Several years ago I had the great privilege of meeting Sister Marise May, a member of the Order of St. Francis. When I first met Sr. Marise, I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated; she was the lead instructor and my mentor while I was training in spiritual direction. However, throughout the months I studied with her, I discovered all the rumors and horror stories I had heard from friends about nuns was totally untrue, at least in sister’s case.
Sister Marise is perhaps one of the warmest and gentlest of the people I know. She carries herself with an air of compassion and exudes this wonderful sense of true inner peace. In fact, her sense of peacefulness piqued my curiosity so much that I just had to ask her how she could be so at peace being so acutely aware of the violence and injustice of the world. To this she responded in all humility, “I didn’t know I was doing that.” I never did get a solid answer to my question.
Another aspect of Sister’s personality which I appreciate is her sense of humor. It wasn’t long after Mother Cope’s remains were brought to Syracuse that Sr. Marise found herself trying to work a deal with the newly beatified. You see, Sister Marise is blind. She has limited vision in one eye, and absolutely none in the other. Mother Cope needed a miracle in order to become made a saint. So, Sr. Marise devised a deal, a win, win for both. She figured Mother Cope did not need a really big miracle, but a small one would do, so she figured if Mother Cope would restore the vision in her good eye, that would be good enough for her and for the Vatican.
After Sister told my about her “conversation” with Mother Cope, all I kept asking was why, because my experience of Sr Marise was, as a blind person, she could see far more than most of us can with regular sight as she is able to se into the hearts and souls of most people.
This morning’s Gospel is about seeing, but not seeing what is just before us. Mary Magdalene, Peter and John the Beloved all arrive at the tomb and see what is an empty tomb, but none of them can see what is really happening. When Mary sees the empty tomb, she sees a grave robbery as she tells the disciples that they have taken her Lord. For Mary, it is not until Jesus calls her by name that she is able to see the resurrection. John, glances into the tomb, and I suspect assumes the worst as well, that is, until he examines the grave clothes and realizes what he is seeing is no grave robbery. But I am not convinced he knows or comprehends what’s happened. And for Peter, he walks in, and then walks out, without even questioning what he saw. It is not until sometime later in the day, when Jesus appears before the Apostle’s in the upper room that Peter actually comes to believe in the resurrection.
We are all like either Peter, John or Mary, we can easily see the empty tomb, but are blind to the resurrection. In today’s world, it is easy to do. After all, we live in the tomb as we are inundated day and night with stories and images of violence and poverty to the point it is almost impossible to see the light of God in the midst of the darkness of the world. We can easily list the myriad of things that are just not right with today’s world. Whether it is the growing violence in our neighborhoods that is costing hundreds of young lives each year, or the continuing animosity between Christians and Moslems throughout the world, or our ongoing denigration of the environment in order to sustain what has become an unsustainable way of life, we find ourselves overwhelmed and helpless by these realities and wonder if there is any hope left as we pray for a way out.
On the first Easter morning, Mary, John and Peter ran to the empty tomb, their hearts too were heavy with grief, all they could see or feel were the cold, dark walls of death, despite the evidence of the new life that lay in front of them. They too felt our helplessness, and they too didn’t see any way out of their grief. . . . that was until they turned around and went out into the light and encountered the risen Christ, then all was changed, all became possible.
In 1772, John Newton penned the following words,
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.
He later explained that Amazing Grace is the story of his life. After losing his mother at the age of six, and then being raised by a distant step-mother while his father was at sea, Newton developed into an angry young man. Foul mouthed and insubordinate, Newton spent the early years of his life working short stints on trade ships because his disagreeable personality repeatedly got him fired and/or incarcerated. At the age of 30, he took on the most disagreeable job as the captain of a slave ship. This he did with great passion until he saw the risen Christ. This he says happened while struggling to keep his ship on course during an ocean storm that lasted twelve hours and nearly capsized his boat several times.
Newton’s biographers claim his conversion was gradual, but in time, Newton’s eyes were opened. He came to see his life and slavery as a tomb he had hewn with no escape with the stone firmly sealing the entrance. But in time, Newton came to see what appeared to be hopeless and impossible with God was truly possible. Christ led him out of the slave trade and then gave him the passion and the courage to do the impossible . . . to lead the British Empire towards the abolishment of its imbedded institution of slavery.
You see. . the impossible becomes possible when we make time to look more carefully into the empty tomb and take the time to see the evidence of resurrection as John did when he examine the used burial shroud, or turn to hear the voice of Christ as Mary did. These actions allow us to see, to experience and to know that new life can and does spring forth from the grave.
The challenge of Easter is to not be overwhelmed by an empty tomb but to see the evidence of resurrection lying before us, to trust that with God, all that seems impossible is possible even resurrection and new life from a tomb.