If you don’t follow me on social media, you may have missed that we are in a Holy Week series entitled “Our Need.” You can catch up on Instagram or Facebook.
It’s a small room and beyond the walls, dozens of families are hunting for Easter eggs. In a circle, we’re asked to share in one or two words what Easter means to us. Some say “family” others say “Jesus.” Some say “hope” and others say “good food.” Easter is all of these things. When it gets to me, alone on Easter in a church that’s never really felt like mine, I say, “Overcoming.” Our last need of Holy Week is this: to know that we can overcome. To know that overcoming is even possible.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Matthew 28:16-18 NRSVue
Doubt is our original instinct. The Serpent, in the second creation story, convinces the first people to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not with striking rhetoric or trickery. He doesn’t come and offer them some tricky moral dilemma. He just plants an idea: God doesn’t really have their best interests at heart. It’s not dangerous to eat from the tree. It’s beautiful to eat from the tree. Eye-opening.
Doubt is a part of us. Worship is a part of us. One does not preclude the other. The disciples worship Jesus and doubt the fullness of his resurrection. In answer and in the midst of their doubt, Jesus reminds his friends of his divinity. All authority is his, even the authority over death. Jesus continues on to commission the disciples to tell his story to all nations. Their doubt does not dissipate in this story, or come to any meaningful resolution. Yet, by nature of us all being here, the disciples were successful in their commission. Their doubt was overcome. The gospel of Jesus Christ is spread, not in an absence of doubt, but in spite of it. Christ overcomes everything, not just our sin, but the doubt before the sin.
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.Mark 16:6 NRSVue
“Do not be alarmed” is a frequent refrain in the gospel story. It’s a phrase that’s easy to say and impossible to embody. Fear is heightened doubt. First, we begin to wonder if something is not what it seems. We begin to doubt the thing we know is true. Fear reinforces our doubt. It gives our doubt legs and a future.
The Marys’ fear in this story stems from the lack of Jesus where he should be. The fear in my own story comes from the same missed expectation. Jesus is not where I think he should be. The story is not going how I think it should go. I can’t find Jesus in the places and people I expect to find him. This is scary only until it sacred and beautiful.
Jesus’ authority leads to violations of our expectation. People who are tortured and killed shouldn’t come back to life. Our stories of waiting, cancer diagnoses, divorces, addictions, are stories that should not have happy endings. They should not be redeemed or they should never have happened. But Jesus is not where we expect him to be because he’s been busy doing something better than we could hope to dream for ourselves.
We can overcome the fear of an out-of-place Jesus when we remember that he has been raised from the dead, when we can root ourselves in the tangible display of his miracles.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. Yet for all their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.Luke 24:36-43 NRSVue
To overcome the immense obstacles posed by doubt and fear, Jesus offers us his hands and feet, proof that he has struggled against the weight of all the things in life that try to break us beyond repair. He is a trustworthy authority because he has done the only thing still inescapable to us in the 21st century: Risen from the dead.
We don’t have Jesus’ body here to feel and touch and make tangible. But we do have each other. We have coheirs in Christ who can serve as testaments to us in the middle of our doubts. Like the first people, we can sow doubt in each other. We can build our fear until it culminates into further brokenness. Or, we can build each others’ faith. We can share meals and listen to each others’ stories of beatings and death. We can rejoice in one another’s presence and the ways in which God has lead us back to life, enshrining us to the tapestry of resurrections, not as an act that only happened once two-thousand years ago, but can still happen to the tombs we carry with us today.
Every grave is robbable.
Every stone is rolling.
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”John 20:26-29 NRSVue
You are alive in the year 2023 for a reason and you are blessed for it. You are capable of overcoming because of what Jesus did on the cross and what he did three days later. Your story of death and resurrection is a testimony to others. Peace is possible for you. Yes, even you. Even now in the turbulance and the oppression and the sickness and the misery.
What can hell throw at you that the peace of Christ cannot cover?
We overcome depression and divorce.
We overcome trauma, personal and historical.
We overcome addiction and the effects of free will.
He is risen, friends, forever. He is risen, active and ongoing. He is risen in you. He is risen in me. He is risen indeed.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).
Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.