I had forgotten my song

Liz Stuart, 4 April 2021

Isaiah 25: 6–9: Acts 10: 34–43; John 20: 1–18

I had forgotten my song. It was the first morning when it had not come. Normally, the first flake of light ignites the melody which explodes from my lungs. But not that Sabbath morning. I chose to live my life in the confines of that place. It was quiet, outside the city, relatively safe, enough to eat. At least the Romans, who will eat anything that moves, gave it a wide berth. It’s a sad place, of course. I sometimes think it’s a garden watered by tears. All of us tried to sing a little comfort to those who came to the graves. The gardener is kind. She talked to us in whistles and we kept her company while she worked.

I heard them coming before I saw them. Yitgaddal veyitqaddash shmeh rabba. They were singing the Kaddish, the mourners’ prayer, as they laid him in the tomb. It looked like any other burial. But it didn’t feel like it. As the sun set, it felt like all life was being drained from the world through that tomb. As the stone was rolled over the entrance it was as if darkness had doused all light. I felt it, I felt it in my bones: entropy, chaos, nothingness.

The next morning the sun rose as normal, but my song didn’t. I had forgotten my song. There was silence. Death hung in the air, sucking all the joy, all the colour, all the feeling, all the breath. I dragged myself into a bush and waited for life to leave me.

It was the rumbling that roused me. Deep within the earth, deep within the clouds, deep within my body, the rumbling of what? Of battle? Of birth? Of breakthrough? I ventured out of the bush. I couldn’t see clearly … there was not dust exactly, but the air was filled with life come apart – atoms, particles, cells and molecules – the speckles and crumbs of life that you do not normally see teemed through the air, and in that moment as the rumble burst into an explosion, I felt myself coming apart, being turned inside out. This place of the dead, usually so silent, was suddenly full of noise and life. Through the haze of particles separating and reconfiguring, I thought I saw figures emerging from tombs dancing and singing, stones raging life, flowers laughing, blades of grass proclaiming alleluia.

A woman arrived amid all this. Like me she could not see straight amid all this making and remaking, that blazing, spirit-full life and light. Like her, I thought it was the gardener she was talking to, but when he spoke her name she knew exactly who it was. I watched them talking; something about them reminded me of the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden, and suddenly I realised what was happening in this garden was a new creation. Out of the nothingness of death a new life was being born – a life so much bigger than the cleaving of two individuals, a life defined not by sin but by grace. That tomb, which the day before had appeared as a black hole sucking away life, was now the womb from which a new reality was being born. Here humanity turned in upon itself by sin was being turned inside out towards God.

Eventually the dust settled and at one level everything seemed to return to normal, but only on the surface. I could see that though those tombs were closed, they were really open; though their occupants seemed dead, they were really alive. I could see that this place of stony absence was actually pulsating with presence. Looking down from the tree tops I could see that violence, hate and injustice still raged that day as they had the day before, but now I saw that this was not the ire of victors but the desperate lashing out of those who know they are defeated. And I found a new song burst from my lungs: a song of resurrection.

We don’t live long. My body soon wore out and one day I found myself plummeting to the ground. But I didn’t hit icy absence, but rather soared through that now familiar dust-cloud into glorious, tender, merciful, healing presence, where a new day dawns and a new song bursts forth. I will meet you there, in the garden of resurrection.