Easter Sunday – Resurrection of the Lord | John 20:1-18
They did not go to his tomb out of faith. They went for other reasons.
They went to Jesus’ tomb out of obligation. Duty. Resignation. Perhaps love. Or perhaps to confirm for themselves the reality of his death, to wrap their minds around what they had seen, what they did not want to believe.
We do that, deny reality, over and over. We deny the reality of the world around us when it refuses to match our inward expectations. A sacrament is sometimes called the outward sign of inward grace. If so, denial is the outward sign of unmet expectations. Inner dissonance.
For many reasons, they went to the tomb early in the morning on the day after the sabbath. They did not go to be witnesses to a resurrection. Who would? It’s a ludicrous idea, a childish denial of the workings of the universe.
Things break down. Things fall apart. People die. We die. We have to accept that, or go through life with an unrealistic and unreconciled perception of our world.
Resurrection, there’s a concept. Christianity clings to it, insisting that people who were dead somehow lived again. The faith-minded call it miraculous. Others, the ones who do not reject the idea out of hand, might say that it could have been something we do not understand, some imposition of energy, returning a person to a prior state of greater order. Such ideas are more science fiction than science, rejected by logical minds as perfect examples of denial dressed up as something more.
Take the stories told by the ancient Greeks, like the minotaur in the labyrinth. Few people today believe that there was a labyrinth, even fewer that there was a real monster roaming in it, eating whoever stumbled into its path. Still, it’s a great story, and we continue to tell it, because on some level we all get it—life is a labyrinth, and we don’t know what waits around the next corner. We need courage and cleverness to deal with our monsters.
Like those first disciples, the women at the tomb, we don’t all come to these Jesus stories out of faith. Some of us listen to them out of obligation or duty. Resignation. Perhaps love for the familiarity of religion or for the family and friends who participate. Maybe we listen to the stories about the resurrection of Jesus because we are trying to decide whether we might believe them, or not, trying to wrap our minds around something we have never seen.
Like the story of the labyrinth, we might come to understand resurrection in new ways. Who hasn’t needed a reset button from time to time, some energy returning us to a prior state of order?
The resurrection offers a word of grace, that here is a way back, or forward, a way to make sense of the crooked path we’ve taken through our labyrinth, a way to redeem our wasted moments, our ill-made choices.
We might take another look at the resurrection stories, not with the blind acceptance of mere religion (it’s not the same thing as faith, is it?), and not with the blindness of those who have rejected religion, regardless the reasons, and who then refuse to listen. A closed mind is a weak mind.
Stories matter. These resurrection stories matter. They help us make sense of who we are.
Below is a re-telling of another resurrection, the raising of Lazarus seen from the point of view of the disciple John. Maybe hearing it can help us to hear the Easter story of the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe it will at least help us find a way through our labyrinth. If we still do not find faith that we ourselves will one day be resurrected, we may at least carry away faith that our present lives can be resurrected, that something more is possible, here and now. That is a start on the gospel way.
Resurrection. Redemption. Restoration. Those are good words for an Easter Sunday.
“I am the resurrection,” Jesus said. “I am the life.” Later the words would be famous, and we would think we understood them. This day the words seemed odd, out of place. He asked her, “Do you believe me?”
Martha glanced at me then looked back into Jesus’ eyes. “Yes,” she said. “I believe you. You are the Messiah.”
Messiah. That is who he is, I thought. I had thought many things before that day, but for some reason I had never thought of that word. I wasn’t sure that I understood it. I wasn’t sure that she did.
She turned and walked away, going quickly back toward their house. Jesus stood still for a few minutes and watched her walking away. The mourners followed her, but they looked back over their shoulders at Jesus. I could tell they were wondering about what they had heard, wondering if they had heard correctly, wondering if we were all crazy. If they hated us before this, I thought, they are going to try to kill us now.
Jesus began walking again down the path into the village, toward the house of Lazarus. Their parents were dead, and Lazarus had been left with two unwed sisters and the property. They were comfortable enough, had some standing in the community. All in all, they were a few rungs up the ladder from fisherman like most of us. When we reached the center of the village we found everyone gathered at the house to mourn.
Then Mary, Martha’s sister, came outside, with a crowd of people who had been gathered in the house. They were all crying, some honestly. Mary came walking straight to Jesus who stood still once more waiting. She walked up to him with the same indictment as her sister and said, “If you had been here, he would not have died.”
Once more, I didn’t know whether she would slap him or not. Everyone knew how much time had passed since the return of the servant who brought that slip of papyrus. All of them knew we had made no great haste to get there. Nevertheless Mary just fell at Jesus’ feet, tears pouring down her face. Martha came back out of the house sobbing. I looked around, and even Peter had tears in his eyes.
Then Jesus started crying himself. There were tears on his cheeks, rolling silently into his beard. It was such a strange sight, Jesus crying. Most of the people were crying, making a general wail throughout the open space. I heard someone say that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he had come in time.
Jesus took Martha by the arm and raised her up, then he started walking toward the edge of the village where there were tombs cut into the hillside. Martha walked with him, and Mary, and all of us followed along with the mourners from the house. Eventually, Martha pointed at one of the tombs, Lazarus’ tomb, and she put her face in her hands and wept.
Jesus was staring at the tomb. I was suddenly afraid, slightly nauseated, as I contemplated what he might be about to try. Surely not, I thought. Surely he will not try this thing.
“Take away the stone,” he said. I put my hand to my mouth, horrified. Martha sniffed, her tears slowing with the shock of hearing the words.
“Take away the stone,” he said again.
Martha looked around at the stone, back at Jesus. “My Lord, we cannot, not now, it has been four days. The smell…”
People near enough to hear what they were saying began to murmur. I looked around to see if anyone was picking up a rock.
“If you believe, you will see the power of God,” Jesus said. “Take away the stone.”
It was like one of those dreams where everything gets slowly worse, but you cannot wake up. I wanted to walk away, go anywhere, but my legs would not move. They would stone us, I thought. The Romans would not have to do anything. Our fellow Jews were going to kill us right here in this village. I looked around at Peter, who was holding his stomach with both hands. Peter, I knew, did not care for bodies. The dead unnerved him. It made no difference, I thought, soon we would all be dead.
Martha turned and looked at some men in the crowd and nodded to them. They did not move, but just looked at her as though they did not understand. She pointed at the stone rolled in front of the small cave that formed the tomb. I thought I could already smell the body.
The men looked at one another, but Martha pointed again and they rolled away the stone. Then they backed away, watching Jesus. Martha swayed a little and caught herself. Mary joined her and they stood with their arms around one another.
It was so quiet that all I could hear was an occasional foot shifting on the stones, a bird chirping in the distance.
Jesus began praying, out loud, thanking God for hearing him. Everyone could hear him right then, I thought. Everyone except Lazarus.
Then Jesus stopped praying, and there was silence. I could not even hear the birds anymore. Then he yelled, “Lazarus! Come out!”
I started praying, silently, hoping this was, in fact a dream. I prayed to be somewhere else, that all of this was not happening. There was no way out, the tombs being at the end of a path, and we were surrounded by a crowd who were certainly going to kill us very soon.
Then I heard something moving in the tomb. We all heard it. There was a shuffling sound, like someone’s feet sliding against the stone floor of the cave. I glanced around to make sure other people were hearing what I was hearing. Peter was staring into the tomb, his mouth hanging open like a dead man with no head cloth.
There was a sudden gasp, everyone in the crowd breathing in at once, then the murmurs, and finally a woman screaming until she fainted, falling onto the ground. No one had the presence of mind to catch her. We were all watching Lazarus walk out of the tomb.
He was wrapped in the burial shroud, shuffling his way into the light.
“Let him go,” Jesus was saying. “Take those things off of him.”
Mary ran to her brother and began loosening the same cloths that she had helped to tie around him four days earlier. Martha was crying, hysterical. Two men turned and ran down the pathway, back toward the village and Jerusalem, yelling that Lazarus was alive.
Somehow I knew that none of this was going to turn out well. Lazarus had never been one of my favorite people. Now that he was shuffling his way out of the tomb, he gave me the creeps. He still did.
Nevertheless, I had seen the power of God. Jesus had raised a man from the dead. He couldn’t be the Messiah, could he?
This was an excerpt from the novel I,John. You can find out more about it here: crtaylorbooks.com/i-john