I once heard an archeologist use an expression in an interview that has since become one of my favorites: The way to keep a trail alive is to walk on it.
As someone who had a great deal of experience in digging up the past, he was well aware that the difference between a living tradition and a dead tradition is practice. The moment that people stop practicing a tradition, stop teaching its history or stop holding its rituals, it dies. And just like a path that no one walks on, the weeds and the grass creep in, and eventually it fades away, disappears and is forgotten.
This week, Christians throughout the world are walking a well-worn path. We are walking, figuratively at least, the way of the cross with Christ. We will be telling his story and the story of his disciples, and we will be observing ancient traditions that speak to the last things that he said and did. This trail of Holy Week is still walked by Christians year after year, because at the trail’s end, we find a truth that transforms our lives.
Our journey of Holy Week will end on Easter morning with taking a short walk with Mary Magdalene to the tomb of Jesus. She is walking there to clean and to anoint the body of her dear friend, her leader and her teacher. She is walking there with the expectation of performing the gut-wrenching task of unwrapping him from the linen shroud and again witnessing the lifeless body of someone she loves. Year after year, we walk this same path to the tomb with Mary, and we retell the story of what she found.
We continue to walk this way and tell this story because at the end of the road we find, with Mary, something that changes our lives. We find out that the world, which we thought we knew and understood, might be a little more complex and mysterious than we had previously imagined. We find out that miracles do happen, and that God really is in control. We find out that the path that we thought led to the grave, and no further, actually leads to new life.
Mary didn’t find a dead body that morning as she was expecting. What she found was the resurrected Christ, transformed, but more alive than ever.
I will venture to say that the Easter story isn’t new to most readers. You have heard the gospel witnesses and preachers and priests talk about it before. You may have even seen the movie — there are plenty. Christians don’t go to church on Easter morning to find out how this story ends; we go because we know the ending and find in that story of Christ’s resurrection something which changes our lives and gives them deeper meaning.
We walk this path because deep down we know or have realized that the story the secular world tells us, which only looks to the material world, is simply not good enough. We walk this path because Christ’s story challenges us to imagine a world that is bigger and more miraculous. And we are walking this path this week because this tradition has been kept alive by generations of individuals who have continued throughout the years to find God along the way.
Ours is a living tradition and a living trail that continues to lead travelers to a deeper knowledge and love of God. If we have found God along the way, if we have walked to that tomb with Mary and found it empty, if we have experienced God in the proclamation of the gospel or in the sacraments and rituals of the church that teach us and draw us deeper into the life of Jesus Christ, if this path has led us closer to God, then we must keep it alive. We must continue to walk on it. We must continue to proclaim and live out these stories that we believe, because I am convinced that the story of God’s saving love is a much better story than the one the modern world is trying to sell us.
The Christian tradition is a living tradition, and it will remain so as long as Christians continue to live it out. This trail will stay alive as long as we continue to walk on it. If we want our children to have faith, we must continue to live it out ourselves, not just today, but every day. We have a better story to tell, and we need to tell it.
The Rev. Kevin Morris serves as the rector of The Church of the Ascension, at 71 N. Village Ave., in Rockville Centre.