a meditation for the strangest of Easters

Meditation for Easter in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

St Mark ends his Gospel with the response of the women who went to the tomb on the first Easter Sunday:

‘they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ (16.8).[1]

This Easter will dawn for many people in a place not of triumph, but of fear.

The resurrection accounts have been described as a reverse-grieving process, in which the witnesses gradually come to realise that the one who was lost is alive, and breathes on us the Holy Spirit. Anger is dispelled, depression and denial and bargaining can all be set aside. But I suggest that for many of us, this Easter, we are not far along this process yet. We would like to have the larger story, the story of victory over death, this Easter 2020, to be able to sing it out to the sunrise with our hearts on fire. But our heroes this Easter morning should be those women, Mark’s only witnesses to the resurrection.

Mark is telling us in effect that where we are in our confusion and fear is a valid place to be. It’s even a holy place to be, because it is real. The larger story will emerge – it is in the hands of the God who has done something extraordinary at the empty tomb. We are in a process of searching for this larger story, the one that will enfold and hold all the losses of this time, including the loss of freedom to map out futures, of the power to fix things, the loss of the delight of gathering, and of the profundity of looking closely into others’ eyes, the loss of reassuring and healing touch, for some the loss of parents or grandparents we shall never see again, in this life at least.

This is an Easter for holding together – by phone-call or Skype or Zoom or Tik-tok or even that most precious of rediscoveries, the letter – the range of reactions we’re all having, the different varieties of fear and confusion and amazement we’re facing. We have the Lord’s songs to sing in this strange land, the great Passiontide song of love unknown, the Easter hope of Jesus Christ the apple tree, but let us sing them not with a false and self-forgetting triumphalism, but as explorers who will help each other search for the larger story of all this, owning our fear, sharing our wisdom as it returns to us, hoping for what we do not yet see.

The women half-ran, half-stumbled away from the tomb, carrying the greatest secret in the history of the world. And Christians this year are bearers of a secret we may not feel we are even ready to tell, but yet is our clue to the larger story within which all this trauma will one day be seen to sit.

Christopher Southgate

[1] The longer ending, vv. 9-20, is not in the best manuscripts.