When the three myrrh-bearing women of the great Easter Icon approach the tomb, they are stuck in what they have always known much the way we are stuck in failed marriages, failed friendships, failed religious systems. They have followed this “Jesus” along this path that has turned out, seemingly, to have no outcome like the one promised in the Hebrew scriptures. No king. No concurring hero. No ruler-setting-all-things-right. Nope. Just a corpse needing to be wrapped in spices and the tar-like myrrh within bandages, so that when the middle-eastern heat invaded even the cool cave-tomb, Jesus’ corpse would not stink and so that gasses would not expand it to explosion. What a mess in a clean tomb. And the men will be smoking their hooka pipes and napping so the women need to do the work, as usual.
When they last saw Jesus he was a bloody mess. The whips would have removed much of his skin. The punches would have swollen his face. The cross would have dehydrated him. So they were expecting to see a certain scene and they had the tools with them to deal with what they expected to see. They had a job to do and they had the tools to do the job. A corpse. Regrets. Loss. Failure. The success of the manipulators. The success of the powerful rulers. The crushing of the gentle shepherd in the gears of the church and the state. They were used to it. They had seen it before. There would always be high priests in fabulous vestments maneuvering for high offices. There would always be regional governors calculating their losses and their gains. And the humble would always pay the price.
But what these faithful, sad women encountered at the tomb that dark, early morning was something new. God was doing a new thing.
God would not let them remain in the contract with mediocrity and hopelessness they had signed as they put on their clothes that morning to do the work men would never bother or be courageous enough to accomplish. And there is where we must ask ourselves a question. Our Easter question is the one they faced that morning. What if God is busy doing a new thing? Can we imagine it? Can we see it when it is in front of us? Can we let go of the auto-reply we tend to have set in our psyche in order to welcome something extraordinary and new even in terrible loss and grief? Can we imagine that what seems like just another death, just another departure, just another crucifixion, just another diagnosis, just another change in power, just another resignation, just another political election, just another set of boxes for just another move, just another same old death – can we imagine that it is not going to result in just another failure, just another prelate, just another manipulator, just another power-shift, just another power-monger designating the next power-monger, just another in a long line of others? Can we imagine that with this death, something new might happen? A new kind of reign? A new kind of kingdom? A new kind of job? A new kind of marriage? A new kind of healing even if not a new kind of cure? A new kind of meaningful conversation? A new kind of Dean? A new kind of Chapter? A new kind of Vestry? A new kind of cathedral? A new kind of Episcopal Church in a new kind of generation of leaders? A new kind of spiritual life? A new kind of recovery from an old kind of addiction? A new kind of life before the sun rises even as we think we smell flesh rotting in a dank cave?
If Easter means anything, it is not that God has made all things safe. It is not that God has made all things the same. It is not that God has made all things inevitable. If Easter means anything at all, it is that God is making all things new. The question is not whether the angel sits on the empty tomb. The question is whether we can put down our pots of myrrh and run back to the others shouting, joyfully, “God is making all things new!” And then live that out. Part of God making all things new is that we start co-creating with God by making Easter choices and not lenten ones. Are we Easter people or we are alone, in the dark with arms full of myrrh and bandages waiting to dress a corpse? We have some choices to make in Easter.