Sometimes, there are no words. Once I gave a “pitch”–a brief description like you’d find on a jacket flap–about my novel and the listener reacted with wide eyes and a loud, “Oohh!?” She was intrigued, obviously wanted to know more. It truly warmed my heart.
In the realm of faith, we search for the best word for how we believe, trust, and hope. But often no word is adequate.
In Biblical scholarship, zillions of words are written about single verses, comparisons between Gospels, and what the original Greek really, really, really meant. And we end up either adding to the confusion or, worse, far too confident that we have KNOWLEDGE. TRUTH. INFALLIBILITY. Blah-blah-blah . . .
I’m happy with “Oohh!?” Or a smile. Or shared laughter. Or an embrace.
Faith is frequently best understood when our words are tucked away.
Easter. Again. Do I even need to read any of the scriptures . . . about the early morning visit of the women, about Peter’s lung-aching race to the tomb, about Mary’s encounter with the risen Lord?
Don’t I know all I need to know? The Gospel’s dawn walk seems as familiar as the daily route I take with my dog for our morning stroll. The empty tomb feels as exciting as staring inside my open garage door. And whether it’s Matthew’s sleeping guards or Mary’s mistake about Jesus-the-gardener, those involved in the resurrection account appear as predictable as the clerks and cashiers in my local supermarket.
Easter Sunday – for April 24, 2011
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)
Easter. Again. The April (or late March) lilies bloom. The cross on the wall is draped in white (or gold). Christ the Lord is Risen Today is lustily sung (almost better than Silent Night, Holy Night).
I know it all. Easter’s been on my calendar forever . . .
I am the kid in the pews, nestled between parents, stuck in church for an endless hour. On some Sundays, maybe even Easter Sunday, I spy the cute blonde-haired girl on the other side of the middle aisle. She smiles. I look away. I smile. She looks away. We peek-a-boo between hymns and grumpy looks from parents and time clunkety-clunks forward. Oh thank-you Jesus when we finally sing the final hymn!! I glance longingly toward the exit, toward freedom.
I am the teenager in the upper balcony. At least now, transitionally trusted by my parents, I can sit anywhere. The balcony’s good; hardly anyone there. I have an excellent view of the preacher’s bald spot and can observe his sermon as he turns the manuscript pages. 1…2…3…4 . . . each next page brought us closer to the benediction, to that sending forth. Please, send me forth. And yet, once in a while, I don’t count pages. I hear words. The preacher, once in a while, looks up at me. At me.
I am a church’s student intern while studying at seminary. For a year, for a pathetic salary and the honor of playing pastor, I get to be mentored by established ministers. I do a few funerals. I do one marriage. I’m mostly relegated to helping with the youth. On Easter, I wait along the side wall of the sanctuary, just behind the Senior Pastor, watching the room fill with women in hats, kids in clean jeans, men with ties and suits. I’ve been at this church for enough months to recognize the active members. But this morning, this Easter, there are so many “new” faces.
As we wait to process down the middle aisle, I grumble to my mentor: “All these hypocrites, showing up once or twice a year.”
Without pausing a beat, he replies, “Or maybe this is like a family reunion. Families don’t get together too often. I think of Easter like a joyous reunion.”
How dare I suggest any of the Bible is hokum. Hooey. Balderdash. Rubbish. Any of those insults to the Good Book are nothing short of heresy. Sigh. But I think some parts are so much . . . hokum. One example: Mark’s conclusion (Mark 18:9-20). It has that add-on ending, where the Easter story is happily, easily wrapped up. It’s also riddled with buyer-beware footnotes.
Though I grit my teeth when I read it, I prefer the frantic, and more authentic, ending at Mark 16:8. It doesn’t make sense. Too much fear and uncertainty as the women dash away. However, the “bonus” ending feels like putting a fancy, expensive bow on a gag gift. All pretty and nice.
But trying to define (confine!) the Holy produces our worst hooey. Living is messy. Guilt and grace bump into each other all the time. Better to question than conclude, doubt yourself than smack another with your personal version of the truth. Am I “H for heretical?” Sigh. Probably. But I also shout alleluia at Easter. Such a wondrous, welcoming, dangerous mystery. Life. Death. Life again. Holy, not hokum.