This is the icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women and is, along with the Anastasis icon, one of the two great Easter Icons. This icon was written by an artist in Boston to commemorate the Katrina disaster. I bought the icon at a benefit auction for Katrina survivors. I was a first responder at Katrina, sent by the monastery the day after the floods to support the Bishop of Louisiana in efforts to care for the diocese in the first days and weeks of the disaster. As is so often the case in disasters, the church responded by trying to meet spiritual needs when physical needs were so much more immediately important. I and another monk sat in empty chapels hoping people would come. I soon abandoned my directives to offer spiritual direction and became a chaplain to the neighborhood, diocesan staff and the Disaster Mortuary Unit to which the 1,000 copses were being brought.
This icon is dark in what we so often think of as a season of light. It is quiet also. The people and angel are still, silent, dealing with the reality which has presented itself. Jesus is not here. This is not an Easter bunny and Easter egg icon. It is not full of tulips and forsythia. As is so often the case in icons, the drawing points to Jesus. In most icons the secondary images – houses, trees, rock formations – all tend to wrap around Jesus pointing to him – setting him off like the prongs of a silver setting sets off a diamond in a ring. But here the rocks and wings wrap in a sweeping gesture away to the left, indicating the central reality of the icon and of the Easter morning image: Jesus is not here. He is risen. He is over there – in life – in the market place – where the messy people are.
What does it mean to have Jesus out and about? What does it mean to have God mess up the order of things by bringing a corpse back to life? I find it provocative that Jesus wanders from the tomb on Easter night without details of where he went and what he did. We are told that those who see him do not recognize him at first – perhaps simply because we see what we expect to see.
So what do we expect to see? Easter is about resurrection, joy and freedom. But Easter is also about meeting the unexpected of God’s provisions and being willing to see them.
It is easy to go to church where the routine releases us from the unexpected. It is easy to drift through morning and evening prayer, designed as they are to allow adoration in the context of routine. Once designed, liturgy releases the people from any kind of creativity, shock, awe or wonder. At bests it welcomes God and at worst it domesticates God.
But what is happening in this scene is nothing short of shock and awe. God has switched up the game and done so for women – the few ones in the story who had the courage and the willingness to show up.
Jesus is not here in this stone enclosure of safety and immobility. Jesus has been released. Those great turquoise wings point powerfully and elegantly up and away. Massive angel wings which fly and soar do the pointing, not some boney, scolding finger. Jesus is walking the market district, the housing projects, the country club district and perhaps even the red light district, meeting people and smiling at them and inviting them to a new way of life. There is nothing safe about it. There is nothing routine or rote about it. There is nothing liturgical or confined about it. Jesus’s departure from the tomb has no respect for Anglican sensibilities. Jesus is out there, getting his hands dirty.
The women worked so hard to wash that bloody, sweat-caked body after Holy Week. An now Jesus is going to get them all dirty again. And so might we. This icon reminds me that Jesus is not in the tomb and may not even be in the church. Jesus is Risen. Jesus is touching lepers again. Dang it! He slipped past the huddled disciples and is back to work holding people, healing people, loving people. What is our response to Easter? What does it mean for us to get out there and live a resurrection life? Risk I expect. And some wandering.