By Bishop Todd Townshend
We have been through an unsettling time and we are still going through it. This battle against “COVID-19” has been like a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It has been a nerve-wracking, patience-testing, threatening experience.
It has also been a time of pulling together and acting together for the sake of the common good, even at a distance. Our church, the body of Christ in Huron, has responded so beautifully to this challenge that I am overwhelmed with gratitude to God, even in the midst of so much suffering.
There should be no surprise that the church, at its best, responds well in times like this. It’s a strange set of circumstances we navigate today but it’s not a strange story to us. This is because Easter is The Strange Story and, through years of living this Easter story in our own lives, we’ve been lead into a strange new world. It is the real world. It is the world of God’s reign where a new creation is underway.
We have what remains of the Easter season to go more deeply into the emptiness of the tomb, to emerge from it, and to find out what is changed, what is new. What can we learn from the disciples coming to and from the tomb that first Easter morning? What can we learn and celebrate about the continuing revelation of what resurrection life looked like for them in the months and years that followed?
What we will not find is certainty. What we will not find is that everything can go back to exactly as it was before. Understandably, those disciples wanted Jesus back exactly as he was before, even when they encountered him on the other side of the resurrection. They wanted to hold on to him so they would not lose him again. They wanted to touch him to prove that he was really there. They wanted! But instead, what they had to do was to turn and see and hear something new. They had to be open to the hearing of a word.
Our inability to hold on to each other has not stopped God from embracing us in a new way. Our inability to gather with one another and to taste and see the bread and wine has not stopped God from giving us, and making us, the body of Christ. God has been really present, thanks be to God.
Sometimes, this is how we come to believe. In “Easter”, Mary, the disciples, all of us, want to see, to touch, to find the Jesus we expect. But sometimes we cannot and that is good news. After all, what if they were successful? What if they found what they expected? Well, Jesus would still be dead. They expected to find a corpse. But there was no body in that dreaded but sacred tomb.
The disciples returned to their homes. Mary stayed there and wept. Until Jesus found her there—crying. And he said, “Mary”! In a word she was found, recognized, named. She, then, could recognized him. Mary turned to Jesus, knowing who it was now. She saw him, and she wanted to touch him but he said, “Do not hold on to me, but go and tell.” A new creation is stretching out ahead of you. Jesus appears to her in a word—and a whole new world opens to her.
I pray that once we heal from this, we will see it as a time of liberation. This will only happen because God will want to bring something new out of it and we will only see it with the eyes of faith, given to us in Easter. We may recognize again the gift that we have in this very difficult truth: we cannot have Jesus just on our terms.
While this is true, and perhaps unsettling, we also heard again that nothing can separate us from him. Nothing. This we proclaim and believe, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-38)