The first Easter wasn’t egg hunts and chocolate bunnies and nice suits and dresses. It wasn’t brass quartets and the Hallelujah chorus and lilies. No photos by the flower cross. No “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. The first Easter, no matter which account you read, begins with women, not in shades of pastels, but shades of gray.
When it was still dark, Mary came to the tomb. There’s a strange quality to 5:00 am, when the stars fade and you can begin to see the outline of tree branches against a dark gray sky. There are no colors yet, but if you let your eyes adjust to the light, you can see the edges of things. If you’re awake to see it, you probably don’t want to be. But kept up by insomnia, rumination, or grief, the twilight signals that the sun has not abandoned us. It is the slightest change that heralds the coming dawn.
In the Blanton Museum of Art, there is a painting simply called “Black Painting” by Kerry James Marshall – when you get a chance to see it in person, do. There’s nothing quite like it. The painting at first appears solid black, and being in the modern art hall, that doesn’t seem unusual. But as you get closer and the light begins to hit it just right, you notice that it is a scene painted in many shades of black on black fiberglass, and you can start to see the edges of things.
A bedroom comes into focus, with a figure propped up in a bed. She is Akua Njeri, the pregnant fiancée of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. The painting captures the moments just before Hampton is shot and killed by Chicago police in an early morning raid on December 4, 1969.
Njeri is a gray woman like Mary, awake and troubled, fearful of what the dawn brings. We cannot erase their grief. We cannot celebrate Easter resurrection just yet. Because there is no turning of the tides yet. No colors, no sunlight, no hope, just the edges of things.
After confirmation from two friends that Jesus’ body is not in the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had tenderly laid it, Mary begins to weep, her tears softening the edges and painting her world like a monochromatic watercolor. She doesn’t recognize angels or even the face of Jesus.
People speculate a lot on why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus. These people I guess don’t know what it’s like to see through tears of grief. To be a gray woman. To see only blurred edges. But Jesus recognizes Mary. The risen Christ calls her by name. “Mary.” It cuts through her grief and fears, the grayness and tears, and she cries out “Teacher!” It’s all she can get out in that moment when Christ shows up. And Christ keeps showing up.
Christ shows up to the disciples, locked in a room, isolated in fear.
Christ shows up to Thomas, left out and skeptical of misinformation.
Christ shows up to disciples on a boat, just trying to go back to their essential jobs.
Christ shows up to Peter, desperate to reconnect with his friend.
Christ shows up to disciples on the road, depressed and hopeless.
And Christ shows up to us, isolated, fearful, skeptical, stubborn, touch-starved, desperate, depressed, and hopeless. Christ shows up in our grief to call us by name and remind us that this is the twilight. This is the breaking of day. The sun has not abandoned us.
We don’t have to celebrate with a resounding “Alleluia!” Our cold and broken, barely whispered “hallelujah” is enough.
Christ is risen, risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.
– Anna Strickland, April 12, 2020