts you remember. There are cumulative gifts you collect in each passing, that you carry heavily forward into the next goodbye.

I saw in her face such fear and such panic. I took her hand and leaned in close to her ear to whisper, “If you are feeling afraid, you don’t have to worry. You will know when it is time because it will be the time that you no longer feel afraid.”

Fear seems to be something that is taken from us by something or someone unnameable. Our notes, folded and laid in tombs dark and empty, seem to be the reminders that the fear which surrounds us won’t surround us for long.

Notes remind us, there is a way out. Notes pull back the blinds, cast light on a landscape where no one stands alone.  

It may understandable to feel that there is little reassurance in an empty tomb, in an imprint of where a body once lay, in streets where pedestrians wear masks and storefront doors remain closed.

Our angels are less glorious, our Jesus more disguised. These days, faith weighs heavily on a commitment to leaning into the silence and being surprised by your reply.

During the making of her film, “Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees,” botanist, medical biochemist, and self-defined “renegade scientist,” Diana Beresford-Kroeger, traveled the globe interviewing the world’s foremost experts in reforestation.

In an in-depth interview about her experiences making the film, Diana shares the unexpected and powerful introduction that occurred when she first met Professor Akira Miyawaki.

A fellow advocate in Diana’s life mission to encourage ordinary people to develop a new relationship with nature, and to join together to replant the global forest, Dr. Akira Miyawaki is active worldwide as a specialist in the restoration of natural vegetation on degraded land. Far from Diana’s home in Ireland, Dr. Miyawaki resides in Japan where he has dedicated his life to actions advocating for the value of natural forests and the urgent need to restore them.

She describes standing before Dr. Miyawaki for the first time. This, she says, is a man who has planted something like 40 million trees, an extraordinary gentlemen, and, we met before filming to talk about biodiversity and reforestation,” Diana says, “and this is very unusual for a Japanese man, he is scientist, he is the same as I am, and he takes my hand, and he puts my hand in his hand, and he says to me, “I am glad to meet you. I am no longer alone.”

“The handshakes have already started,” Diana writes in her reflections of the encounter, “we are holding hands across the world.”

And, to all the people squinting to see resurrection in empty tombs, laboring for restoration across the barren fields of an industrialized world, Diana continues, “Your heart is the heart of many, many people across the world. …. All you hear on the news is bad, bad, bad …but there are lots of people across the world doing fundamentally fantastic things. You never hear their story, but you need to hear their story. You need to know there are people doing unselfish things for the future and that is happening everywhere.”

Fear, it seems, is buried under bad news. Upon confrontation, fear is uncovered feeding on an illusion of individual isolation. This news, these stories, are the notes floating all around, blown out of darkened tombs and unearthed by the force of forgotten winds.

They come to us and lead us past the dead-end of a despairing situation. They free us to join Christ in a corporate rising toward counterculture compassionate connection.

Today, the sun rises on the horizon, but it is Christ rising in each of us; in our words, our gestures, our actions, our lives. And, if we are lucky enough, we will have moments of realization that we were the note that released another from the trappings of fear.

Only a few months passed, and I was called back to the hospital to say goodbye to my friend, once afraid. I arrived to find her room holding a handful of people, one who announced my presence to her upon my entrance. Tired from the work of being stretched between two worlds, her eyes slowly opened, and her hand reached out to signal me forward. I leaned in to hear her speak. With half-closed eyes and a shaky hand, now patting mine, she whispered “It’s okay, Pastor Stephanie, I don’t feel afraid.”

Last Easter, forty-three people gathered to celebrate the rising of the sun under the shelter of our new canopy after the snow bomb cyclone twisted it to the ground. Looking back, it seems foolish that the pulling down of what little we had built up would be encountered as a tragedy, but at the time, my heart felt so broken. What I notice, clearly now, is while the definition of tragedy is shaped by perspective, the continuity of resurrection definition remains.

On Saturday, March 16, the canopy shelter may have been destroyed, but the community remained present and standing. Resurrection was experienced in the gathering of people in the rubble of the shelter we had built, and resurrection now awaits us in the reunion of our people underneath the canopy shelter that now stands. I realize, resurrection is a scene painted with the same pattern over and over again, even as tragedies arrive and fade away. A picture of a people gathered for no other reason than to be present with one another.

Perhaps, in Easter’s past, we waited for resurrection dressed in the expectations of an over dramatic angelic presentation, a haughty hope of a divine intervention.

This Easter, I hear resurrection singing from the darkness of a damp, empty tomb that exists with purpose; to absorb our fears into its perpetual abyss.

This Easter, I feel resurrection running into me in the least expected of circumstances; reminding me of what I am to do and which direction I should go.

This Easter, I see resurrection in moments unfolded as notes, overflowing in a relational process I will commit to experiencing throughout my entire life.

An Easter Message from The Land It isn’t just Easter; we bump into Christ all the time.
If we keep our hearts open with our gaze on the promise of the rising sun.