This way of greeting each other on Easter Sunday is very common amongst many Christians, particularly in the East. It is a wonderful way of greeting each other, which expresses a mixture of joy, marvel and relief.
It is not easy to believe in the resurrection. The gospel proclaimed during the Easter Vigil tells us that, when Mary of Magdala arrived at the tomb and saw it open and empty, she did not jump for joy yelling “Yes, he is risen!” Rather, she ran to Peter, the head of the group, and told him, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they put him”. An empty tomb is no good news!
Yet, somehow, the first community believed. They remembered what he had said about rising again after three days. Until now they were all afraid, disappointed, and without hope. They had had great hopes in Jesus of Nazareth. They had listened to his teaching, which had the backing of a certain authority which the teachings of their other leaders did not have. They had seen him perform miracles. Now he was dead. He was brutally taken away from them. And with him, they were also unceremoniously robbed of all their hopes. They were also overtaken by disillusion. They had left everything to follow someone who did not live up to his promises.
Early Sunday morning Mark tells us that the women went to the tomb with “spices with which to anoint him.” The silence present behind that huge rock that was rolled in front of the tomb spoke of death, hopelessness, finality. Recalling the story of the resuscitation of Lazarus, we remember that, while Lazarus was very sick, his sisters hoped that Jesus would come and heal him. Once he was dead, there was no more hope. “He’s been dead four days, and has started smelling!” In a tomb hope is dead and sealed off forever. Like what most of us do following the death of a loved one, the women of today's gospel went to visit the tomb of the one they loved. Not to bring him back to life, of course, but because somehow, being there keeps the connectedness and eases the pain. Once there, all they find is an empty tomb. “He is not here,” the angel tells them. He is risen, and the tomb is not the place for the living. What they found was beyond all their expectations. Never would they have dared dream or hope of such a thing. And yet, it was real. It did happen. And they were commissioned to take this message to the disciples and Peter: they are to meet him back in Galilee, in their normal, everyday lives.
All this takes on a special meaning during this year’s celebrations. For the second time in a row, we are celebrating Easter overshadowed by a pandemic. Some of us have been through the virus-experience themselves. Some have lost jobs. Others have lost loved ones. All of us have been through moments of hopelessness, of not being able to see the end of it all.
In the midst of all this we are celebrating Easter. No one and nothing, not even a virus or lockdowns can rob us of this. The resurrection speaks of hope triumphing in the face of despair. Unexpectedly and inexplicably the rock has given way for the new life to come out of the dark, cold tomb.
May this be the experience of each one of us, followers of the risen Master. In our moments of darkness let us remember that Easter greeting, as unlikely as it may seem. Christ is risen … he is risen indeed.