Signs of Spring

This year, Easter is the second latest Easter could ever be, and yet, we find ourselves here Minnesota at the end of April, still dealing with a few scattered dirty melting snow piles, (at least until this morning), still unable to put away the winter gloves or turn off the heat. 
The craving, the yearning for new life is so great; I can’t remember longing for Spring before with as much intensity as I have this year. 
Maisy has been pointing out “signs of spring” for the past two months. “Mommy!" she’ll gasp, stopping on the sidewalk next to a 2 foot high mound of snow, “There’s some grass peeking out! It’s a sign of Spring!”
“Mommy!” pointing into a brown and frozen garden, “There is one purple flower! A sign of Spring!”
And slowly, more gradually than usual, it seems, Spring is creeping in, and because of her eyes, I have noticed it and drunk in each little glimpse. 

We hunger for life, we crave it and need it and know it when we see it.  Because we were made for it.  We yearn for what should be.  We are drawn to life, we long to live fully.   We grab onto it and it slips through our fingers, our children grow up, our bodies break down and all things are in a perpetual, irreversible march from life to death.  And we get that trajectory; it makes sense to us.  We know how to endure it, how to accept it; we know how to live with death, if not comfortably, then at least submissively.

What we don’t understand, what we can’t even begin to grasp, is resurrection.  That something would move from death to life defies logic, physics, experience and reality itself – if it were true, it would change everything. If resurrection is real, then nothing is as it seems.

Early in the morning, while it is still dark – before anyone could be around to talk to her, because Lord knows, the last thing she feels like doing is talking to someone - she slips out of the house, into a dewy world that is somehow still there, crickets still chirping and first birds awakening, absolutely oblivious to her pain.  The walk feels good; the air is chilled and moving her body brings her some sense that she is still alive, though inside she feels shattered and raw. 
He’s gone. 
Each step seems to pound out the reality that is still only beginning to sink in, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.

She’s lost people before. She’s no stranger to death.   That emptiness that follows the tears, when you feel like a spent shell, hollow, dead, that incredulity that the world would keep moving, life offensively plodding along, not even pausing to acknowledge the loss, these are familiar feelings. 
But it’s different this time.  The shock seems to make every part of her hurt. 
She longs to retreat to the place she had carved out within herself years ago, the place where she lived as though dead, where nothing could touch her.  Nothing made her cry then, or laugh, for that matter.  The years she had lived her life waiting for death, uncaring, unconcerned for what happened around her or to her, one day bleeding into the next and she, moving languidly through them like a disconnected observer of other people’s joy and suffering. 

But that place has closed up, it scabbed over and healed shut because of him.  He had woken her out of her slumber and she’d felt the shell fall off of her like a cicada.  He had seen her, past everything she’d done and all that she despised, he had seen to the core of her, and forgiven her.  His words, his love and friendship, his being in the world that moved unafraid and open… he had given her life, new life, her own life in a way she had never known, where she felt full and free and whole. 

And she had seen him do this for others, she had been there when the whole crowd, mesmerized by his words, had been fed on the small boy’s lunch; she’d seen the blind man leap to his feet and cry out in astonishment when he opened his eyes to the faces around him.  She had held the child in her own arms when he had called her from the dark recesses of sickness back into life.   And she had felt her own life reawakened, connected to those around her, remarkably feeling their pain, astonishingly sharing their joy. 
She had watched him move in the world like life-energy, the very breath of God, animating and awakening those he met, reconnecting them to one another and replanting them in their worlds, calling out of them their fullness as deep calls to deep, and they responded, like flowers lifting their heads and opening to the sun when showered with water, they had breathed and grown radiant.

But now he’s gone. And the emptiness in the world is greater than any she has ever known.  She feels as though the trees themselves are aching.  It has hollowed her out, scraped her clean, and where before she may have retreated into a numb fog, a cold, comfortable despair, this time it’s sharp and awful, this time she has feels everything.  She’s too awake, way too awake, and so she flees the house while it is still dark.

She arrives at the garden, eager to sit alone, just to sit, as close to where his body is as she can. She has no plans from here.  This is what she will do today, at least until other people show up, and then she’ll leave and come back again tomorrow.

She approaches the tomb from the side, touching the cold stone walls to catch her balance as she inches around it in the half-light to reach the front. When she does, she stops cold and her heart starts racing. The boulder is moved away. In front of her, in the semi-darkness, is a gaping, open hole – the tomb has been opened.  
Fear is instantly overtaken by rage, the heat boiling inside her and spilling out in a cry that breaks the morning air, “WHY!?!?” How could they have done this?  Haven’t they done enough to him already?  Why can’t they leave him alone?
She turns on her heels and stumbles back to the path, her head buzzing, the hot tears flooding her eyes and rolling unbidden down her cheeks. And she begins to run, as fast as she can, her feet keeping time to the desperate, angry beat, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone!

When she reaches the house where Peter and John and some of the others are sleeping, the door locked, she bangs on it frantically, furiously.
A face at the window, the bolt sliding open,
“They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they’ve laid him!”
Their scramble inside, and then the two, bursting out of the house into the breaking dawn, picking up her agitation and beginning to run.  She follows behind them, her lungs searing and legs aching, until she reaches the tomb once again.

When she arrives, she sees them emerging from the tomb. They look stunned.
“He’s gone.” Peter says, his voice tinged with amazement.  They stand a moment and then turn to go. 
She leans her hot cheek against the cold stone, panting to catch her breath, watching them walk away.  She stays there a moment and closes her eyes, feeling them leave, feeling once again, alone.  The tears well up again and she begins to sob, all the confusion, rage, and sadness rush out of her.  After a few minutes, she gasps and gulps, wipes her face with her hands and looks over at the hole.  It’s lighter now, the garden has come to life and she can see outlines within, so she inches closer, and peers inside.

Her heart stops. 
Sitting where his head should be and where his feet had been, are two figures. Without question or wonder, she knows them to be angels. 
“Why are you weeping?” one asks her. 
“They’ve taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.”  she whispers.

Then a sound, behind her, a movement. She turns around and someone is there, in the garden; she’s no longer alone. 
Her anger returns.

Woman why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?

“Please sir! If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away!”

Her name. His voice. Impossible.  But happening.  She lifts her head and sees him.
And life begins.

“Don’t hold onto me, Mary; you can’t hold onto me.” Jesus says to her. “But go and tell my brothers…”  So once again she runs. This time in joy.  Life racing through every cell.  Her feet hammering the astounding message in time with her heart, “he lives! he lives, he lives, he lives!” She reaches the house and throws open the door on the startled mourners, her face shining and her voice strong, “ I have seen the Lord!” she cries.

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through the Word God breathed all life into being and nothing lived without it. 
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, as one of us, sharing absolutely every aspect of life and humanity, until the world created through him strung him up on a cross and crucified him. 
But the Word was God. And the Word did not stay dead.  
The Word lives again, and in him is newness of life, life reversed, life bent back to God. In him things move from death to life, from despair to hope, from fear to joy.  In him the whole world – while it appears at first glance to continue its relentless death march, is actually headed irreversibly back to the Father, and one day all things will be fully and utterly redeemed. 

 This week someone let loose in a rant on a blog, asking why we perpetuate the lies of Easter. Why do we talk about death being defeated when people still die all around us? Why do we talk about justice, or hope, or joy, when clearly life is still filled to overflowing with injustice and pain, despair and situations that will never ever get better?  Easter is a farce, he said.  And really, it is worse than that, a shallow, religious lie, and all of us sitting here today, in our dressy clothes with our hams in the oven and our tables set with the fancy china are either fools or fakers.

Except that I have heard the Risen One call my name. I have felt the love of God in my darkest times, in emptiness and sorrow, in the love of someone next to me when I didn’t think I would see the light again. I have seen life come out of places in me that were dead.  I have seen inexplicable hope and incomprehensible love in the world around me.
And in a thousand ways every day, if my eyes were opened to it, I could see signs of Spring.  I could see the resurrection leaking in, see people standing in for one another, justice prevailing, forgiveness happening, hope being born.  If I watched, I could see Life, pulsing underneath the surface, promising life everywhere, in all things.
I don’t deny that there is plenty of darkness still, so much that I could be persuaded, and often nearly am, that death is still in charge of things, that the march goes on, and God knows, the world will work relentlessly to convince us of this. 

So when I’m tempted to forget it, will you remind me?  
And when the darkness threatens to overtake you, I will remind you.  
And together we’ll practice looking for signs of Spring and pointing them out to each other, and announcing them to the world.  Together let’s practice hoping and trusting and really living – bravely and openly and generously, and let’s share our stories of times when we’ve heard the Risen Lord call us by name, and let’s help each other listen for his voice. 
And the more we do it, the better we’ll get at hearing his voice, and telling the story, the more we do it the more adept we’ll become at recognizing resurrection as it breaks in around us, and in us, and between us, and through us.  
Because Christ has risen, and that changes everything.

May we watch for resurrection with all the life-yearning within us.  And when he speaks our name, may we recognize our Risen Lord, wreaking resurrection havoc in the world, even this very day. 

Happy Easter.

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