Photo by Sarah Lawton
(Note: This year for Easter, our parish welcomed members of the families of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico. They have been touring the US, hoping to develop friendships and share their stories. We were honored to have them for the holiest day of our year.)
It begins in darkness, at a tomb, a place of death. It ends with the dawn.
It begins with Magdalene in tears, frightened and outraged and grieving. It ends in a garden teeming with life and Jesus speaking her name.
It begins in darkness, at a place of death. “Early on the first day of the week,” John writes, “while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.”
We know what it is like to move about in darkness, to be in a place of death.
The families of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa know that darkness, that place of death. Their sons were disappeared by their government and they are desperately searching for answers. Why must it be so hard to find out what happened to their sons? Any parent would want to know. Why is the path to justice so hard?
Darkness. Tears. Fear. Outrage, Grieving. These families know these things.
Here in our town, Elvira and Refugio know that darkness, that place of death. They are the parents of Alex Nieto, the young man gunned down and killed by San Francisco Police on Bernal heights just over a year ago while he was eating a burrito on his way to work. Like any parents, Elvira and Refugio simply want to know what happened in the last moments of their son’s life. Why must it be so hard to find the truth? Why is the path to justice so hard? Darkness. Tears. Grieving. Outrage.
Yesterday here at St. John’s we celebrated the memorial for Amilcar Perez Lopez, a young immigrant in our neighborhood. He came here to work so he could send money to his family living in poverty in Guatemala. Like Alex, he too was gunned down and killed by San Francisco Police.
Now that the autopsy is complete, we know that in the version of events given by Police to the media and to the community, they were lying. The Police are lying! I'm sorry to say this: They're lying.
Why must it be so hard to simply learn what happened? Darkness. Tears. Grieving. Anger.
And, God knows, our own community of St. John’s has known our own forms of darkness this past year; we, too have been in a place of death: worries about ever finding a new kidney for Jackie, Gary now in a fight with cancer, a seemingly interminable physical rehab process for Brother Tikhon.
And our beloved Nico has now learned that doctors have done all they can for him. He is now dying.
The story begins in darkness, in the place of death. We know this darkness and the place of death all too well.
There is an ancient litany of the church to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It goes, “Holy Mary, who kept faith on Holy Saturday, pray for us.”
Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, was for this woman, a day of darkness, tears, grieving, outrage. Like the parents of the 43 students, the parents of Alex Nieto, the parents of Amilcar, Mary had lost her son at the hands of the state. She had no clue what might come next. No signs of hope. Nothing but unbearable pain.
Yet even in that moment, she kept faith, kept trusting that out of a moment even as dark as this, light would surely come; out of this place of death, new life would surely emerge. She kept faith.
She couldn’t see how or when it would come, or what it would look like. She only knew it would come, that death and tears and grieving and anger would not have the final say; that her darkest moment would be redeemed.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, love and joy, justice and truth, will win. Life will win. Mary knew this. “Holy Mary, who kept faith on Holy Saturday, pray for us”--so that we, in our Holy Saturdays, can also keep faith.
St. Paul once wrote to his community, “Sisters and brothers, we would not have you grieve as people who have no hope.” I take that to mean that we are to grieve as people who do have hope, who know that death and tears and fear and grief will not have the final say.
For many of us, it still seems very early in the morning, still dark. But it is, after all, the morning of Easter, and so we know how our story, like that of Jesus, will end.
What began in tears and darkness in the place of death will end with a broken tomb, a garden teeming with life, and Jesus, with a smile on his lips and a sparkle in his eye, speaking our names. The triumph of life and love and laughter.
And although it is still dark, it is time for you and me to practice some resurrection, anticipate the life, the love, the justice that we, like Mary, know will come. We don’t know when or how or what it might look like, but we are Easter people, and we know how the story ends. If, at this moment, we find ourselves in tears, it’s because the story isn’t over yet.
And so we practice resurrection--speaking out about what happened to the 43 students, to Alex, to Amilcar. Not remaining silent. Resisting all the lies the authorities throw at us. Carrying our picket signs, filing complaints, writing letters, speaking up at community meetings. Not giving up. Like Mary, keeping faith.
Practicing resurrection: It’s why we celebrate this day with great food and extra hugs, bring back the Alleluias into our songs in church, share a few favorite jokes, have an Easter egg hunt for our kids. We’re just practicing resurrection.
Practicing resurrection: Perhaps we do it by hanging out with our brother Nico over coffee or a hot chocolate in the final days and weeks of his life.
Practicing resurrection: Perhaps we do it by becoming organ donors, so that people like Jackie with kidney failure won’t have such an ordeal finding a new kidney to stay alive.
Practicing resurrection, anticipating and bringing to birth the life and the love, the justice, the joy and laughter that we know with all our hearts will have the final say at the end of our own Easter stories.