Early in the morning, while it was still dark in the chapel of San Eduardo, I saw an image of a stained-glass window on the wall. We have slept on this floor for 15 years every spring in this small Ecuadorian town, but I had never seen this. The image was made from light coming from ventilation cutouts in the concrete wall in the shape of a flower, casting a Rosetta image on the opposite wall. The light was haloed as it moved and faded with the coming dawn in the middle of the world. Everything feels hallowed when we have hearts wide-open in the midst of a concrete chapel off a dirt road. In moments such as these, when we remember we are on holy ground, no cathedral is more adorned. In such light, beauty rises from within as truth brushes past and carries us to hope.
I wonder if it was a vision of light on stone that carried Mary Magdalene through the Easter Morning events. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath, as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body. And that is when light and shadow begin their dance like stained glass on concrete. A sliver of light is enough for her to see the stone rolled away and to run to Peter and John. As they run back to the tomb in a race with the murky light of dawn, they see enough to know Jesus is gone. Mary stands alone and tries to see through tears and shadows. The light is surely breaking through as she sees now angels and linen on the floor. Then, even as she cannot make out what she is seeing, she hears Jesus calling her. Then the true light of hope fills her from within, and she reaches for Jesus.
I laid my sister’s ashes inside the altar at the A-Frame Chapel as lent began. The next Wednesday night, I led a Eucharist with the same words and motions I have used every week for 20 years. As I lifted the round unleavened bread, I recited the last prayer, “…And at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom." As I raised the host, there was a beautiful light with depth filling the center. I almost couldn't break it; I just stood there drawn into it. It had something to do with the silver paten, the lighting in the room, the angle I was holding it and the space that grief opens in us. I wrote that night that I couldn’t make out what the light was, maybe a lion, but even though it was unclear, I longed for it. The next Sunday, without talking with one another, The Rev. Dr. Scott Owings preached to us about a vision and said, “Imagine walking into church at night. The candles are the only source of light. Rest your eyes upon the host and it begins to send out rays of light that enter you and flood your soul, cleansing you. The rays soak into your body.”
I asked him where the image came from and if he saw a shape in the light. He said he just felt it. Even murky and shadowed light like that first week of Lent carry rays of hope in grief. Those rays are enough to bring all of us to the garden while it is still dark, ready to anoint a body, but hopeful enough when we see a sliver of light on rock or bread to run to find answers.
The next weeks of Lent were busy with the group of 31 preparing for Ecuador and readying the clinic. After seeing more than 900 patients, the clinic closed, and we traveled to the 800-year-old town of Cuenca. It was Dr. Keith Hagan’s last trip where he and Carole have served faithfully building the clinic operations. Early on the Sabbath, Michael, Don, Tara and I walked with Keith on his final morning, as communion was ending in the Cathedral.
We approached the altar as the remaining host was being placed in a tabernacle cross. Just as we were grieving Keith’s leaving Ecuador, there it was. In the golden cross holding the host, the light I had glimpsed at the altar and which Scott envisioned was shining. It looked like a lion’s mane.
That light is always there, it is just that sometimes we have to walk through Lent, death and letting go to behold it.
We have seen the light. And when we let light flood our stone hearts we can feel hope pouring into grief itself. The stone has rolled and all those we love who have died live on in love and the memory of God. All we grieve is full of light. Feel the light shining this morning as surely as it shone on Mary. Imagine as she left the tomb, the morning light pouring over her and turning her tears into prisms. Let us see radiant light like angels standing with linens. Let us feel the fullness of light that danced the first morning of creation, that shines in the darkness and that will lead us home. “There is light even in death," Easter preaches. A sliver of light can cast stained glass on poor concrete walls, turn bread into a heavenly host and cut through our darkness enough to see we are bathed in the light of love. It means that we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing the light will never leave us. The light is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”