Jesus had told them it would happen this way. “The Son of Humanity must undergo great suffering, [he’d said] and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Actually, as they remembered it later, he had told them that a number of times. It’s just that they usually zoned out at the word “killed.” How could that be possible? Trauma has a way of erasing memory and hope. They never really heard him say, “and on the third day be raised.”
So when they went into the tomb and didn’t find his body, and when the two men in dazzling white appeared and asked them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen”–the women didn’t say to each other, “I knew it! Just like he said!” And when they ran back to tell the eleven and all the rest what had happened, they didn’t believe it either. In fact, they thought the women were crazy. “It seemed to them an idle tale”–”idle” is a tame, polite way of translating, “crazy,” “delerious,” “out of the their minds.”
But really, as one writer says, “If you don’t find resurrection at least a little hard to believe, you probably aren’t taking it very seriously!” (David Lose, workingpreacher.com) This was an entirely new reality, not just the resuscitation of a dead body. And, as someone else has written, “If the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?” (Florence Carter, cited by Lose) So, let’s not be too blase about this resurrection stuff–”Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” we say, as though of course we know what that means, of course Jesus rose from the dead, of course… Indeed! You might want to tone down that certainty, just a smidge. On the other hand, if you don’t buy it at all, if you’re certain that it’s “an idle tale,” you might want to leave just a crack open for possibility. It’s ok to have faith wrapped up with doubt and skepticism. In fact, it’s probably a good thing. Brene Brown says that “Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism.” (Interview on OWN, 3/24/13)
Now, a very good case could be made that we live in a Good Friday world, not an Easter world, so the Easter story may indeed seem like no more than an “idle tale.” Death and the Powers and Principalities seem to be in charge–the innocent are gunned down in schools and movie theaters and city blocks, blown up along roadsides and minefields, discarded with plant closings and downsizings, millions are hungry and homeless and hopeless. It wasn’t so different in Jesus’ time. How do we tell the Easter story in a Good Friday world?
Unlike our day, when reporters and TV cameras would be relied on to explain things, these early followers of Jesus turned to story. Anne Howard says that in trying to find words for Easter in a Good Friday world, the “first storytellers told the story of that empty tomb. They talked about being afraid and looking into that dark place and seeing light. They talked about not seeing Jesus in that tomb and about learning that he was already running ahead of them, out in Galilee…They found Easter when they dared talk about Jesus’ alternative way, when they carried out his practices, of sharing what they had, welcoming the stranger, caring for the least among them.” (A Word in Time, 3/31/13)
Other storytellers use different images. The power of life over death was “deeper magic from before the dawn of time,” C.S. Lewis wrote in the Narnia tales. “It was so new that the evil powers knew nothing about it….When [the great lion] Aslan rises, he cracks the altar stone and it crumbles into pieces so that it could never be used again, ending all bloodshed.”
Still others describe resurrection – all resurrections – as “bursts of divine energy.”
I believe Jesus’ resurrection is part of a deeper energetic and synergetic divine presence, [writes one pastor] missed because [it’s everywhere, all the time]. God resurrects each dying moment and moves to heal each past trauma in a world where pain, tragedy, conflict, and death are all too real. I believe that Jesus’ resurrection revealed a deeper law of nature, a greater influx of energy, [like] the energies of the universe that brought forth the ‘big bang’ and the birth of galaxies and planets. Surely, it was a quantum leap–this energy of life and love–gathering up the powers residing already in Jesus’ healing touch and words..”natural,” but not tame, disorienting, transformative.
(Bruce Epperly, Adventurous Lectionary, 3/31/13)
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says of Easter, “We are really standing in the middle of a second “Big Bang,” a tumultuous surge of divine energy as fiery and intense as the very beginning of the universe.” (Cited by Dan Clendenin, journeyswithjesus.net, 3/31/13)
The proof of the resurrection, however, does not lie in the past, but in the present. It’s all too common for the church to say, as the rock musician Sting puts it in one of his songs, “It’s just too hard thinking about the future, so let’s just get on with the past.” (“Forget About the Future,” on Sacred Love) “If the tomb wasn’t empty, if there was no bodily resurrection, the whole thing falls apart…” “If archaeologists find the bones, Christianity is done for.” What actually happened back then? We’re looking for the living among the dead.
As my brother Bob used to say, “The proof of the resurrection does not lie in the past, but in the present. It’s also not just waiting for us in the future.” (Bob Lee, The Carpenter’s Apprentice) The proof happens everyday. It’s all around us, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Like the first storytellers who found the Risen Christ when they talked about Jesus’ alternative way and carried out his practices, so is Christ Risen in our Sunday Suppers and the Free Clinic and Kitchen Cupboard. So is Christ Risen in lives restored to health and hope after being written off as “hopeless.” So is Christ Risen in teams of volunteers cleaning up trashed city lots, planting trees, even gardens, that then feed the neighborhood with fresh fruits and vegetables. So is Christ Risen when those who have suffered great loss find new life in helping others who have suddenly found themselves in that same condition. So is Christ Risen when in the depths of shame and humiliation, we see a hand extended to us in solidarity and strength. Seeing may be believing, but to “believe in” resurrection, to have that truth at the core of one’s life is to see resurrection all around us.
Which isn’t to say that resurrection is “business as usual.” Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Ho hum. It is to say that at any moment, we should be prepared to be caught off guard by resurrection, disoriented, stopped in our tracks. In fact, one writer says, “Today we need to be disoriented and deconstructed to let resurrection break through. We need to open our eyes to God’s bursts of energy locally and globally, intimately and universally at work in our world, and we need to get on board, with resurrection life, practicing resurrection by awakening to it and opening our eyes to wonders of new life.” (Bruce Epperly, op cit.)
In a weary, spent world (Brueggemann), weighed down by Good Friday expectations, the Easter story reveals the world-and-life-changing-deconstructing- recreating energy that is always and everywhere at work. Nothing is safe, but everything, ultimately, will be well. The deeper magic before time, the fiery, intense energy that set off the Big Bang, the luminous surge of power that pulses through all our veins, even after our hearts have stopped beating, the music that sings deeper than our hearing and beautiful beyond words, the Holy One whom death could not contain, is loose in the world. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark