An Easter Message from the Chaplain
Some years ago now, I was lucky enough to visit the Convent of San Marco in Florence. The monks’ cells were spare and small, but within each one was a fresco, a different one in each cell, depicting an event in the life of Christ. They were created by the great Renaissance painter Fra Angelico, and it was a delight to go from cell to cell, exploring these exquisite paintings.
One of my favourites was “Christ the gardener”. It depicts Mary Magdalene on that first Easter morning, outside Jesus’ empty tomb. Mary cannot see through her tears, and her mind is full of questions about where the body of Jesus has been taken. She assumes the man near her is the gardener – notice Fra Angelico has drawn Jesus holding a hoe – and she says to him: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away!” But then Jesus says her name, “Mary”, and in that moment everything changes. I like to think that this is the very moment that Fra Angelico has portrayed in this fresco, with the hands of Mary and Jesus moving towards each other in recognition.
“ . . . A sound behind her stirs
A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.
She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,
Or recognise the Gardener standing there.
She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,
Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light
that brightens as she chokes out her reply
‘They took my love away, my day is night’.
And then she hears her name, she hears Love say
the Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.”
(from Malcolm Guite’s poem, Sonnet for Easter Dawn)
This is the story of the day when Mary Magdalene claimed her place in Christian history, as the first one to see the risen Jesus. She is the first apostle! The first to utter the astounding words, “I have seen the Lord!” It is also a story of Jesus doing what Jesus continues to do today: speaking to us in such a way that we know, deep in our hearts, that we are noticed, remembered, loved by the Lord of life . . . and that there is life beyond death.
Christ’s resurrection has not taken away death; it has not put a stop to all the ways that humans disfigure each other, but it is the strongest sign we have, that death and disfigurement are not the end of the human story. War, atrocity, personal tragedy, environmental destruction: the Christian hope, based on the resurrection of Jesus, is that these will not have the last word. When Jesus speaks to Mary in her bewilderment and despair we are given a glimpse of God’s commitment to us, the reality and power of the divine Love. So it is that every Easter, every Sunday, every day of our lives, God invites us to turn in hope towards the one who promises to “turn our night to Day.”
I wish you every blessing as we approach the Easter Season. My prayers during Holy Week will be especially for those who are living with grief or pain.