I knew this Easter would be different. Not just because I would be away from family and the church I have attended for over ten years on Easter Sunday, nor purely because I am in Cambodia, but because there was a National Holiday on Easter Day in a country that is primarily Buddhist. Easter is not the priority. Easter is not the focus. Much like Mary, and the disciples on that third day, I did not know what would happen as I ventured out into the world.
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Sunday morning I had the opportunity to attend church in Kruos Village, which is the site of the first LCC congregation. There were many familiar faces, including two other YAGM volunteers, and it felt almost homey, even if it was far from Phnom Penh, not to mention Iowa. Before the service started, Lindsay, Mallory, and I spoke with one of our friends from Kruos, Dada. We wanted to know how to say ‘Happy Easter’ in Khmer, and what people thought of Easter in general. His answer was disheartening to me as he told us that there was not really a way to say it, and that people in Cambodia don’t think about Easter much, especially because it is around New Year. He said they did not really know what it was about. I felt like the Easter I knew, the resurrection I understood, was not the one I found here. I didn’t know where it had gone.
2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
We began with songs and I found that none of the tunes were natural on my lips. None of the lyrics resembled an alleluia. Another friend, Sophouen, stood to preach the message of the day. I felt on the outside of the celebration. Too afraid to continue forward into what I was unsure of.
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
She began with a familiar call and response practice, but the words were different than I was used to. “Sou s’day ch’nam t’mei!” “Happy New Year!” The congregation repeated and when she told them they were too quiet, they did the call and response again louder. By now, I felt like I was in a different world. This was not an Easter I understood. One that was not filled with a symphony of “alleluias” and choruses of “Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.”
6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.
Then the passage of the day was read, John 20:1-18, and as the sermon progressed, I found myself drift into the introspective thought process I have come to cherish on Sunday mornings. Usually they revolve around the readings of the day and how they apply here. How they apply now. However, this Sunday I could not seem to get the words out of my head, Happy New Year! So I read the passage again and I thought more. I thought about a ‘year’ being time and ‘new’ being an adjective. Then I realized, that perhaps a new year is what Easter means.
8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
When we celebrate the new year, we celebrate a new start, a fresh slate, a break from the troubles of the past. It is a transition from before to now, and often one that we mark in definitive ways. Is that not what Jesus’ death and resurrection means for us? Isn’t the glory of Easter Sunday filled with grace and renewal after the betrayal of Maundy Thursday and the grieving of Good Friday?
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
I realized that I could continue to spend that day saddened by the unrepresented traditions of my past, but I could also choose to embrace the beauty of the moment I was in. To remember that I am, right now, a new creation because Christ died and rose again for me. For us all. Every moment is a new year. And Easter is the reminder. Messengers are all around to wipe our tears and lead us to the moment when we realize that Jesus’ is there, beside us.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
Then I thought to myself, “while I have wallowed in my loss of tradition, where have I missed Jesus?”
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
I thought of a friend inviting me to her home when I had nowhere to go. A little sister saying she missed me after only hours apart. Friends setting an alarm for 2:45am to show me a New Year program on TV that they have seen for most of their life. My fellow YAGMs sending words of comfort as I grieved the loss of a family member. A mother repeating herself in Khmer until I understand the gist of her directions. Party-goers motioning me to join the dancing, and showing me how to improve. Random people inviting my friend and me to join their New Year celebration as we walk by their house. Another sister asking what my name is and trying to get it just right.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
In that moment I realized that in all those places I recognized Jesus pouring out of the people around me, and I felt saddened by my distraction with tradition that had preoccupied my mind. Luckily, I remembered again that Easter is about grace. About a God that loved us so much, death could not win. Darkness could not overcome. So, I am reminded this Easter of all my brothers and sisters in Cambodia. The ones who share my faith, and the ones who do not. Each day is filled with many ways that they do not only tell me of our God, but show me the love incarnate that Jesus represents in his resurrection. They demonstrate the grace of Easter in both the biggest, and simplest of ways.
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
My community makes me want to keep going out to see the world and the ways God is at work. To find the moments of grace that abound from the people around me. To seek the ways their light shines as the sun did into the empty tomb. To tell everyone who I meet during my walk here, and what they teach me.
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
So here I am. Sharing my news, showing and telling the ways I see the risen God in my community here this Easter. Another day, another reflection from the amazing journey of my YAGM year. The things I have seen, the words I have heard, and the grace I have been given.
Happy New Year, Christ is risen indeed.