This is what I believe. In the sacred and imperishable truth of resurrection, all journeys lead home. I have thought about the truth in all the Gospel stories about resurrection my whole life. I have talked about it from each perspective given to us from the four Gospels. The accounts of resurrection differ because they are offered by communities trying to share their understanding of what transpired on the third day. In every account though, there is a group of women who were at the foot of cross, led by Mary Magdalene, who are now grieving and making oils and spices to anoint the body of their beloved Jesus.
I love imaging the women preparing oils and spices to bring to the tomb. I love it because grieving and comforting each other when death has done its worst seems the most human part of this whole story. It is where we can join in the resurrection proclamation. We have all grieved for people we love who have died. Mark says in this account that this is the same Mary from whom seven demons were cast out. We know because of her suffering she knows grief and pain. It makes sense that she is the one leading the women in their grieving. We know grief. We intuitively know how to gather in death and try and figure out what it all means. It happens all over the world. We know instinctively what they felt stirring the spices into the scented oil mixed with tears. We can hear the women in the gospel recalling Jesus’ last words and the stories he told. They worried their hope and love would die with him and that what he lived for might die as well. We know the wave of tears that came as the reality of what was laid in the tomb washes over them. We have seen it when we have been graced to sit bedside as a beloved dies. Fear moves in as we try and say goodbye. Doubt rises in our stomachs as we rehearse what it is we believe and how unbelievable it feels. We know something else thought. We know that something transpires in our hearts before we make it to that loved one’s graveside. Just like we intuitively know how to grieve, we know how to see God in death.
One of the great symbols of Easter is the monarch butterfly. The monarch is thought to be a resurrection symbol because it takes about three days for it to become a butterfly once it enters the chrysalis. The monarch butterfly also migrates about 3,000 miles in its yearly cycle. What makes the journey so amazing though is that the butterflies that return to their home every spring are the great, great, grandchildren of the butterflies that started the journey. The life cycle of the butterfly is about 8 weeks, except for the generation that hibernates through the winter. So these amazing creatures return to the same area, and many times the same tree, having never been there before. They just know how to find their way home. It is that intuitive ability to find their way home that makes them a beautiful symbol of Easter.
No one who is dying knows how to resurrect. None of us can fathom it. But all of us will find our way home to God because that is how we are made and the journey is implanted in our souls. It is even deeper than the monarch’s ability to come back. What I have heard since I was a girl was that after the last Eucharist my father served at the age of 41, a woman came up to him and told him he did a beautiful job. He said to her, “I have never felt closer to God.” Then he got in his car and was killed within the hour. When we make our way to the graveside of someone we love, signs always point to the truth that God is close. As intuitive as grieving is, so is this hope of resurrection. Every flower, bird, cloud, and word becomes a reminder of the hope that unfolds in this story.
There have been several deaths of friends and loved ones this week. This week we celebrated the life and ministry of the Methodist Minister who served this community for nine years, Dr. Perry Parker who was 79. He was a retired Chaplain serving 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. Perry preached before Easter a few years ago that healing comes in many ways. “From my limited perspective, healing too often means absence of disease and pain, and a restoration to former health. And yet, I know that isn’t possible in the long run. I can never expect at my age to be like I was 40 years ago. I will grow older and frailer until I am utterly finished with this body. My vision in spiritual matters is pretty poor; we see things on this side of death with much less clarity. And we have received the healing we needed far more often than we realized. If I understand the ministry of Jesus, it was not only to prepare us to live on this planet in harmony with God and our fellow earth dwellers, but also to prepare us for a spiritual eternity in a closer relation with the One who created it all. So I will continue to pray for myself and others, that God’s healing power may strengthen and restore us to health until our work is utterly finished here on earth. It may be that healing is for the purpose of finishing our work here on earth. But, I will try to remember that my destiny as a Christian is not to remain here on earth forever, but to be joined with that entire countless host in God’s presence.”
Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Joanne, come unsure and afraid as the sun breaks over the horizon. But they keep walking having no idea what comes next. They don’t even know how to move the stone. But without knowing or understanding what is happening, they know it. They feel the hope rising in their chest that lives deep in their souls. That hope, mixed with fear and awe calls them to run and tell someone. And they are telling us again this morning. “He is risen”. We carry in us a knowledge that is older and deeper than death. It is the implanted knowledge that will carry us beyond death. It is the deepest truth that makes love eternal and carries us home. It is the truth that makes the story of resurrection a journey of love. With this knowledge we stand by gravesides and proclaim from the richest truth, even as we lay a body in the earth, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
In the morning light of Easter, all signs point us to hope.
In the presence of an empty tomb all our fear is gone.
In the sacred and imperishable proclamation that death has lost its sting,
All journeys lead us home.