Walk in Beauty

John 20:1-18

Walk in beauty.

I heard that phrase this week,
and have been wondering what it means.

How do we walk in beauty?

Most importantly:
How do we walk in beauty
when we feel like giving up?

I have been thinking about this painting
this week.

Do you know what it is of?

It’s a painting by a former spiritual
director I had when I lived in the Catskills,
she lived way up in the mountains.

She painted a scene called, “Moss Light,”
and it depicts the sun dappling on the moss,
streaming through the pines.

I keep it hung behind my desk
to remind me of my spiritual journey.

It reminds of the first time that
I began seriously hiking seven years ago.
My partner Matt
worked weekends so
we joined a group that hiked at night,
scaling peaks with only
our headlamps, the moon
and the stars to guide our path.

It started as fun,
as we scampered up and down,
but soon turned challenging,
when the weather turned,
and snow filled the paths
and the cold air blew at our cheeks.

We were attempting to climb
the high peaks of the Catskills at night
and after one particularly difficult climb,
which took hours,
leaving us frigid,
ravenous,
broken and exhausted,
we turned to each other and said, very honestly,
Maybe it is time to give up.
Maybe this is more than we can do.

Days like this one – sunlight and lovely, felt miles,
if not lightyears away.

And so we did in fact give up,
we gave up the idea that
this was something
we could achieve.
We gave up the idea about what was possible.
Still,
we resigned ourselves
to putting one foot in front of the other
if only to see what would come.

Walk in beauty?

How do you walk in beauty
when you feel
so very empty inside?

I have been contemplating that question
in regards to Mary of Magdala.
I am astounded by her story
and her boldness.

She too knows what it is
to feel a hole in her heart.

We read today that:
While it is still bleak,
Mary stumbles out of her house,
perhaps bearing a candle.
She strains to make out
the shadows dancing
at the edge of her vision.

In the half-lit morning hour,
Mary lingers,
unsure for a moment of her path.
Her morning begins in bleakness. In loss.
In bewilderment. In fear.

She had been so rock solid
in her certainty
about what to do.

It’s true,
she had been lost before,
but when she met Jesus,
something had felt different.
As she listened to his words,
something caught fire
in her soul.

And now he was gone.
And with him,
her hopes that maybe
something could be different.

Now here she was,
awake whether she wanted to be or not,
trying to find her
to his graveside,
so at least she could say the words
that persist in her heart.

She dances her way forward,
around that shadow,
and past that tree,
over that divot,
and around that ditch,
until at last,
she finds her way
to the gardens.
where Jesus’ grave lay.
It had only been days,
but still the memory
of its location is blazed
like a hot iron on her heart.

She presses forward toward it,
as the truth flickers in her heart,
the truth of disappointment and deep grief.
She tries to push it away
but she cannot keep the hot press of tears
from brimming her eyes and
cascading down her cheek.

This is not how it was supposed to end.

As she approaches
Mary is shocked:
the stone has been moved away,
and Jesus’ body has been removed.
Could they not afford her this one, last dignity?

Fleeing,
she finds Peter and another disciple,
crying out,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,
and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Racing,
they fly back to the scene,
seeing that everything Mary said is true:
the stone was moved
and the body is gone.

Disturbed and deliberating
they return home in a fog.

Yet, Mary,
Mary loiters in the garden.
Mary is teaching us something about
remaining in beauty,
walking in beauty,
even when life is hard.

All she has is her shattered, weary heart,
and she offers it,
even when she is devoid of inspiration,
clarity and energy.

I have been captivated this week
by how Mary remains.
There is a power and prophetic quality
to her witness in the bleakness.
We should make more of those who remain,
those who show up
when they don’t feel particularly inspired,
those who continue on
when what they really want is nap,
those who press on
even when it doesn’t feel true
that things will get better.
Easter begins with stories such as these.

Yet it occurs to me that,
even when people did give up,
even when Peter doesn’t get it and flees the scene,
the Risen Christ doesn’t give up on them.

I try to image what it was like for Jesus.
Jesus has spent years preparing the disciples
for this moment,
and still they are befuddled.
The Risen Christ rises not to
trumpet serenades and
pomp and circumstance.
Rather, Christ rises to
reality that the disciples still don’t get.
Christ rises, plodding forward, showing up,
finding each disciple
until they know the truth.
The miracle of Easter is that Jesus abides, always,
even in the moments we give up
on ourselves,
on each other,
on the world.

A pastor told me, this week,
that they were wondering
how they could tell the Easter story
in a way that people would really get it.

I replied,
Does it matter?
Jesus tells the story over and over again
in the Scriptures
and people still don’t get it.
Yet,
Jesus persists.
One time,
Jesus heals ten lepers
and only one comes back
to say thank you.
Another time,
Jesus tells us to forgive 7 x 70 times
because Jesus knows that’s how many times
it takes to get it right.
Sometimes, I continued,
faith is about the long journey.
We trust the grace of knowing that
even if our words are insufficient,
even if it takes hours, or days, or weeks, or decades,
Good News will come. Easter will come.
Easter is not just one day but rather is fifty,
because we need that long
for the truth to sink in.
We can’t conjure or create newness on our own,
and yet,
it always comes to find us
and call us by name.

Like it does for Mary,
who lingers among the flowers,
offering all she has,
which is her own crumpled, tissue-paper heart.

And there, as she walks in beauty,
she sees someone …

Why are you crying? They ask.

Where is Jesus??? she replies.

Then she hears her own name called out:
Mary. Mary. Mary.

She has been found, at last.
How long had it taken?
Minutes? Days? Decades?
It is hard to know
as tears continue
to run down her face …
as love, as grace, as glory,
pour into each thirsty
canyon of her soul.

Christ is risen.
She is risen.

It strikes me that theologian Chris Barnes
points out that the question of Easter is not …
Do you believe in the doctrine of the resurrection?
Frankly, he says, that is not particularly hard.
Rather, the Gospel story asks,
“Have you encountered the Risen Christ?”

Have you encounter the Risen Christ?

It’s a question that begs the truth from each of us.

I think of my own life –
How there are moments when I have given up,
but the Living God has never given up on me.

I think of the season
that I gave up on the mountains
and the possibilities.

Still,
Matt and I remained in the midst of our unbelief –
we walked through the night,
we pushed through the snow.
Some mountains didn’t have trails
so we bushwhacked through brush
and squeezed ourselves through
thick thickets of pine trees.
And then one day,
I don’t remember when,
winter naturally turned to spring,
and our friends guided our path
when we didn’t know the way.
On one such hike,
a friend was leading us up
an unmarked mountain
in a wild corner of the world.
Suddenly,
I stumbled upon an endless hillside of wild flowers –
There in the woods, before the leaves had peaked out,
flowers resolutely and resiliently blossomed.
Low to the ground,
the blooms spilled out
in brilliant whites and purples,
spreading over the ground like a carpet,
as the sun danced and greeted us through the trees.

The splendor,
the surprise,
the liveliness
gushed into all the forgotten crevices
of my aching body and soul.
I looked out in awe,
I had lost hope,
but the flowers had not,
my friends had not,
the sun had not,
spring had not.
They had remained as witness
to the freshness that comes
even to those who lose heart.

They stood as vanguards,
resolute in their proclamation
new life comes!

Christ is risen!
I am risen?

These days,
I am learning to abide
where I am
when it is hard
and when it is a pleasure.
I used to be afraid, like Peter, of remaining.
After all,
what good is a weary heart,
a cracked heart,
a broken heart,
a fearful heart,
a messed-up heart?
What gifts can we possible offer in
challenging moments?
Yet, the Easter story teaches me
that when we linger in the cracked place
with one another,
together we find tender shoots of wildflowers
blooming in our midst.

After all,
a cracked heart is a loving heart is a real heart
is a gracious heart is a healing heart
is a caring heart is a resurrected heart
is a blooming heart is a beautiful heart.

Even in the bleakness,
beauty comes.
It beckons us to give ourselves to the journey,
to open, to love, to receive, to perceive,
to give what we have
because it is enough.

Christ is risen!
You are risen!

Do you see?
Do you see the tendrils sprouting?

As I think about that question,
I ponder a story I heard this week about
a nursery school teacher.
Every year,
come the first day of spring,
she takes her kids out and they look
signs of spring:
They look for buds on the trees,
flowers, robins, etc.
Some years it is easier to see than others.
Some years there is still snow on the ground.
Yet, every year,
no matter what,
they are able to find something,
even if it small, to say spring is here.

Easter invites us to do the same.
Start looking for signs of growth.
Look around. Look inside your heart.

Inspiration is not required.
Having it together is not required.
For, still,
spring comes.
For still,
a tender seed shoots
tendrils up through ground.

Look around in the twilight hours.
Linger longer than is really reasonable.
Loiter in the garden.
Plod on even when it doesn’t feel glorious,
because this too is an Easter miracle.

For this is what it means to walk in beauty.
Even if you do not yet see it,
freshness comes.

Amen.

One thought on “Walk in Beauty

  1. As another pastor who has annually asked the question of how to preach on this particular Sunday and have people “get it”, I love your response – “Does it matter?” Of course the answer is both Yes and No. But what you say about how people didn’t get much of what Jesus did – so why would we get the resurrection? I’m sure this sermon will help many walk in beauty. Thanks.

    Michael Crane

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