As I look out into the softly falling snow, and see the hundreds of empty church buildings and streets, it’s hard to forget that Easter isn’t quite the same this year.
A few weeks ago, when the lockdowns began happening and the once booming metropolis I lived in transformed, overnight, to a small neighborhood, void of the markers of city life, I began to get worried. Would life ever return to normal? Would I die from this virus? Would someone I love?
As a world, we had fallen asleep in one plane of existence, and awoken in another. We’re stumbling through a darkness wondering when, and if, the light will once again return. Perhaps, then, this Easter isn’t so different at all. Perhaps we’re right where Easter is supposed to land.
There are two primary emotions the women who discover the empty grave experience throughout the four accounts: fear and confusion. In the first account, as told by Matthew (Matthew 28:1-8), an earthquake shakes the tomb open and a lightning strike brings down an angel. In typical celestial fashion, he lets the women know they shouldn’t be afraid. Jesus has risen, and the women run to tell the rest of the disciples the news “afraid yet full of joy.”
In Mark (16:1-14), the women had their routine changed. Instead of spending the Sabbath with Jesus, they go with spices to cleanse his corpse. They face immediate confusion when they realize neither is strong enough to roll away the stone from the grave, and again, when they arrive and it is removed. Their confusion turns to fear as they enter and find a man sitting up in the grave that held their friend, one of many zombie experiences in the Bible. This time, the women run away in fear, “shaking and confused, saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
Luke (24:1-12) tells us a similar story of the women approaching the grave for the preparing of the corpse but this time, the grave is truly empty. The women stand in a confused awe until two men appear out of nowhere and “the women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground.”
In John, Mary discovers the empty tomb and, panicked, alerts Simon Peter and another disciple, who confirm the strange and terrifying event. Mary returns later, alone, sobbing, no doubt scared, confused, and frustrated with the taking of the Lord’s body. In fact, she accuses a gardener (who turns out to be Jesus) saying “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” She is desperate for an answer, for a way forward, for something to make sense.
If you find yourself like these early disciples, afraid, confused, unsure, you’re simply having a case of the Easter mornings. It’s okay to be afraid when you experience something scary, to be unsure when you discover something new, and confused when everything you thought you knew has changed.
As I walked to work all those weeks ago, scared and confused about the mostly-empty streets I walked along, Ellie Holcomb’s “As Sure as the Sun Will Rise” started playing. I was struck by the meditation on mercy, but also on the homophone of the upcoming holiday:
As sure as the sun will rise,
And chase away the night,
His mercy will not end. His mercy will not end.
As sure as the Son rises, the dark is chased away. The mercy ceases to end, even in death. Even after it.
Gloria and Bill Gaither wrote the hymn “Because He Lives.” They illustrate, in the final verse before the chorus, the day that we ourselves face the ultimate fear, the ultimate pain:
And then one day
I’ll cross that river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death gives way to vict’ry
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives
There is pain, and fear, and confusion. There is death. There is a crossing of a bumpy and treacherous river.
The tomb can be empty even though the fear lingers. The tomb can be empty alongside the tears. The risen God does not shy from your confusion and hurt.
But one day we shall again see the lights of glory. We will, again, know he lives. We will sing of the mercy that never ends.
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