29 Apr Where Easter meets Qingming
As well as marking Easter Sunday this year, April 4th 2021 marks the ancient Chinese festival of Qingming 清明節, called Tomb Sweeping Day, or literally, ‘Pure Brighteness’ festival in English. This is an occasion where Chinese families all over the world visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesites, pray to their ancestors and make ritual offerings. Qingming has been observed by Chinese families for over 2,500 year and follows the lunar calendar. Easter, on the other hand, follows the Gregorian calendar. The probability of the two periods coinciding is only about 1 in 30. As a British Born Chinese Christian, the coming together of East and West on the same day is particularly significant.
Visiting the tomb of a loved one takes centre stage in Mark 16:1-8, when three women visit Jesus’ tomb. The account opens with the words, “when the sabbath was over…”(v.1) The other gospels don’t mention the Sabbath, but Mark highlights it because this is the darkest day in human history. It was certainly the darkest day the disciples had ever experienced. All of the hopes they had had in Jesus were extinguished and in their place was now confusion and fear, particularly fear about the future. Given the difficult year we have had with the pandemic and the anxieties some of us may have about the future, we can ask, ‘what bearing does the empty tomb have on our current circumstances?’
Here are four reflections I have drawn from Mark 16:1-8.
Straight away, Mark draws our attention to three extraordinary women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (v.1)—who are going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Now why do I say they are extraordinary? Well think about the context for a moment. It says, “very early […] just after sunrise” (v.2) It would have taken no small amount of courage for these three women to walk outside in the darkness of daybreak. Sadly, we know all too well how vulnerable women are when they head out on their own. It was no different then. Furthermore, they were visiting the grave of someone who had been put to death as a common criminal. They are showing honour to someone who their nation despised. These women were fiercely courageous. I believe they were courageous because they knew Jesus in a deeply profound way—for they had experienced his pardoning mercies before—and were willing to risk all consequences in testifying their devotion to their saviour.
It is not only courage that Jesus had inspired in them. They also had faith. As they made their way to the tomb, it says they asked each other, “who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (v.3) These incredible women were not only grappling with the dark, they had no idea how to move the stone away from the entrance. With lockdown easing, many of us will be entering a season of uncertainty. What are some of the stones you are anticipating? They could be physical ones to do with finance or health. Or perhaps a conversation or situation you’ve been dreading, but you know you need to face. These women had no idea how they would deal with the stone before them, but that didn’t stop them. They still pressed on in faith.
“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away” (v.4), I love this bit! In their time of need, the very thing they had feared had been removed. Now I’m not saying that God will magically transform your situation. But what this passage demonstrates is that if you allow him, Jesus can help deal with your fear. That’s good news.
“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in white sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (vv.5-7).
Notice how the angel singles out Peter from the rest of the disciples. This is a wonderful touch! The last time we saw Peter, he had denied Jesus three times, ran away in shame and ended up weeping bitterly. What a tender thing it is for the angel to say to these women, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he goes before you to Galilee.” The angel is telling the women to find Peter to let him know that he is still loved, that he hasn’t been forgotten, and that he is still part of the group. Jesus still longs to be with us, no matter how distant we may feel from him? If you feel like you’ve been far from Jesus, be reminded of God’s love for you this Easter, just as the Angel wanted the women to remind Peter.
At the very start we asked the question, “What bearing does the Easter message have on our current circumstances?” Having looked through this passage, we’ve learnt that when we approach the empty tomb of Jesus: 1) We can have fierce courage like the three women who went to anoint his body; 2) That we can approach Jesus in faith; 3) That we can ask Jesus to take away our fears; and 4) That no matter what we have said or done, Jesus offers forgiveness—like he did with Peter.
There’s one more “F” that I’d like to add to this list: Jesus offers each one of us a Future. By overcoming death, Jesus offers each one of us the promise of eternal life with him. And if we allow him to transform our hearts, he also offers each one of us a new start in this life too. There is a beautiful verse in Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
As I reflect on all those sweeping graves this Easter Day and during Qingming, it is my hope that they too would discover life beyond the grave. That they too, would meet the one who offers sweeping grace, who overcame death and who offers us the promise of eternal life, a hope and a future.
Revd. Mark Nam 甄英深