Easter. Again. Do I even need to read any of the scriptures . . . about the early morning visit of the women, about Peterâ€™s lung-aching race to the tomb, about Maryâ€™s encounter with the risen Lord?
Donâ€™t I know all I need to know? The Gospelâ€™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 itâ€™s Matthewâ€™s sleeping guards or Maryâ€™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 â€“ for April 24, 2011
â€œEarly 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.â€ (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. Easterâ€™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 balconyâ€™s good; hardly anyone there. I have an excellent view of the preacherâ€™s bald spot and can observe his sermon as he turns the manuscript pages. 1â€¦2â€¦3â€¦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 donâ€™t count pages. I hear words. The preacher, once in a while, looks up at me. At me.
I am a churchâ€™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. Iâ€™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. Iâ€™ve been at this church for enough months to recognize the active members. But this morning, this Easter, there are so many â€œnewâ€ faces.
As we wait to process down the middle aisle, I grumble to my mentor: â€œAll these hypocrites, showing up once or twice a year.â€
Without pausing a beat, he replies, â€œOr maybe this is like a family reunion. Families donâ€™t get together too often. I think of Easter like a joyous reunion.â€
And we process in.
I am a preacher. I read the scripture . . . those people out there have heard these words all their lives. I offer communion . . . how casually they gulp the wine and swallow the bread and shuffle back to their pews. I baptize the child . . . how the worshippers laugh as the child squirms and nothing Iâ€™ve said, casting ancient phrases into their midst, seems more important than taking pictures from the best angle.
Mary, in Johnâ€™s Gospel, after Peter has come and gone and before she recognizes Jesus, waits by the tombâ€™s entrance. She has never stepped inside, according the Gospel. And she never will. While she lingers and sobs, she peers within and spots two angels.
â€œWoman, why are you weeping?â€ the angels ask.
â€œThey have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.â€
Easter. The first time. History? Mystery? Myth? Truth? An odd tale told well? Wait . . . wait . . . wait. Donâ€™t hurry to the familiar moment when Mary sees the gardener, sees Jesus. Keep her there, outside where the stone has been rolled back, with her newborn words echoing against the tombâ€™s rock hard walls.
I do not know, she says.
I am the squirming child. My parents loved me. I am the balconized teen. The pastor looked directly up at me and I am seen. I am the student intern. A friend and mentor ignored my cynicism and shared his belief: this is family. I am preacher. And Easter after Easter, there is just enough Holy Mystery always unleashedâ€”and never because I make it soâ€”that I believe at least one person hears the scripture for the first time and rejoices, that one person is served communion and sheds tears when they realize theyâ€™re loved by grace alone, that a parent or grandparent gazes upon the baptized child and sees all children in the world as just as beautiful as this one.
Easter dares us to remember we do not know. We are not sure. Easter allows us to glimpse the tomb and yet to turn away toward life.