The two angels said to Mary, “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” John 20:11-14
When they ask her why she’s weeping, she says it’s because they’ve taking his body away. Not just because he died, but because now his body is gone too.
We want to hold on to whatever tangible memories we have left when people we love are gone, no matter how trivial they may be. So we cherish the things that they used and touched. Like the worn round wooden cutting board that I remember from my grandmother’s kitchen when I was just a little girl. I still use it at home in my kitchen. Or my father’s cuff links and my mother’s bracelet. I don’t wear either one of them, but I keep them in a special place.
And of course we want to know where our loved ones are buried. To keep that one last physical connection with their presence, as tenuous as it is.
So Mary is there at the tomb on that first day of the week, while it’s still dark, but the tomb is empty. She doesn’t know this is good news. It’s not a sign of Easter joy to her. Instead, it’s grief upon grief, loss after loss. Now she really has nothing left of him.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you … and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:26-28
Many years ago, I stood in a darkened church on the night before Easter and watched as the paschal candle was lighted from the new fire.
I watched as people lit their own little candles from that flame, and then passed it along until the whole church was filled with the glow of that warm light.
I didn’t know anyone there. I’d never been in that church before. I couldn’t even have told you why I was there, exactly. I only knew that for some reason I wanted to be in that place, with those people, on that night, more than anything. Sometimes God’s love just pulls us in that way.
Wearing “Erin go brah” pins to school. The boy soprano who sang “A little bit of heaven fell from out the sky one day” and made the nuns cry. Corned beef and cabbage for dinner. (Potatoes, too, but of course they were on the table every night.) Telling the story of great-grandfather who sailed away from Ireland and left his mother tearful on the dock.
It’s the day when all of us who have a drop of Irish blood in us remember where we came from. I think of the Burns family, and the Phelans and the Careys, who fled starvation in a place they loved, but which had nothing for them, and made something of themselves here in this nation of immigrants.
They left behind family members they would never see again, and brought family members over after they were settled, each new arrival standing on the backs of those who got here first. My great-grandfather Patrick Henry Burns was the head of a household that included a brother from Ireland and a brother-in-law from Germany in addition to his own wife and kids.
The micks joined the Germans and the Virginia planters on other branches on the family tree, chain migrants all, and I’m proud to say they helped make this nation great.