Signs of New Life

Signs of new life abound at the retreat center these days: birds chirping, perennials bursting forth from the ground, geese flying over the marsh, and guests slowly returning for overnight retreats. Last weekend, after a long hiatus, my daughter and her cousin romped through the fields once again. Watching them run while breathing the fresh air felt like breathing in new life.

As I sat down to pen this short post, I remembered that I was doing the same thing just a year ago. Then I focused on Holy Saturday, the too-often neglected day of the Easter Triduum. This year, to be honest, I have wanted to skip past the betrayals of Maundy Thursday, the brutal deaths of Good Friday, and the bleak nothingness of Holy Saturday. This caught me off guard, because when I was a pastor, my favorite service of the year was the dark Tenebrae in which we recalled the seven last words of Christ before his death. The starkness of it reminding us that God has endured the worst; that God is ever-present with us in every form of human anguish.

This, in and of itself, is good news.

And at the same time, after this year with its many losses and injustices, I am ready for some laughter, some (figurative and literal) shouts of Alleluia, some dancing and singing and, frankly, a big party with all my friends and family members. I know, we’re not there yet, and my loved ones are scattered across the country anyway. This is another way of saying that I want to run like Mary Magdalene ran after seeing the resurrected Jesus, her beloved friend and teacher, returned to her in a garden. If you remember the story, she was shocked, then exuberant because she had witnessed his execution. “Go and tell the others that I’m alive,” Jesus said, as it reads in my daughter’s Jesus Storybook Bible.

“And so Mary ran and ran, all the way to the city. She had never run so fast or so far in all her life. She felt she could have run forever. She didn’t even feel like her feet touched the ground. . . . And it seemed to her that morning, as she ran, almost as if the whole world had been made anew, almost as if the whole world was singing for joy—the trees, tiny sounds in the grass, the birds, her heart. Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was [God] making even death come untrue?”

I suspect that each of us has a version of this question echoing in our hearts and minds. Something like:

  • Where has God been in our collective trauma?
  • Can we trust one another? Will goodness, truth, and beauty prevail in our life together?
  • Will those who are routinely oppressed ever really flourish in our country?
  • Will we be able to forgive the many communal and personal transgressions of this past year?
  • Will joy prevail over our grief? Will hope overcome our despair?

The Easter story reminds us that death, loss, trauma, disorientation, anxiety, cruelty, injustice, and oppression, though a part of our existence (and more so for some than others), does not ultimately have the last word. It reminds us, too, that LIFE (in all its expression) is a gift that we receive often with great surprise. Our hope for you, our readers and supporters, is that you are caught off-guard, like Mary Magdalene, and filled with joy by the presence of new life in the days and weeks ahead. As Jan Richardson so elegantly puts it in her poem below, we hope that you will find all that you have loved suddenly returned to you. In the place of death, may you hear the many sounds of life calling your name this day.

The Magdalene’s Blessing
For Easter Day

You hardly imagined
standing here,
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.

And now
you do not know
how to abide this hole
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
slams shut
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.

I tell you,
this is not a banishment
from the garden.

This is an invitation,
a choice,
a threshold,
a gate.

This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
have dreamed,
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.

So let the tears come
as anointing,
as consecration,
and then
let them go.

Let this blessing
gather itself around you.

Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.

You will not remember
the words—
they do not matter.

All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).


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