By Sister Christine Parks
Ever since our non-normal Easter I have been pondering more deeply the gospel of the “empty tomb” and its meaning for our current time, when we seem to be surrounded by so many tombs full of victims of covid 19. I’m also wondering about how it may be calling us to a deeper appreciation of Earth and all creation as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this week.
In her book Quantum Grace: Lenten Reflections on Creation and Connectedness (The Sunday Readings), Judy Cannato* writes: While it was still dark, early in the morning, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb in which her beloved Jesus had been laid. The day before had been the Sabbath, the day of rest, but how restless Mary must have felt! How agonizing the in-between time must have been for her—that time between laying his body in the tomb and this moment when, finally, she could steal away to be with him again, even if there was no longer life in him. How horrified she must have been to arrive at the crack of dawn and discover that the tomb itself had been cracked open and the stone rolled away. (p.115)
In John’s gospel we are told that: she stayed outside the empty tomb weeping…And isn’t that exactly where so many of us are standing these days? We are in the midst of our own experience of loss—although our tombs may not feel so empty—as we weep and mourn the thousands of lives lost to this seemingly insatiable virus. As we try to cope with our frustration at being cooped up at home, whether alone or with others. As we grieve the loss of our usual routines of work, socializing, leisure, play (and for me that means missing the glorious spring wildflowers blooming in all my favorite nature areas). As we listen to too much news, too many reports of dire situations and shifting opinions. As almost everything we were looking forward to with the coming of spring seems to be either postponed indefinitely or cancelled. As we try to accept the slowing down and relax into the reality of having no control over this present state we find ourselves in.
And yet we are Easter people! We are called to place our faith, trust and hope in a resurrected life we cannot begin to imagine. The tomb is empty! Life is resurrected—which doesn’t mean bodily resuscitation—and thus we are unable to recognize it most of the time. Resurrection life doesn’t look like we often think it should, or expect it to. Instead it looks like the person standing beside me (6 feet socially-distanced of course) in the line at the grocery. It looks like my loved one suffering with addiction or mental illness; the person seeking freedom from persecution, torture and death who stands at the border seeking asylum. It looks like those who are most vulnerable and without the necessities of life. And today it looks like those whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by this pandemic.
Some are calling what we are living through these days our “new normal”, and I find myself bristling at that term. Not only is this time not normal, I’m not sure what we need is a return to the old normal. All around we hear reports of how our earth, air, and water is being renewed because of this imposed change in human behavior. Perhaps, as we move through this Easter season and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in unusual—and in many places digital ways, since we can’t gather together in person—we can make our own commitment to choose to live more simply and sustainably, walk more lightly, use less resources, and nurture the healing of earth beyond this time.
About the Author
Sister Christine Parks formerly served as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. She currently serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional program presenter, with Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.
*Judy Cannato was an associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph with an office at River’s Edge, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network in Cleveland. She concentrated on the relationship between science and religion in her retreats and writings. She died from a rare form of cancer on May 7, 2011.