A Glorious Truth

Easter crowds are huge. Churches schedule extra Sunday morning services plus a Sunrise Service at the local park. Pews are full to overflowing at 11:00. People who don’t attend church all year are there on Easter Sunday morning. Sometimes preachers can’t resist the temptation and try to disguise their consternation in the form of hackneyed humor, wishing the congregation a happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas because so many of them won’t be back until next year. Everybody laughs nervously. I never actually did it. I referred to the old joke but every year said something like, “If you only attend church once a year this is the Sunday to be here. The music is powerful, the flowers are gorgeous, and everybody is dressed up and feeling good.” There is more to it than that, of course. People come to church on Easter because they know the subject is the oldest, deepest, most profound question in the human heart. Is there any reason to hope in the face of the inevitability of death? Is there any serious reason, in light of all the violence, suffering and injustice in the world to love without fear and dread, to love, instead, with hope and resolve and confidence and joy?

A friend sent me a paragraph she wrote for her parish’s Lenten Devotional. Her text was Mark 1: 37, Simon’s urgent statement to Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you.” She wrote, “Still –  they all came. So do we. We come to be embraced in the dark hour. We come with regrets that once again we haven’t begun to measure up. We come for faith in the future and acceptance of the past. We come, over and over, for a million different reasons, but we come, finally, to reassure ourselves that we’re more than skin and bones.”People come to church on Easter, I’m convinced, because there is serious business on the agenda. They are not there to hear an explanation of what happened: how a dead body got up and walked out of the tomb. With our addiction to reason and a scientific explanation of anything that portends reality, it is tempting to try it. It doesn’t work. The four Biblical accounts are so lean: each tells it slightly differently and none provides a detailed account of the act of resurrection itself. It is almost as if they are telling us, like the warning not to look directly at the bright sun, that we should not try to look too directly, that we should understand this event in a different, deeper way of perceiving, more heart than mind, more wonder than analysis. Some things, after all, are bigger than our ability to say them. Better to turn to music and poetry. From his prison cell in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents: “It’s a year now that I have actually heard a hymn. But the music of the inner ear can often surpass what we hear physically. I get on particularly well with the Easter hymns.” Wendell Berry on one of his sabbath walks through the fields and woods of his Kentucky farm…

The little stream sings
     In the crease of the hill.
     It is the water of life. It knows
Nothing of death, nothing.
And this is the morning of Christ’s resurrection.
The tomb is empty. There is
No death.
 

If you must have a little hard evidence you can do worse than ponder how human beings have been transformed: frightened disciples, cowering behind a bolted door, transformed, emerging from hiding as fearless and fierce followers who simply could not stop talking about and singing and proclaiming what had happened, even in the face of persecution, arrest and their own martyrdoms. What changed cowards into brave disciples was the conviction that their crucified friend was alive. Death did not defeat him and therefore there was no reason to fear anything ever again, not even death, not even their own deaths.

What transformed them was the same truth that raises up brave men and women to love and struggle and witness and oppose evil and injustice in the face of overwhelming odds: Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. It is the same truth that raises up men and women to live with courage and commitment in the midst of illness, suffering, oppression and loss and, of course, the insult of our mortality; namely, the Easter truth that is so glorious it must be sung rather than explained, that love is stronger than hate, always, and life is stronger than death, that there are skirmishes to be fought but the battle has been won. Jesus Christ is risen.

Comments

  1. The McCrackens says:

    Thanks, John.
    This is very special piece for a very special time

    Happy Easter to all.
    Karen and Larry

    >

  2. Susan Van Hooser says:

    It is so good to read your wise words. We all miss you very much. Also, we look forward to our new head pastor.

  3. Jeremy Smith says:

    John, thank you for such beautiful words. We just discovered your blog and we were so excited to see that you are doing this! PLEASE keep writing!!
    Jeremy and Shannon Smith

  4. Carole Ogden says:

    It is after reading something like this that I realize again just how fortunate I was to have the benefit of your sermons Sunday after Sunday for so many years and how much I miss them now. So glad I discovered your blog. Hope all is well with you. Carole Ogden

  5. Ted Davis says:

    From one who has often looked too directly at the bright sun, I thank you, John, for your wise and wonderful meditation. Happy Easter. Hallelujah!

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