and to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” (Little Gidding, T S Eliot)
At the Easter Vigil, Christ is proclaimed as the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. It is Christ who is the human face of the creator God, who heals our memories, forgives our sins and raises us from death to new life.
Today we begin our story at the end. There is perhaps no clearer image of an ending than a tomb. Mary of Magdala arrives to pay her respects and to spend time with her personal grief. The life story of Jesus is at an end and the shared experiences of the disciples now seemed to be in the past. All they were left with was their loss, their sadness and their memories.
And yet, on that morning of the first day of the week, nothing was as expected. Mary is confronted by a stone rolled away and a tomb that was empty. The body of Jesus was no longer there. She runs to tell the others, not filled with a sense of joy, but shocked and distraught. As far as she knew, his body had been taken away.
In the same way, Peter and the other disciple are confronted by a puzzling scene. We are told that only Simon Peter went into the tomb and there found the grave clothes. The cloth that had been placed around the head of Jesus was not just dumped on the ground, but we are told that it was rolled up in a place by itself. Of itself, there is nothing about this scene that might have convinced the disciples that Jesus was risen. Even so, John’s gospel tells us:
“Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
Something about that scene stirred their memories and brought home to them what Jesus had taught them. Somehow in that moment that same teaching seemed to fit with the stories they had heard related to them through Scripture: the story of our salvation.
This was a turning point and a new beginning. Throughout these days of Easter we hear stories of how various different people become aware of the presence of the risen Lord. In every case it was unexpected and it marked a new beginning, both in their way of seeing things and in their way of living.
So where do we begin with our own story? It seems that in various ways we begin with an ending. A lot of things have seemed to come to an end over this past twelve months. All too many have died and many people are left mourning their loss. Even without the experience of physical death, there have been other kinds of endings: jobs lost, opportunities that have had to be laid to rest and plans that have not come to fruition. Some things may never come back and some changes may be lasting ones.
Easter does not bring some kind of fairy-tale happy ending, but it does hold out the prospect of a new beginning. The first disciples would carry with them their story of grief and loss, mingled with memories of their own failure and sinfulness. But life was no longer the same. The Lord had risen and was breathing new life into the sad stories of his disciples. No longer were they prisoners of the past, wallowing in grief and in guilt. Jesus was with them and was calling them to follow him into a future of hope and of lasting joy.
This is not just a story of events long ago, because it is our story too. Wherever there are endings, the risen life of Christ brings new beginnings. All time belongs to him and nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the words of T S Eliot again:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time.”
The disciples began again where they started, but this time they knew and understood, they saw and they believed. This, my brothers and sisters, is a journey of discovery on which we are called to follow in the way of Jesus. Happy Easter!