Perhaps I’ve grown a bit jaded, but it seems to me the resurrection of Jesus is not that relevant an issue for people today. After 2,000 years of repeating the story, it seems to have grown stale, even for me.
Sure, I lead the parade on Easter morning, but I confess in some ways it feels pretty routine. Sometimes I feel like the steer wrestler E.B. White wrote about, who had been shuttling by plane between New York and Chicago to throw steers in the rodeos of both cities.
“In this pendulous cowboy,” White wrote, “if cowboy is the word for him, our century comes to a sort of head: the winged ranch hand, his eye on two steers at once, . . . neither steer needing to be thrown, each existing only to be thrown. The cowboy rises from the head of the fallen animal, dusts the seat of his pants, walks stiff-legged to the waiting airliner. The spectators, yearning for the open West and its herds of cattle on the ranges, rise from their mezzanine seats, stiff-legged, dust off their unfulfilled desires, walk to the exits.”
How many people, I wonder, by noon on Easter Sunday, after the brief, familiar rush of joy that accompanied the annual drama, rose from their pews, stiff-legged, dusted off their unfulfilled desires for new life, and walked to the exits? The house was packed. We enjoyed the flowers, thrilled to music sung by choir and congregation, maybe even grew misty-eyed at the memories evoked by the whole event. Then the service that was carefully planned and executed ended, the acolytes snuffed the candles, and we headed back to our familiar, daily routine.
How was your experience of Easter this year? Was it merely another in a long series of annual performances – some of them very good, perhaps, but performances nevertheless – after which you rose from your seat and returned to the same life you knew on Good Friday? Do you still harbor a shadow of doubt? I don’t mean doubt about the resurrection of Jesus, which for most people in our culture has become irrelevant. I mean the sometimes unbearably burdensome doubt about whether there is new life after what happened yesterday.
After my Medicare card arrives to remind me of my mortality; after the kids leave home and my spouse files for divorce; after the news that I’ve lost my job and may not find another one; after the diagnosis I just received from my doctor; after the car accident left me with limiting injuries that may not heal; after my prime of life is past and I realize my greatest achievements are behind me; after any of these things and more, is there new life ahead of me? After the world I knew is shattered and lies in shards at my feet, can there possibly still be a good and full life ahead of me?
Perhaps the hardest decision any of us has to make during the darkness of disillusionment and loss is whether to surrender to what befalls us or resist until something new appears. In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about such times, “The choice often comes down to what you believe about God and how God acts, which means that every dark night of the soul involves wrestling with belief.” What will I choose to believe when darkness closes in around me?
The first rays of resurrection’s dawn appear in deceptively simple disguises, as two stories from the Boston Marathon bombings just over a year ago will show. As volunteers carried a badly injured man into a tent, his wallet fell out of his pocket. The man was quickly rushed to the hospital, and one of the volunteers picked up the wallet. Noticing that it was blood-soaked, he removed all of its contents, cleaned the cards and replaced the soiled bills with fresh ones. The volunteer then hand delivered the wallet to the injured man in the hospital, one small offering of love in the midst of tragedy.
Here’s a second story: A runner limped into the same tent, grasping his ears, clearly suffering from the concussive sounds of the explosives. However, after quickly surveying the scene, he walked out and sat down on a nearby bench. When a volunteer followed the runner outside and asked why he had left so soon, the runner replied, “There are other people who need help much more urgently than I do.” After the volunteer gave the man a blanket and something to drink, he noticed a set of bloody footprints leading from the tent to the bench. The man had suffered shrapnel wounds to the lower part of his leg and the blood had seeped through his shoe.
That wallet and those bloody footprints, I believe, are signs of resurrection, signs that after unspeakable tragedy, life and love begin anew, sometimes in the next breath. In times of pain and anguish, in seasons of darkness and doubt, in turning points of loss and uncertainty, in experiences that have so blinded us we cannot see the road ahead, life and hope will walk through even those doors we have closed in fear, and will say to us, “Peace be with you.” And the peace that passes all understanding will be with us.
Like Thomas on the first Easter evening, I huddle in the darkness behind locked doors and wonder at the tale of the women at the tomb early that morning. Who will roll away the stone that seems to stand between me and the life-changing terror and amazement of resurrection. Then I remember, when they got there to go through the ordinary motions of attending to the dead, they found the stone had already been rolled away, and terror and amazement were waiting for them in the shadows.
So I’ll throw yet another steer in this Easter season rodeo in the hope that this year, perhaps, some terrifying and dumbfounding amazement might ambush me at the exit. And I will trust God, even where I cannot see.