A few nights ago, I had the most intense dream of my grandmother. We were Christmas shopping at the mall and I could feel her camel-colored coat. I could smell the mix of her signature perfume, the powdery smell of her makeup, and the Binaca she sprayed in her mouth when her throat got dry. I woke up crying that I would not be able to touch her again. Even in my dream, I knew that I could not actually touch her.
As a community, we have never been more aware of not touching people than we are today. Not being able to touch people you love is brutal, especially in a time of trauma.
We are bodies designed to connect with other bodies. This is why physical distancing is so physically taxing.
With all of this in mind, I'm not surprised that one detail of the Easter story that grabbed my attention this year was when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus for the first time and he tells her she cannot hold him for he has not yet fully ascended to heaven. Mary thought Jesus was dead, and then he was not, and still she could not touch him for long, if at all. I know Easter is a joyous occasion but that particular detail seems so bitter sweet, cruel almost. Thinking about it makes my chest heavy and my fingers tingle from the longing. Here is your savior, risen from the dead. Hallelujah, do not hug him.
I can see why in all my years of church I have never heard an Easter sermon highlighting this detail. It puts a damper on the joyous reunion.
Now, it is all I can think about.
This year, those details that someone was here, that someone is here, but no you cannot touch him, have become so real to me. Isn’t that all of us? We can leave notes on sidewalks and wave from the window; we can drive by and honk; we can see evidence of the love and support we have in our communities, but we aren’t allowed to touch it. We cannot physically hold on to one another.
When Easter rolls around, there is often an intellectual argument that repeats itself in progressive Christian circles — do we believe in a bodily resurrection? Is this factual, or a beautiful metaphor? I have always maintained that Christ’s body did physically rise, that one day our bodies would be able to actually touch his body and the bodies of our loved ones already gone. But I never understood why it really mattered. I get it now — I understand why the bodily resurrection of a living God matters so much.
I understand that I too, someone who has never been much for hugging, long for a complete redemption of our physical bodies, of the physical world.
And I understand just a little better the beautiful and impossible paradox of the first Easter. In the midst of grief and tragedy, there was hope. The man who they had believed was the Messiah had risen from the dead.
And yet that hope was not complete. The kingdom of God is here. Our neighborhoods are coming together to encourage each other and give small tokens of hope to each other in cheers, in sidewalk chalk, in sharing essential goods. And also the kingdom of God is not yet. Mary Magdalene cannot yet embrace the man she spent years following. She cannot hold on. We cannot have meals with friends around our actual tables, only on screens. We cannot shake hands with the essential workers when we say thank you. We cannot hold the babies we see growing on our weekly family zoom calls.
I have been thinking a lot about the after lately. What happens when this is all over? Will we be changed? Will we heed the lessons of a global pandemic, realize we are all connected to each other, fight for systems that keep our own selves safe by protecting the most vulnerable among us? Will we fight for a world where we could actually touch the miracle of a savior who died for the world and then rose again? Or will we only ever be able to glimpse it, but not hold on?
This Easter more than ever, I believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. It isn’t enough for me to believe in an Easter world as a metaphor. I want to touch and taste a world where everyone can thrive. I don’t just want to dream of it — just like dreaming of being hugged by my grandmother. I want to live it in my body. I want to hold salvation in my hands. I want to experience a resurrected world. Just like Mary having only a moment with Jesus, I wonder if Easter isn’t about being able to see a new way, but believing in it enough to work toward a glorious day.