Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/22 2020

What are you grieving amid COVID-19?

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This is not how I imagined we would observe Easter. You either—I suspect. But in a recent conversation, a friend and I realized that this Easter was a lot like the first one—Jesus’ friends, holed up in a room for fear of death, grieving deep loss and not knowing the way ahead.

I’ve been drawn these days to John’s resurrection narrative, particularly Mary’s story. The others have run away, with nothing to report but the fact that their friend is gone; they registered the fact of the missing body and then hustled home in their confusion.

The Gardener

Mary stayed. Grieving. So lost in the loss that she didn’t even recognize the “gardener.”

Two things strike me in this passage. First, that Jesus should appear to her as a gardener. This hits home. What has kept me anchored these days of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order? Starting my seedlings—a long-view, low-key act of resistance. My lanky green buddies keep me aligned with the rhythms and timing demanded by nature, the need to let things unfold as they must. If we are patient and honor these rhythms, deep roots can grow and body and spirit can be nourished.

I have in my hands the capacity to support a narrative of life over one of suffering and death—if I am patient and “above all, trust in the slow work of God,” as Teilhard de Chardin reminds us.


The Grief

This is important for me to remember as I abide by the (often challenging!) need to shelter in place and attend to the oscillation of emotions and thoughts my family and I cycle through on a daily basis. It is important for all of us to remember as we reconsider future planning with the uncertainty and opportunity of what may be ahead.

Second, Mary is fully present to her grief. She doesn’t run away from the gaping darkness of the open cave. She stays, and she weeps, and she’s honest about it; “They have taken him away, and I don’t know where he is” (John 20:13b). She names her grief. And it is then—and only then—that the Risen One reveals himself to her.

The one who gardens is the one whose victory is over death itself! And knowing him requires Mary—and us—to be fully present to the empty tomb and the emotions that come with that. Loss, yes—and it is only through the loss that the kept promise can be really, truly, joyously known.

What are you grieving? Call it by name. That’s where the Risen Christ will meet you.


Since 2013, Dr. Helen Blier has served as the Seminary’s director of Continuing Education. She is the former director of student information and organizational evaluation at the Association for Theological Schools (ATS). There she oversaw the administration and use of data-gathering instruments used by the member seminaries as well as consulted with schools to construct assessment protocols for institutional, student learning, and degree program outcomes. Her publications and presentations have generally focused on theological education and youth ministry.

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