The Surprise of Resurrection

In her book Thirst, Mary Oliver writes a poem called “The Messenger” which reads:

“My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
And these body-clothes,
A mouth with which to give shouts of joy
To the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
Telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.”

Poet Mary Oliver writes, “My work is loving the world.”

This was the work of Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, as they looked on as Jesus was crucified; they watched and waited, stayed and prayed.  In the darkest hour, love remained, a candle of hope burned tenaciously.   When evening fell, a wealthy man named Joseph took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in fresh linen, laid it in a tomb hewed of rock, rolled a stone across the entrance and left.

Yet, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary remained there, that’s what the Gospel of Matthew says.  While everyone else left, the Marys kept vigil.

The women wait in this place of uncertainty, in this place that is hard and suspenseful. They stay in this moment when the sun has set, twilight has come, and you can no longer make out the meandering path that is in front of you.  They stay here, awaiting what they can not quite articulate … for God has promised that there is more to life than this  … there is more to life than violence and death and betrayal … and the Marys cling to this promise … they know not how they will find their way forward, only that they will.

Are their shoes old?  Are their coats torn?  Are they no longer young and still not half-perfect?

The Marys sit there, learning to love the world, keeping their mind on what matters.

Eventually, they take leave and rest.  Then, on the first day of the week, while it is still dark, they return to inspect the tomb.  They come to the graveside with certain expectations in mind.  They are familiar with the face of death – what it looks like, smells like, the tightness in their chest that it brings to them.  They come to the tomb, expecting the familiar, the familiar ways their minds tell them they are not good enough, the ways their minds judge and demonize those who are different, the ways anxiety and grief sneak up upon them.

They came to the tomb expecting.

Yet, when they arrive …. An earthquake happens.

They lose their footing.  It is in this moment precisely – this moment of stuckness, of hopelessness, of familiarity that the earth begins to quake and the ground shakes.  The women’s assumptions fall away … for something new is being birthed.

They peer ahead and see the stone of the tomb now rolled away …. With an angel sitting atop.

They are disoriented: What is happening?

In disorienting moments like this one, monk and blog writer Brother Aidan Owens tells us not to rush too quickly to resolution.  For when we are disoriented, thrown off kilter, we suddenly find ourselves able to stand still, to be astonished, to grasp onto something new.

Into this space, the angel says, “Do not be afraid” for God is calling us out of the familiarity of the tomb into a new place that where we experience life that is really life.

“Do not be afraid.”

The angel is saying this to us because the angel knows that sometimes we would prefer to pick the predictably of death rather than the astonishing newness of resurrection.  We see this in the Gospel story where Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus dies and is buried in a tomb.  Lazarus sits in the tomb for several days.  The King James version of the Bible says of Lazarus at this moment, “He stinketh.”   Lazarus sits in the tomb, comfortably dead when Jesus comes and calls Lazarus out.  At this point, I imagine Lazarus has gotten comfortable with his tomb-like surroundings. Lazarus is tired.  Part of Lazarus would probably prefer just to stay in the tomb.   Yet Jesus calls his name, inviting Lazarus out.  Jesus calls Lazarus’ name, inviting him to the cataclysmic experience of resurrection that God promises to each and every one of us, even when the tomb we have been in “stinketh” too.

It is never too late.

Jesus calls us by name.  Jesus reaches into the dead places of our lives.

In moments like this one, the angel says to us –  do not be afraid.  Do not be afraid for Jesus is leading you from the death that is familiar to life that is new and astonishing and surprising.

Mary Oliver writes,

“Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be

Learning to be astonished can be a hard task sometimes.

In the Hebrew Bible, when the Israelites are freed from Pharaoh and led out of Egypt, what is one of the first things the Israelites do?  They ask to go back; they want to go back because Egypt is familiar.  The Israelites have to be made ready for the Promised Land, which is why they wander in the wilderness.

They have to be made ready for new life.

Sit with your disorientation for a moment; look around; look around for the phoebe and the delphinium and the Risen Christ.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel says, then continues, saying, “Jesus, your beloved Guide and Savior has been raised to life.  Jesus goes before you to Galilee to share the good news. Go and tell others.”  Go to this new place.  Fear and joy course through their veins.  Part of them wants to stay here where, even though there is death, they at least recognize their surroundings.  Yet they heard the angel:  Go. Tell. New life is coming. 

 Mary of Magdala and the other Mary go, running, sprinting to tell the others, trying to figure out what they would say as they ran.

How do you put this sort of experience into words?

On the way, Jesus – their beloved teacher – comes to them.  At this familiar site, the women throw themselves on the ground and grab his feet.  They want to hold on to what they can recognize – they want to say to Jesus, please don’t leave us.

Jesus responds saying: do not be afraid, don’t stop now, keep going, keep going to Galilee.  If you stay here, clinging to the known, the story is never going to be told.  Continue on for in Galilee the disciples will also see me.

The story doesn’t end here, Jesus is saying.  There is more to be told, even if we don’t understand it all now, even if we don’t have precise GPS directions, even if we don’t know exactly what the resurrection will look like.  The promise of Easter that burns in our hearts is this: Resurrection is coming.  Resurrection is coming for you, for me, for all the earth.

Keep going.  Don’t stop now.

For resurrection starts with an earthquake, a shake-up of everything we thought we knew, and ends with life that is really life.

In her writing, poet Mary Oliver asks:

What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?

Perhaps the response is this: Our work is to love the world, to not be afraid, to stand still long enough to be astonished by God and to go and tell the story.

For the Good News, now and evermore is this: Christ is Risen.

[Christ is Risen indeed].




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