On Easter Sunday, old wallets, and moving forward
Updated: May 21
I'm not entirely sure how, but after the death of my mother I ended up in possession of her wallet. It is of black leather, and filled with the trappings of her life from the period: credit cards (including – my favourite – one from Central Hardware with a drawing of a man who looks a lot like Lyndon Baines Johnson, with the great slogan “From scoops to nuts” written on the back); shopping lists; a driving licence; photographs of my family, my Aunt Mary Kay, and my cousins Sherry and Nancy; cards for doctor's appointments, a voter's registration card, and $1.73 cents in change. Full disclosure: it used to have $1.75 cents in it, but sometime back in 1981 I took two 1966 pennies out of it to put in my Bass Weejun loafers. You know I love stories, and the wallet tells the story of an ordinary young woman in Middle America in the early 1970s. A wife. A mother. A teacher. A library card holder. A Democrat. (Thank God!) It does not tell an extraordinary story, perhaps, but certainly hints at one, if one looks close enough.
And I have certainly looked, that's for sure. As a child, as memories of my mother grew mirkier, I got out that wallet a great deal, enjoyed seeing little pieces of her life, revelled in touching cards and coins that I knew she had put there with her own hands. And if in those early years I allowed myself to wallow in a bit of subjunctive history (“What if she hadn't died”) I no longer do. For two reasons, I'd say: firstly, she's still a part of me, isn't she? The stories, the lessons, the love: they've not gone away. Although death changed them, they're not gone. And secondly, as I grow older, I realise the importance of not constantly looking back. Oh, I remember the stories, the lessons, the love – don't get me wrong – but I know that I've been a part of them so that I can move forward. Strengthened by their power behind me it's as if a giant light is being shone ahead: and there – there – is where I need to go. And it's ahead of me. So I must just keep moving forward. And an amazing thing happens: there in front of me, I am finding more stories, more lessons, more love. There's an awful lot of joy to be found in moving forward.
Each year at Easter it seems a different image in the Gospels leaps out at me. There's so much there, such fantastic detail - why I could reflect for hours on that cloth not being tossed aside but rolled up neatly. And this year, the image that keeps coming back to me is that of Mary Magdalene – that Apostle to the Apostles – wanting to hold on to Jesus. Of course she would want to hold on. I mean, the most important person in her life, whom she thought was gone for ever, was standing in front of her. Who wouldn't want to hold on? Who wouldn't want to feel the sheer bliss of connection once again?
But Jesus tells her not to hold on. If this seems contrary to human nature, we need to ask ourselves what was Jesus' point in saying this to Mary. And I think that it's encouragement for Mary not to wallow in a bit of subjunctive history (“It's as if he hadn't died!”) and look forward to what life in Jesus will become for her. Because Jesus is still a part of her, isn't he? The stories, the lessons, the love: they've not gone away. Although death changed them, they're not gone. And Jesus is telling Mary that he's been a part of her life so that she can move forward. Strengthened by his power behind her it's as if a giant light is being shone ahead: and there – there – is where she needs to go. And it's ahead of her. So she must just keep moving forward. There's an awful lot of joy to be found in moving forward.
The risen Jesus standing before Mary is not the Jesus who will stay forever. She can't hold on to him. The permanent presence of Christ will be through the Spirit whom Jesus and the Father will send. And that Spirit is only received by moving forward. There's an awful lot of joy to be found in moving forward.
This Easter, perhaps more then any other in my life, I have to admit to wanting to look back. I want to look back when there wasn't a pandemic and mass sickness and death. I want to look back to the time when people met for coffee and chats; when extended family and friends got together for dinners and parties; when one could find flour; and, of course, when one could go into a church and pray. As the newness of this period begins to wear off, perhaps it's normal, this looking back.
But Jesus would have us look forward. Bolstered by his stories, his lessons, his love, we are being challenged in what is perhaps unprecedented ways be open to where the Spirit is leading us in the midst of these difficult times. Now – I can't lie to you – I hope the Spirit leads me back into two Medieval churches, with glorious organ music, a bit of incense now and then, and coffee and biscuits at the end of it. I really hope that.
But if not? Well, if the Resurrection of Jesus teaches us anything it's that he's still a part of of us, isn't he? The stories, the lessons, the love: they've not gone away. And Jesus is telling is telling us that he's a part of our lives so that we can move forward in the Spirit. So we must just keep moving forward. There's an awful lot of joy to be found in moving forward.
Every year since I was ordained a deacon a shocking 27 and a half years ago, I have sung the sublime and ancient hymn The Exultet on Holy Saturday night. Sometimes I was singing it as a celebrant or cantor, and sometimes I just sang it on my own. Last night was no different. I must admit that I kicked around the idea of sneaking over to St George Colegate and singing it in there by the brightness of the street light that always illuminates the southeast corner of the church. But I didn't, as I am obedient. (I can also be terribly unlucky, and thought that with my luck I would set off the alarm and get nailed red-handed, or red-throated, I guess I could say.) No, I sang it sitting at my desk, in one of whose cubby holes rests my mother's wallet. There is a line that always chokes me up, a bit of subjunctive wallowing, really: What good would life have been for us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer. It gets me every time.
But then I thought: Christ did come as our Redeemer. Alleluia! And he is still a part of us. Alleluia! And we still have his stories, his lessons, his love. Alleluia! And then I imagined you all. I admit I saw you where you sit in church, and imagined the other people who are worshiping with us online who haven't been to our churches wedged in between you. There was plenty of room. Well, less in the back, of course. Anyway – Alleluia! And I thought how wonderful that we're not alone in this risky business of following where the Spirit would lead us. Alleluia! And I know, because we're all connected in the Resurrected Lord, that we're going to keep moving forward. Alleluia! Together. Alleluia! Because there's an awful lot of joy to be found in moving forward. Amen. Alleluia!