It is now the blessed and most glorious season of Easter. For the next 50 days until the Feast of Pentecost, we will rejoice and sing of the Event of all Events, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after being murdered by crucifixion by those he came to save. We celebrate his great sacrifice for us, our souls, our eventual salvation, and his creation of the possibility that we might share with him in everlasting life.
Of course, and this goes without saying, this Easter is a little bit different. We still heartily rejoice in the beauty of the Easter season but now there is a darker cloud which hangs above us during this time.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Faith Robinson on Good Friday, March 29, 2013. I cannot help but glance back in time at the winding history of this heroic family and am in awe of the many tragic things with which they have had to deal over a relatively short period of time. When I return my thoughts to the present and see this family, now in a period of unimaginable grief, I find nothing but inspiration; to see this remarkable Robinson family with smiles and courage is nothing short of extraordinary and incredibly beautiful. In this instance, this moment in time, what this family has lost, they have also found: Faith.
One of my favorite devotions during the time of Lent is the Stations of the Cross during which we walk with Jesus during his final hours as we stop, meditate, and grow closer to Our Lord by making each of the 14 stations which begin with his being condemned to die by Pontius Pilate and continue through his being laid in the tomb; some versions of the devotion include a 15th station: The Resurrection. Whenever I lead this devotion with a group of the faithful or my brother seminarians, I always encourage the people to take a moment before beginning and consider who it is to whom they best relate; Are they Simon of Cyrene, walking with someone carrying a heavy burden? Are they Mary, watching someone they love suffer and not knowing what to do about it? Are they the Women of Jerusalem, needing rebuke from Jesus? Are they Veronica, charged with caring, in a special way, for someone experiencing difficulty? Or are they Jesus, carrying a burden of unimaginable weight while the world seems to stand idly by?
The answer to this question of “Who am I in the stations?” is perhaps not a particular name…but a simple “Yes.”
We are all of these characters at one point or another. We are charged by God to love our neighbors, to help them in their time of need, and to walk with them and help the carry their crosses while we must struggle and deal with the things that, in their own ways, plague us in unimaginable ways.
The most solemn station is number 12, when Jesus dies. But, for me, the most moving station is the one that follows: Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross. This station is not one of defeat; it is not a helpless man being taken away from something that conquered him. Rather, it is a station of hope and of promise because if we really believe the things that Jesus has said and told us and made clear through miracles and promise, then we know that it was not meant that the Cross would be his last stop; indeed, it was only the beginning.
As I reflected on the passing of Faith Robinson over the course of Good Friday and through the Easter holiday and even into today, this most moving Station 13 comes to mind. Those that knew Faith (and there are many, many who did) know that she suffered for so long and in so many ways with cancer. I’m sure these moments existed, since surely they come around in each of our lives, but as long as I’ve known Faith, her brother William, or her mother Crystal, I’ve never heard of a time when this cancerous Cross got her down to the point of despair, to the point of failing to see the goodness in others around her or in life itself. It may seem that she was conquered by her disease and that she did not beat in the same way it seemed that Jesus was conquered by the Cross and sin and death and could not beat these incredible forces. Let us never forget that Faith was, and is, a young woman of hope who knew that she would not remain forever on the cross and that this cross, unbearable at times, was not her final destination; indeed, it was only the beginning of a journey which would bring her home.
Today’s gospel reading is from the Gospel of John and it is surely a good one for some reflection. The full text for today is John 20:11-18, but I draw your attention to John 20:14-following. Let me set the scene:
Mary Magdalene has gone back to the tomb of Jesus to find two angels sitting there who ask why she is weeping. Mary believes that the body of Jesus has been stolen and hidden. We continue (John 20:14):
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Can you imagine being in the shoes of Mary Magdalene at this moment? You, who stood at the foot of the Cross and watched Jesus die, are incredibly emotional thinking that someone has stolen the body of your friend, savior, and king. Perhaps it was overwhelming emotion that fogged Mary’s recognition ability, or maybe it was something deeper. There are always times in our lives when we encounter Christ but are unable to recognize that it is truly him. Just like he didn’t give up on Mary when she failed to recognize him, neither does Jesus give up on us when this happens.
In the life of Faith, I’m sure there were many times when Jesus was present in doctors, family members, and friends. Perhaps she didn’t always see him in these people but you can rest well tonight knowing that the people who knew her best, only a little, or not at all were able to always see Jesus in her. Jesus was working through those people – those doctors and family and friends – so that Faith might have comfort, peace, and hope. But Jesus was working through Faith, despite our sometimes lacking ability to recognize him, to give US joy, and peace, and love, and COURAGE!
The gospel passage continues to tell of Jesus saying one thing to his friend: “Mary.” As soon as she heard her name from the king of Kings, she knew that it was him. In the final moments of her adventure of earth, it is possible that Faith had an experience similar to this. Like Mary, Faith believed the things that Jesus Christ had promised her; that his death was not the end and one day – some how, some where, some way, he would come back in all his glory…for her. We may not have seen him, but Jesus was there with Faith at the final moments and, when he called her name, she turned and went with her Lord and her God who had promised her the whole world.
And so in this moment of sadness and pain, let us see the light. Let us remember that we Christians are not people of sadness or despair, but we are “Easter People!” We are people of the Resurrection, longing for the promises of Christ to be fulfilled…we long for his Truth and his Light to guide our steps and light our way on this adventure called “life” until we end up, like Mary Magdalene, in his arms.
It is no coincidence that her name is Faith; of all the things she has taught us, things like courage, and hope, and joy, and beauty…of all these things, the greatest is simple: we must keep the Faith. And this, friends, is what we will do. We will keep or renew our faith in Jesus Christ and his promise of glory; we will remember to look up and see that bright-eyed, smiling girl who now stands at the window of the House of Our Father and whispers down, as only saints and angels can, “Keep the Faith!”
Let us pray for the repose of the soul of Faith Robinson, and for the souls of all the faithful departed that through the unending mercy of God, they might rest in the peace of Christ.
Keeping the Faith, I am