Saturday, March 11, 2017

Easter begins with emptiness

Easter begins with emptiness, proceeds to mystery, and only then to power.
   Easter begins at an empty tomb, with bewildered disciples, and an absent Jesus. It is like a church on Good Friday afternoon, stripped of its symbolic art, its congregation elsewhere.
     Easter begins at the boundary of our own emptiness, a void into which all our greatest loves have either disappeared or soon will.
     Easter begins with mysterious visitors, cryptic hints, strange coincidences, and unexpected promises.
“He is going ahead of you into Galilee,” the women are told. “Oh great!” They complain to each other. “More of this discipleship business.”  They were right: much more of it.
          At the door of the empty place we hear the words: “more of this!” More love. More hope. More broken bread and shared wine. More brokenness of every kind. 
        And then the power, the Spirit, the ecstatic joy. The empty place becomes strangely full, and smells like Easter lilies and candle wax. The absence becomes a different sort of presence. The broken body becomes a different sort of bread.

The original group of disciples had a problem...

The original group of disciples had a problem. They had been witness to many miracles, yet the significance of these events was apparent only to them. The disciples interpreted them as signs of God’s kingdom breaking in, but what good was that to them if Jesus declined to use his miraculous powers to impress the powers who crucified him? If they had expected Jesus to pull out all the miraculous stops once he got to Jerusalem, it’s no wonder they all deserted him.
 This could be easily explained if we were to say, “miracles are hogwash,” but the disciples were unable to come to that conclusion. Something occurred that led them to emerge from the crucifixion more committed to their discipleship than ever, despite the apparent absence of their Lord. That “something” is what we call “The Resurrection,” which is churchly shorthand for the experience of Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and our own experiences of graceful transformation.   
As I see it, miracles are great, but they don’t have any more to do with salvation than any other act of kindness or mercy. What matters is that, in Jesus, God has shared our life as an ordinary human being. Well, maybe not THAT ordinary, but certainly not as a glowing, transfigured being who would dazzle everyone in the neighborhood with supernatural light-shows every night.
As I see it, it is essential that the “power” of God remain incognito, that “faith” always be a matter of  embracing what’s right here, not pointing to some giant Jesus in the sky and saying, “see, I told you so.” If God’s power were more obvious, so that even unbelievers could see and no longer deny, it would be something less than God that was being seen, because God is not an object to be observed.
What this signifies to me is that we are where we are supposed to be, with Christ and each other on a generous but problematic planet. Our calling is to follow Christ regardless of miracles. The real miracle is that we find ourselves doing exactly that, despite our disabilities. And that, for me, is quite dazzling enough.