“It Is Not Yet the End”
Rev. Elder Darlene Garner
A great deal of importance was placed on burial in the Jewish religion in ancient times. Ordinary citizens, military personnel, and even criminals had to be properly buried, according to religious law. It was an old Jewish custom to place the dead in the sepulcher, which would remain unsealed for the space of three days, during which period the body was frequently visited by members of the family in the hope that signs of a return to life would be found.
Many men and women had traveled with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Never did any of them imagine when they set out from home to follow the one who embodied their hopes and dreams that their journey would take them to Calvary instead, reluctant witnesses to Jesus’ death.
Matthew tells us that, of all the disciples who had made the trip, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were the ones who were still around when evening came. Only they were present to watch as Joseph of Arimathea, in accordance with Jewish tradition, prepared Jesus’ body for burial, laid him in a tomb, rolled a big stone across the entry, and then went away. They were the sole ones to witness that Jesus’ body had been properly respected, the last ones to mourn publicly for him, and the only ones to keep watch for any signs of life.
The very next day, in spite of the fact that Jesus already had been crucified and died, some of the religious authorities must have been afraid that burial might not be enough to keep him down. They went to Pilate, pleading that he order the tomb to be sealed and the grave secured until the end of the third day. It is interesting that Pilate did not actually issue such an order. Instead, he told the authorities that if they wanted such an unusual thing (actually sealing the tomb) to be done, they would have to do it; and so they did. The religious authorities themselves went to the tomb, sealed it, and posted a guard on loan to them from Pilate to keep watch. And so it was in this way that everything that could be done was done to ensure that the one the authorities had killed would stay dead.
Until preparing this reflection, I confess that I had probably paid too little attention to that which took place on the day after Jesus was crucified and buried. Perhaps because of the deep sadness I always feel on Good Friday and the absolute joy that courses through me on Easter, the fact that a whole day came in between had just never before carried any significance for me. That has now changed.
I think of the times in my own life when someone intentionally put an obstacle in my way that they believed I would never overcome. I think of the occasions when others did everything they could to make sure that my dreams died, never to rise again, and when people just gave up on me. I even think of the moments when I was the one with the power and sealed another’s fate. I also think of when I’ve been in what I call the “in-between times.” This is what I call the period between the time when one door closes and another one opens or the time after “what was” and before “what’s next.” Regardless of the surrounding circumstances or anyone’s intention, the impact of all these kinds of situations is often an emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual death experienced as struggle, suffering, and conflict.
The good news of this Gospel is that even when it seems as though the circumstances are killing us, we do not have to die. I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The hotel owner Sonny says to his disappointed British guests: “In India, we have a saying: ‘Everything will be alright in the end.’ So if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.” Outward appearances are often deceiving. Sometimes it does get worse before it gets better. Do not give up too soon.
One of my favorite life coaches is Iyanla Vanzant. When writing about where God is when someone has seemingly sealed our fate or when we are in those in-between times, she offers these words of wisdom:
I once read that struggle, suffering, and conflict are like magnets that draw us closer to God. It is not until we feel totally helpless, confused, sometimes desperate, that we become willing or able to turn to the awesome power of life and living our Creator offers us. We may know God exists. We may understand our connection to God. Yet it seems that it is not until we are down or on the way down that we invite God’s presence and power into our life. It doesn’t have to be this way. God not only offers emergency care, S/He is a source of preventive care.
Your Creator always wants the best for you. Your Creator has a mission, plan, and purpose designed just for you. Sometimes when things are going our way, when they are comfortable or easy, we forget about God. We get off track, out of line; we move away from the plan, mission, and purpose. Difficulties in life are not meant to break us or break us down. Our greatest challenge may be a simple reminder, the only way we will remember that there is a Higher Authority to whom we are accountable. The real challenge we face is to keep God, God’s word, and God’s way in the forefront of our mind — in good times as well as bad.
From Faith in the Valley: Lessons for Women on the Journey to Peace
by Iyanla Vanzant
Our challenge this day is to enter into a state of acceptance — to know that all is well, even when we do not see or understand how it will turn out. God’s compassions never fail and are new every morning. Even when we are behind sealed tombs, we can trust that God is up to something good.