It was the longest of mornings, that began with a heavy heart and planned act of devotional love, as Mary Magdalene made her way ahead of the dawn, to the tomb. We may imagine her feelings, shock and deep sorrow, doubtless tears too. The world, which cheered the one who she followed only last week, had now despatched him. The cross was both brutal and final. Shortly, her anxiety and upset were to grow, for on reaching the tomb, she found the stone rolled aside, and the body that she came to tend, removed. It must have felt the final indignity to one who had personified the love of God.
It took some time for the light to dawn for Mary, for the reality of the resurrection to be recognised. First there was lament, and then waiting, which only then gave way to hope and joy.
Lament is less an event and more a process. It can be lengthy in time and draining of spiritual energy, and yet is a vital facet of the path to hope and new joy. The world is littered with reasons to lament. Lament was, and for some, continues to be experienced as South Africa emerged from the dehumanising regime of apartheid. The process of lament was in part aided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Lament is an ongoing outcome of the Grenfell Tower fire. These are difficult and testing paths, not least when structures of power seem to stand in the way of truth, justice and a measure of restoration.
As I write, the nation has been variously saddened and outraged by the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard. What is a devastating personal tragedy for her family and friends, has also opened up a public, political and passionate set of protests, with a focus on the conduct of men and their attitude towards women.
Lament is a generations-old process. In the Lenten Bible Study, ‘Psalms at Seven’, we’ve noted that of the 150 psalms in the collection, 60 are in the genre of lament. A number of psalms reveal expression of deep angst, which it seems is part of a process that can ultimately lead to a sense of healing. That isn’t necessarily full restoration, but a full acknowledgement of the issues. And in the faith-based psalms, is so often a process of spiritually seeking a response from God. It is a process that may take time, involve waiting, can be underpinned by remembrance of God’s past faithfulness, so giving hope for better days.
The best known of psalms, Psalm 23, tells of shadow-filled valley moments, but is able to conclude in thankful hope:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Most of the Easters that I remember are filled with light, joy, greetings, choruses of hallelujah, daffodils, new life, hope, and dare I say, chocolate. But this Easter is likely to feel different. It is over a year since the nation locked down, a year with much to lament over, and whilst we have looked forward with hope at a number of points, it has also been, and remains, a time of waiting. Perhaps this year is a year to remember that the first Easter didn’t bring unbridled joy at dawn. Rather it started in lament and fear, and it took some time for those feelings to give way to the full recognition of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. May we take comfort from that this Easter, and remember, too, that the Easter journey is not just about a day, but is a season, the hope of which may underpin life.
Through the shadow of these days, may you and all know
New life emerging,
And light shining,
this long Easter morning.