After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Should you wake up on Easter morning feeling sad, scared, or strangely empty, may you take heart in the fact that you are experiencing the day as Jesus’ disciples did on the first Easter morning. On this the four gospel accounts agree: for the disciples, resurrection was not a singularly joyful experience. Whenever joy is mentioned, other feelings accompany it, such as fear, confusion, or doubt. How could it have been otherwise? No one goes from grief to joy at the turn of a switch.
And yet seeds of joy and hope are planted in their hearts. They don’t force themselves to feel joy–it comes alongside their fear. Hope rises in them like a seedling pushing through dirt toward the sun. The One they thought had been taken from them forever is somehow alive–not as he was, but with them nonetheless. Life as they had known it was over, but seeds of a new life had been planted in the soil of their grief.
Let me emphasize this: Jesus’ disciples didn’t cheer themselves up on Easter morning through the power of positive thinking. As one theologian makes the point: “Resurrection is not brought about by good people trying harder, but when God acts at that boundary of life we call death and does something altogether new.”
Without question, Easter Sunday falls this year in a challenging time, as it does every year for those who find themselves at that boundary of life we call death. But resurrection is for challenging, heartbreaking and frightening times–for times like this, when we need assurance of God’s empowerment and presence in and through the worst that can happen.
Those who promote Christianity as a faith of selective rescue from the struggles of life are not reading their gospels carefully. Christianity is a faith in God, revealed to us in Jesus, who suffers alongside us and carries us through whatever we must endure. Rather than triumph, resurrection brings quiet amazement that life can indeed be lived after something precious is lost. The grace and mercy of Christ meet us in the crucible of real life, where real things happen, not all of them easy. These are the times that resurrection faith is for.
Resurrection is also a universal experience. Every human being has had or will have the experience of crossing through death into life. Nor is resurrection merely a private experience: As William Sloane Coffin preached on Easter morning over 40 years ago, “The lamp of resurrection doesn’t merely swing over one empty grave, but rather over the thick darkness covering the whole earth.” While this is still a Good Friday world, what God asks us to trust with our whole being is that love is stronger than death. “We’ll never be able to prove this,” Coffin said, “but we can trust it.” We can trust it for ourselves, even trust it for the world. When we do, we align ourselves with the power of love that is stronger than death and help live it into being.
What makes this experience uniquely Christian is Christ himself. For those who choose him, or are somehow chosen by him to be his followers and friends, there is a deep and abiding connection. We’re not walking on the path from death to life alone; Jesus meets us, as he met those first brave women as they left the tomb. He will never force himself on anyone, nor punish anyone for not choosing to know him. But he’s here, on the path, and he’s up ahead, as he promised. We’ll never know for certain what lies before us, but we do know who is before us, which even in the midst of fear, gives us hope.