Astonished. Bewildered. At a loss for words.
These are the reactions that I imagine the women experience when they show up to Jesus’ tomb with fragrant spices and discover Jesus’ body is missing …
While this group of female disciples is still trying to make sense of what is going on, two dazzling figures appear and ask them: “Why do you search for the Living One among the dead? Jesus is not here; Christ has risen.”
Christ has risen …
The words take the ladies entirely by surprise. Christ is risen?
Is it possible? Can life really persevere over death?
Each of the women try to wrap their minds around this Truth.
How do you respond to something like that?
Still processing the news, they walk home, slowly, to where the rest of the disciples had remained, huddled together in fear and grief, unsure what to do next.
Upon encountering the gathered disciples, the women begin to explain their morning … that they had made these preparations and plans and, in the midst of all of them, they discovered Chris lives. Somehow in the midst of everything that happened – Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ death – resurrection had taken root.
“Oh no,” the gathered disciples reply, “That’s nonsense.”
In the face of their life circumstances, a life defined by Roman oppression, minimal economic subsistence, the loss of their Beloved Friend, resurrection seemed completely unbelievable.
I totally understand their reaction. Just take a look at the newspaper. Attacks in Belgium. Divisive political discourse. Loneliness, pain, unrest in our lives.
Sometimes new life feels light years away. When we are huddled up in that room of fear, bitterness and blame, resurrection seems like nonsense.
And yet …
And yet … the news grips Peter’s heart. Could it be true? Peter loved Jesus so much and when Jesus had needed him the most, he had turned away and said, “I don’t even know the guy!”
What kind of friend does that???
Is it possible, Peter wonders, that his failures, his mistakes, are not the end of the story? Is it possible to find healing and resurrection in the midst of all that he had endured? Is it possible that peace could come upon his heart? That forgiveness might be offered to him? Is it possible that even after all the hatred that had occurred on Friday that Love still has something powerful to say today?
Peter isn’t sure, but he has to find out for himself. He hits the ground running, one foot after the other. Peter sprints to the tomb, his heart racing, and when he shows up, all he sees is the wrappings.
Jesus’ body is gone.
The women’s words are true.
Christ is risen … the reality soaks into his being … peace pulsates in his veins … as he stands there in amazement.
I imagine that Peter is so amazed because, as he was running, he was still half-thinking: “This is nonsense.” That thought draws from all the places of despair, pain, and regret in his life. It draws from all the places in life that make him feel stuck and cause him think “That is just the way it is.”
And yet …
And yet, in the places that Peter had deemed as nonsensical, that he had deemed foolish or worthless, God had been busy creating new life. That’s the thing about resurrection, it can be so hard to wrap our minds around and yet it comes every time. It bubbles up in places of despair; it springs up in place of death; it loves defiantly in places of hatred; it creates a way forward from what had previously been a dead end.
Brother Roger of the Taize monastery writes, “When trials arise within you or misunderstanding arrive from without, never forget that in the same wound where the pains of anxiety are seething, creative forces are also being born! And a way opens up that leads from doubt to trusting, from dryness to creation.”
What we learn on Easter is that resurrection is God’s creative response to death. God does not dwell on knots, failures or dead ends; rather God dreams up another way forward entirely. While we are busy resigning ourselves to the way things are, God is busy make all things new in ways that we cannot anticipate or imagine, in ways that render us astonished, just like this morning’s women, just like Peter.
This is reality that Rev. Greg Boyle, a Californian priest, experienced firsthand. After he had been ordained as a priest, Greg decides to spend a year in Bolivia even though all he could manage to say in Spanish was the Eucharist or communion liturgy and that was only if he had the words in front of him.
A few weeks after Greg arrived in Bolivia, a group of health care workers ask him to celebrate mass in a remote village in the mountains with a group of Quechua Indians.
Greg agrees and so they travel up the mountains one Sunday afternoon. As they are driving Greg suddenly discovers that he has forgotten to bring the Spanish words for the communion service!
Greg’s body begins to sweat profusely in anticipation as he tries to pull together the few Spanish words he knows. Finally they stop at a field, where Greg disembarks and joins hundreds of Quechua Indians in gathering ‘round a table. Greg hobbles his way through the service. A local Indian delivers the sermon. Then it’s time for Greg to lead communion. He freezes. He reads some of the notes that he managed to scribble in the truck. Greg lifts the bread and wine up whenever he runs out of things to say. It would be hard to imagine a service going worse.
After the service, an elderly woman takes him aside for a thirty-minute confession and, when they are done, Greg notices that everyone has left, including his ride. He is alone with his humiliation.
Convinced a worst priest has never walked the earth, Greg begins to make the long trek down the mountain when, suddenly an old man appears. The man’s body is weathered by his outdoor work, and he measures a foot shorted than Greg. He approaches Greg and says: “Thanks for coming padre.”
His words take Greg by surprise. Greg is speechless.
Then the old man reaches into the pockets of his coat and retrieves two fistfuls of multicolored rose petals. He is on the tips of his toes and gestures that Greg assists by lowering his head. The man drops the petals over Greg’s head. He digs into his pockets and manages two more fistfuls of petals, again and again and again. Red, pink, and yellow rose petals cover Greg’s hair, and cheeks and shoulders.
Greg stands there, letting the man do this, as he stares his shoes, now moistened with his tears.
Finally the man takes his leave and Greg is there, alone, with only the bright aroma of roses, full of amazement at what has occurred.
Christ is risen …. How do you respond to a truth that profound? How do soak in the reality of a God who, in our worst moment, shows up and endlessly drops rose petals on our head just to show us how loved we are?
This Easter season, Christ invites us to pause, to listen, to pay attention,
To go looking for resurrection first-hand like Peter,
To dare to leave aside our careful-laid plans and preparation like the women disciples,
To risk looking foolish,
To open ourselves to God’s creative forces,
To dream up an entirely new way forward,
To experience love in ways we never expected or imagined like Greg.
This Easter season, Christ invites us to cast off the shackles of fear and to come and see for ourselves. To experience the truth first hand – Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.
How are we going to respond that invitation?