As a child and later as a teenager, I never knew about Holy Week. Had never heard of a “Passion play.” I had no concept of Lent, or Good Friday. I knew Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but that was merely an interesting historical fact that had little bearing in practice. I never heard a Palm Sunday message until I got to college– was, in fact, confused when the choir sang “Ride On, King Jesus!” every year on that Sunday morning and had to have its significance explained to me. Some of my friends were offended by it, scorning such a “Catholic” practice of “tradition.” The only time I ever heard about “Good Friday,” I was told that Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday and “Good Friday” was yet another Catholic adoption of pagan religious practices, to make their religion more accommodating when the Holy Roman Empire conquered another country. The leader of our church-cult even advocated that we celebrate “Resurrection Sunday” at a different time of the year, as, obviously, the Catholics had co-opted the pagan celebration of Ishtar and conflated it with Christ’s resurrection.
Easter was a holiday we refused to recognize. Resurrection Sunday fared little better. I heard sunrise services mocked and ridiculed. Every message I heard that was intended to “celebrate” Christ’s resurrection was, in reality, only a morbid, violent obituary dedicated to his death. Nearly without exception, Easter only hammered into me that I was a worthless, wretched, miserable worm. There was no glory, no redemption, no forgiveness, no grace, no love, no compassion, no mercy. Only brutality. Only despair. Only holy, wrathful, righteous judgment.
It was in the darkness of early morning that I climbed a mountain. The drive to this place had been silent and solemn, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. A few weeks ago I had been sitting in the middle of a service, surrounded by those who bore the same soul-deep scars I did. For the first time I had heard beauty and justice and goodness proclaimed from a pulpit. He had spoken with gentleness and compassion, and he tad talked of nothing else except love. I had gone forward to take communion, and I stood in a gentle, unassuming sort of reverence as I watched him break bread. He tore off a piece and handed it to me, then spoke a blessing as I took it and remembered. I walked back to my seat half-blind with tears.
Climbing the mountain before dawn broke was a struggle. I could barely make out the thin trail, clogged as it was with moss and rocks. I slipped, I stumbled, I fell. Moments came when I wanted to give up; what I was doing felt so ridiculous and pointless. I didn’t even know what I was doing. What had pulled me out of my bed and propelled me an hour away from my house to climb a mountain in the middle of the night?
I grabbed at branches and scrabbled for handholds in places that I had to practically crawl. My bloodied knees were a niggling pain at the back of my mind, but the pain in my heart overrode nearly every other thought. The emptiness felt like knife wounds that had been carved over and over again, had barely begun to heal, and been ripped open again by someone who had ministered to me, through his words, in a way I’d never felt before.
As I climbed, something almost profound pulled me into a story. I felt like I could look ahead of me and watch three women making the same journey they made two thousand years ago. In the dewy wetness of early morning I caught the rich, deep smell of earth and wood, and it reminded me of myrrh– myrrh they had carried with them to bury their god. I could almost feel their tears of mourning on my face.
Suddenly, I crested the summit— and there, right in front of me, was a large, round stone. All around me sound was springing to life as the eastern sky turned a faint blue-gray. Even with crickets and birds and rustling squirrels, the world felt quiet and breathless. I walked up to the stone and touched it, wondering if the tomb where Joseph laid Jesus felt anything like this pocked and battered surface. I scrambled on top of it, then found a smooth spot to sit and watch dawn break.
He is gone, and I do not know where they have taken him. Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him.
I could almost hear Mary Magdalene speak those words. The one woman who had witnessed his death, had helped carry his dead body to be buried, who had remained when everyone else had fled in terror. I could feel the same words on my own lips. He is gone, and I don’t know where they have taken him. Where is he? They have taken you away, and given me nothing but lies.
Where are you?
She, one of the few people who knew him best, had mistaken him for a gardener. She did not, could not, recognize him. Logic and reason defied it. What she had born witness to told her it was impossible. This could not have been the man she knew.
The sky turned the faintest pink and the light began washing the world. Grays and blues and midnight shades mixed in the forest canopy as I watched sunlight gild the clouds with the faintest brushstrokes. Inexorably, morning touched the world. I watched it happen, and felt the heaviness inside ease slightly. I closed my eyes to feel the sunlight on my face.
And . . . something moved. There are no words in my language to describe what I felt. There was someone there, and someone not there. It was like feeling wind, only nothing touched my skin. But I recognized it. I hadn’t felt it since I was a child, it had been so very long I scarcely recognized it. But like lightning, I knew that it was Him. The God who had never died. The God I knew before they had replaced him with a lie. The God I had denied thrice. Rabboni, I whispered. He offered me his hand, his side, his peace. He held me that morning as I cried. I felt so incredibly betrayed– why didn’t you stop them? Why did you not save yourself from their lies, their hatred? He took my hand and placed it in his– the hand that had healed and lifted and blessed. The hand that had sheltered children and comforted widows and raised the dead.
I opened my eyes– all of my eyes — to the splendor of full dawn.
He is Risen.
He is Risen, indeed.