Dear Friends in Christ,
No one expects resurrection!
Even though Jesus predicted his death and resurrection, no one greeted the news at the empty tomb with the words, “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! Didn’t I tell you? It’s just like he said!” Also, there is no record of a single disciple jumping up and down shouting, “Hallelujah!” I don’t remember a single soul who, when they learned that death had been defeated, shouted, “I knew he would do it!”
No one expects resurrection and no one believes it at first. This is true throughout the gospels, and it is certainly apparent in Luke. When the women reported to the men that Jesus’ body had disappeared and that they had been told that he had risen, no one believed. The men believed it to be an idle tale. The Greek word leros (which is translated as an idle tale) is used to describe what the men believed; however, that word, leros, is the root of our word delirious. The men really thought the women were crazy! Resurrection, if true, throws our lives off balance.
If you don’t find resurrection a little difficult to believe, you probably aren’t taking it very seriously. That is the problem isn’t it? We’ve heard the story so many times that we aren’t surprised; we are not dumbfounded; and, we don't even bat an eye. I guess the Church has not done a very good job with the Good News because the promise, as difficult as it may be to believe initially, is huge, and when it sinks in and lays hold of you, everything about your world and your life will forevermore look and be different.
On Easter Eve of 2014 my mother died. For most of her years, she was like Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street, “I believe, I believe. It’s silly but I believe.” For 82 Easters she would get up, put on her best dress (and sometimes a hat) and go to church expecting the sanctuary to be decorated from head to toe. She would look forward to singing "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, Alleluia!" She would wait to be greeted the same way, year after year, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” Then, she and everyone else would respond, (It’s okay to say it out loud), “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
Although exciting and beautiful, unlike Mary Magdalene, there were no surprises waiting for her early on the first day of the week. After experiencing a wonderful service that was filled with professional choral and instrumental music, in a sanctuary filled with the sights, sounds and smells of spring and new life, she’d go home thinking, “I believe, I believe. It’s silly but I believe.”
Easter has been made very predictable, so I ask you, do you think as my mother did; or, do you ever wonder if there are going to be any surprises waiting for you this Easter? Do you sometimes think (as my mother did) that the only mystery is who is going to find a golden Easter egg?
A few weeks before her death, my mother’s priest visited her often. I had told him of her fear and doubt and so he went to her and discussed it with her. He led her to an understanding and a recognition that her doubt, like ours, is an important part of faith. He helped her to see that she, along with far too many, have often mischaracterized the nature of religious faith. While the Church may sometimes give the impression that perfect faith conquers all doubt, our tradition, the Christian tradition, and its authors, believe that faith and doubt are actually interwoven. Doubt, questions, and skepticism --- these aren’t the opposite of faith, but rather an integral part of our faith.
Faith, after all, isn’t knowledge. Rather, faith, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1). Fr. Lee helped my mother to see that the approaching Eastertide was as good a time as any to give thanks for her gift of faith and the ability NOT TO UNDERSTAND, but to be inspired to hope to believe in the resurrection and run toward that mystery.
That first Eastertide, there was nothing predictable. The women had put their friend to rest, only to find the tomb empty after the Sabbath. He was gone; not where they had left him. Their lives with Jesus had never been predictable. Their lives with Jesus had been wonderfully filled with mystery. Their life with Jesus had always been transformative and therefore his presence reoriented their perspective. Life with Jesus kept them guessing, questioning, and at times they were filled with skepticism. That first Good Friday, the death of their Lord, teacher, and dear friend, and the days thereafter, would turn out to be no different.
Our religious tradition sometimes keeps surprises at a distance, but life and death with Jesus remains challenging, mysterious, and unpredictable. Following Jesus Christ who taught and preached anywhere to anyone who would listen, who healed the sick, who touched the untouchable, who lifted up the poor and who challenged those in power and the systems they used to keep others down, who turned everything upside down -- servant and slave, the last shall be first, and went straight ahead into death - he surprised them all the time. Does he still surprise us? When we discover that Jesus isn't where we last left him, do we sit idly by or do we run faithfully toward that mystery?
Easter, the first day of the week, for me is really an Eighth Day. It became that for my mother as well. It is the Day of a new creation that begins with resurrection and continues daily and will continue until God creates a new heaven and new earth and renews and redeems all things.
Resurrection faith came slowly to my mother, but then again it did so for most of the disciples as well. But when it came, it changed everything. I pray that resurrection will continue to surprise, mystify, nourish, and lead you into all truth.
As we prepare for the Paschal Feast, ask God to lead you into the mystery
that is living your life in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.
It’s not Easter yet, but prepare with joy by fasting, prayer, and
enjoying the Word and Sacraments; and, remember to
worship with us this Holy Week.