Frederick Buechner’s famous line, ‘the worst isn’t the last thing about the world - it’s the next to last thing’ has been on my mind during preparations for Holy Week and Easter this year. Easter is about resurrection and it teaches us that even in times of deepest loss and tragedy we can have confidence that this isn’t the last thing, that life and hope will ultimately triumph.
In the Ovindean News I have been reflecting on Nicola Slee’s excellent book, ‘Easter Garden’ in which the lives of Mary Lennox from ‘The Secret Garden’ and Mary Magdalene in the Gospels are woven together. The gardener in the Secret Garden says to Mary, after the long dark winter: ‘Springtime’s coming, cannot tha’ smell it?’ As Mary Lennox explores the empty wintry landscape of Misslethwaite Manor, something begins to change in her.
Slowly, imperceptibly, a strange new summons to life stirs in her, born of the curiosity kindled by the tale of the secret garden. Even as she walks and is herself wakened, Mary’s walking in the places of the buried past and pain is itself a kind of waking of the past to newness again. It is as if, in her walking down the paths and the gardens, she is calling them to life again, opening doors and memories and places to the quickening movement of life pulsing in the wind, in the earth and the sun. She is waking a new world within her, calling it out of darkness and forgetfulness, inviting it to respond to the possibility of healing.
For Mary Magdalen on Easter morning, against all hope, against all reason and expectation she encounters life in the garden. In the timeless, speechless, sudden short moment of meeting, of calling, of naming and recognition, Mary is restored to herself and to life by Jesus. In that moment she is welcomed, known, healed, held, renewed, restored. Going back to the garden Rowan Williams says, ‘she finds her self, her home, her name’.
Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden completes her healing not just with the coming of spring but in the sharing of her secret with others who are also in need of healing and new life. There is a working impulse in the garden itself which seems to compel proclamation and invitation. The garden’s secret is a secret that demands to be shared. For Mary Magdalene, too, the encounter in the garden is just the beginning. Just as she thought her life was ending in darkness, she finds life and hope. She is asked to not just learn to live again but that the secret she has discovered in the place of burial, like Mary Lennox’s, is not a secret to be kept, but a message that demands to be shared.
Marta Wilhelmsson reflects on the Easter Story, she says….It suddenly strikes me with overwhelming force: it was women who were the first to spread the message of Easter - the unheard of ! It was women who rushed to the disciples, who, breathless and bewildered, passed on the greatest message of all: He is alive! Think if women had kept silent in the churches!
I’m a firm believer that God also wants us to know resurrection joy and an abundant life now in this life, as well as in the next.
I was listening to an interview with the singer Plumb last week and she tells her story of resurrection. She said she knew what death felt like during the season of being separated from her husband. She went to a coffee shop, she was frail, she was weak and was beaten down and just wanted to be alone. She was standing in line and turned to see a married couple that she was friends with…. it didn't take long for them to discover that everything wasn't okay just by her physical appearance. They asked what was wrong and she looked at them and said everything is awful everything is black that that she just wished she could die. Her husband had left, it looked like they were getting a divorce, they were losing the house and her health wasn’t great ….everything is falling apart. The friends paused and listened and one of them turned to her and said - I believe in resurrection …..She said she would never forget those words for the rest of her life. Up until that point resurrection was just about Easter but now she knows that this grace extends everywhere… God can bring the dead things in life back to life, he can make things better than before, he can make all things new, nothing is impossible with him, he's the God of infinite chances, he's the God of the impossible.
In this year of lamentation and pain – where so much has been lost and so much sacrificed this is a message we need to hear.
Rev Cecil Williams talks about the tomb..... where it looks like suffering and pain have been victorious.
There is no escaping the tomb until we accept the nature of the stone blocking the way out - away from darkness and despair and into the light….
To become spiritual we must stop being afraid of death – because without death there is no resurrection or rebirth.
Spiritual and personal recovery begins at the tomb, but it doesn’t end there. When the spirit moves in, life moves on. We remember who we really are - divine sparks of beauty.
This experience and what we are able to see of Christ’s work in the gospels shows us that Resurrection is not clichéd and easy…it is both brutal and joyous – it is the tomb and the garden - it is death and life. It the very nature of the world and the foundation of our faith.
I believe in the power of resurrection …..in the active love and grace of God.
The Good news of Christ is that we are never alone; God is with us in our suffering, our struggles, our rebirth and resurrection. He has walked this path before us and knows the way of healing and new life. We just have to follow him through a life lived in love and forgives.
Despite earthly pain we have this blessing from God.
Put simply the Holy Spirit wants to liberate us now so that we can live now. The Spirit is the power of God that creates, illuminates and liberates – when we let the Holy Spirit sing with us we have the power to create and free ourselves – the Holy Spirit brings us back to life.
Resurrection is not just about the healing of the broken body of Jesus Christ and the wonderful work of the cross in taking away our sins and restoring us to God.
It is also a pledge and a promise to us - a commitment and a sign that God is at work now and forever, restoring his damaged creation to its original blessing and pattern. Richard Holloway says, this is costly work, bloody work, because evil is real and its tentacles range through time. But we can be confident that the light has overcome the darkness and we are never alone.
I’ll end with the full quote from Frederick Buechner that I think really captures something of the message of Easter that we are called to share:
‘The worst isn't the last thing about the world. It's the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It's the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well’.
I wish you a happy and blessed Easter.