The surface of Mars is barren, lifeless, covered in dark red sand and rocks of various sizes. Periodically dust devils and even huge dust storms race across the surface scouring it and blocking out the sun’s light for hours, days, even months. Impact from meteorites create craters that reveal older material from ages past at the bottom.
We know this because for 14 years, two mobile units, Spirit and Opportunity traveled millions of miles from earth to land on the planet and document all that they could see and explore. The engineers, scientists and operators who built, programmed and operated them became deeply attached to Spirit and Oppy. They speak of them as a parent might speak of their child.
As Oppy was failing near the end of its time, they decided to use precious battery life and Oppy’s arthritic arm to turn the cameras away from the planet in order to take 17 precious photos that pieced together formed a “selfie” of the robot. They just wanted to see Oppy one last time. And when they ultimately realized that Oppy would no longer wake up, they grieved.
It is our nature to love. Even practical engineers and rational scientists are moved to love their plucky little Mars rover. It is our nature to value life. The mission which sent these explorers to Mars was to look for signs of neutral water, which would indicate the possibility that life had once existed somewhere else in our planetary system.
It is our nature to hope. The rover’s life expectancy was 90 Mars days. Ultimately Opportunity lasted for over 5,000 days and traveled further than they could have imagined. And, in its last months, Oppy did find signs that there may have been neutral water at some point on Mars, a tantalizing glimpse into a past that we don’t yet understand but can begin to imagine. When Oppy stopped responding in the midst of a horrific dust storm that lasted months, the team kept vigil, watching and waiting, trying desperately to re-establish communication.
“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”
It was the darkest and coldest time of the day, in that grey, colorless time before the sun rises. It was in the quiet after the drama of the trial, the jeering crowds, the sneering authorities and the agonizing death. No birdsong. No one else awake. Just these two heartbroken, desolate women who came to be near the one who was sealed behind the rock of a tomb in the silence of death.
We’ve seen these women before. Since that time, we’ve seen countless others in similar circumstances. They are the ones who are exiled from home, wandering in foreign lands due to the oppression of powerful nations and the violence of war and occupation. They are the ones weeping over the dead bodies of their babies killed by malnutrition, disease and catastrophe. They are the thousands who keep vigil in the aftermath of gun violence, brutality by authorities and early death due to poverty, overdose and neglect.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came in grief, devastated, leaning on one another, as they approached the final resting place of the one they loved, of the one who had loved them unlike any other. They came expecting to find the remains of brutal execution and the end of their dreams. They were looking for a burial, an enclosed and lifeless tomb, a final end.
Suddenly there is movement, light and sound. Confusion, fear, paralysis. In the midst of this cacophony comes the reassurance. “Be not afraid.” The grave is empty. This place of desolation is not where you will find Jesus. He is found on the way. So go. He is ahead of you. The journey is not over. Death doesn’t have the final word.
They have a new mission. The mission to proclaim first to his disciples and then to the world that Christ is alive and that light and life and love have triumphed.
It is in the nature of the Mary’s to love, because they have known the love of God in Jesus. It is their nature to hope because they have been seized by the wild and joyous news of the triumph of life over death.
When the cameras from Mars turn back towards Earth, we see the swirl of white clouds, the deep blue of the seas, the fertile brown of the soil and the green of living things. Water has made the difference. Water in the polar ice caps and glaciers on the mountain tops. Water in the depth of the seas and in the flowing rivers and streams. Water as rain, snow, hail and fog. Water in the bodies of living creatures. Water in the womb as life is nurtured.
And life in the waters of new birth at baptism. In this water God brings life in the Spirit, life eternal. With this water we proclaim God’s love for all of creation and particularly for this child who was born in love, lives in love and will be carried by love all her days. Through the waters we are delivered from the barrenness and lifelessness of devastation into a lasting hope. We are given the strength and courage to leave the tomb and to run with joy to proclaim the triumph of life, love and hope.
God promises to a devastated people, exiled, oppressed and burdened through the prophet Jeremiah that they will find grace in the wilderness of their dry and barren existence. Those who are seeking rest will have God come to them. You will be loved with an everlasting love. God will continue to be with you in faithfulness. You will dance again. You will plant again. You will enjoy fruitfulness again. You will return to God and God will dwell with you and you will always be God’s beloved.
The Mary’s fulfilled their mission. They told the disciples and all who would listen about the love of God in Jesus. Those disciples told others and through the centuries the news of God’s life, love and hope has continued to make this barren wilderness a paradise.
Today we affirm our own faith, hope and love as we welcome Julian into the ongoing story of God’s grace and mercy. We hear the assuring words, “Don’t be afraid.” We answer the call leave the tomb and run into the world with the joyous news.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!