I love the season of Easter! It’s my favorite Church season. Probably because it also falls on my favorite calendar season – Spring. I totally get the connection between Resurrection and Spring! New Life! New birth! Of course this only works in the Northern hemisphere. And it only works in places where there’s a distinct and cold Winter that then leads to a warming up of Spring – you know, where nature seems to come back to life again after the seeming death of Winter. (Some places, while technically in the Norther Hemisphere, don’t have this kind of distinction… for example some places in the norther part of equatorial Africa.)
Anyway, I do love Spring, and New Life, and Resurrection! I love the idea of resurrection, because it’s true! First off, it’s a profoundly human thing! We – Homo Sapien Sapien – the human race, as a species, have always leaned towards looking for the proverbial dawn after a long dark proverbial night. Almost every culture has had some form of religion. I say “almost” because, while our historians and anthropologists may not know of a culture that has not had “religion” in some form, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. We humans, from the beginning it seems, have always had a tendency to look “up”, to look “within”, to look to a deeper mystery of life we ended up calling “the gods”, or “god”, or “God”.
Our ancestors have intuited in some fashion the existence of a deeper sacred Mystery surrounding them. Our older ancestors attributed some “divine-ness” to the might of Thunder, or the majestic height of the Mountain, or the mysterious depth of the Ocean. Whether out of just mere respect, or out of recognizing some prior-existent sense of “other-ness”, we’ve imbued a sacredness to some moving elements of nature. Over time, others did this with the depths of the Mind, the Psyche. Still as mysterious, still as moving… but with religious ritual removed.
Did we – as a species – recognize the inherent meaning of something… a meaning already there? Or did we just imbue meaning to something that had none to begin with? It’s sort of a moot point, because we did it! All across the world. Over and over again! Perhaps from the very beginning of our species.
And over time, we ended up wrapping these elements of life with ritual and custom and practices. Some ended up becoming (from a “healthy persons” perspective – of our dominant world view) pretty harmful and destructive, while others are still meaningful to many today. We ended up building “religions” from these believes and customs. We ended up constructing theologies – understandings of the divine – around these religions.
Back to my point – I don’t know of a religion that doesn’t in some way -some how, some way- point towards a better “tomorrow” for its adherents to live towards.
And many religions have in their backgrounds a sacred story of the death and rebirth of a god, or many gods, or some divine being. There’s an element of resurrection in dozens of stories, of cultures; from the Central American Mayas to the Norse to the many Ancient Near Eastern religions (Egyptian, Babylonian, Jewish, Canaanite, Persian, and many more). Now, to be fair, there certainly exist distinctions between the various traditions regarding the nature of the resurrection… but there’s no denying this idea is there.
So, this is a pretty basic human tendency… to not only “see” some divine-ness out there – some how, some way. But also, as a species, we’ve also recognized – in some form or fashion – New Life… Resurrection! ...Becuase it’s in us to do this!
This is also profoundly a God-thing as well! Of course this is opinion (mine), but it’s not that far from what’s observed through history. It’s like we’re – as a species – hard-wired for this God-stuff! When did we -as human beings- start imbuing life mile-stones with meaning? When did we start recognizing sacredness in different elements of nature? When did we “invent” religion? Maybe it was always there in us to do these things. And it seems we did this all across the world. Now, we don’t have to agree with all the religions out there, but holy cow (see how I did that?!) we’ve always done this!
Sure, today we are able to scientifically explain how thunder and lightning work, and we can see that “up there” is just empty interstellar space. But plain ole thunder and lightning has inspired many an “enlightened” soul… and “just space”… I mean, even if you don’t believe in God, ya gotta be pretty dead inside to not have some sense of awe when looking up into interstellar beauty!
So, while some enlightened and rational “moderns” who’ve evolved beyond religion and gods, they also look at creation (or some elements of it) with their own version of a deep respect for the sacred. And even us “enlightened” ones… those modern cultures that seemed to have generally jettisoned religion and theism from their cultures, still have some sense of respect for the idea of New Life in their own way. They may have some national folk stories that lift up the idea of working through hardship towards a better life, some national themes of a better dawn coming from a dark night.
The oldest account of King Arthur comes from William of Monmouth -Historia Regum Britaniae- written in 1136. It tells the story of Arthur and Camelot. Who he was, where he came from, what he did for the people of the time (the ancestors of what would become the British people). Of course "King Arthur" as the story tells, didn't really exist. But that's not the point.
The point is that this is a story that tries to explain a "source" for the people of Britain AS the people of Britain. Arthur succeeds not only in uniting the kingdom, but uniting the people under one strong, wise and benevolent leader.
The story culminates in the battle of Camlan where both Arthur and Mordred are mortally wounded. Arthur is placed on a boat and floated down river to the mystical Isle of Avalon where his wounds are tended to. As with much of the story, Avalon lays in the mist between the world of humans and the world of the spirits. In this place, in this story perhaps, the mist is thin indeed. Arthur is said to be buried under a hill, where he and his knights rest… waiting to come to the aid of their beloved Britain when they are needed again!
Sure- we may recognize these stories as made up. But we may also recognize the deeper truth they represent! All this to say – we just can’t help it!
But that’s a Big Picture look. Let’s look a little more down to our own levels, where we tend to live and work. We’ve all experienced, and will continue to experience, our own deaths; the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, the dark struggle of depression, an ending of some part of life… these or others, realities of deaths we’ve faced in our lives.
But we’ve also experienced resurrections in some form! If we look deep enough, I can’t imagine anyone NOT having had some kind of life-giving experience of a New Day! I have to believe we have all -in some way or other- felt the call to come back to life again come back to life again after some loss or other. This is also a Resurrection!
So, our story as Christians is The Tomb Is Empty! Alleluia, He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! We say this, not only because we are human beings, but because we believe!
I believe in Resurrection! I’ve seen too much, heard too much, felt too much, experienced too much to NOT believe in resurrection! I’ve seen people who’ve struggled with addictions, who’ve felt the darkness of addiction… come back to life again! It doesn’t always happen, for sure… but it can! Resurrection – New Life is indeed a possibility!
Why did our immigrant ancestors decide to cross an ocean, embark on a dangerous journey, to come here to what would become the Unite States? Well, for whatever reason, you can beter bet they didn't do it on a lark! It's probably a safe bet to say they didn;t do this becaus they were bored. It's probably a safe bet to say they were looking to some form of "resurrection". Still today, across teh world, people leave everything they know; their social networks, their homes, their jobs (if they have any), a lot of their stuff... because they are looking for new life!
I’ve known some who’ve been in that terrible place after the ending of a relationship -either through death or divorce… but have been able to find life again! If resurrection is finding new life again, coming back to life again from the dead… then this is Resurrection!
Like green shoots of Spring slowly working their way through the softening ground after the apparent death of a cold dark winter… we have always had in us a propensity to slowly look for life… to slowly make our way back to life… after a season of death and destruction. We have the seeds of resurrection in us!
That’s why we -as a species- have told these stories of Resurrection! Over and over again, in all their varieties, in all the cultures, in all the places across the globe… we tell this story! We Christians have this story in the story of Jesus, that repeats this truth! Resurrection is real!
I wasn’t threatened when I recognized this… I was left in awe! I recognized the deep sacredness we humans have always had in us.
And in all this, I have been struck by the Redemptive quality of Resurrection… how in our lives, in our resurrections, we can come to recognize a sense of debt; debt to our families – our spouses/significant others, to our parents and grandparents, to all our ancestors who walked before us, who set the stage for us; debt to our friends – who supported us; debt to strangers maybe – who perhaps in particular moments, when the planets and stars aligned, helped us find light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe as we grow in age and mature in wisdom, we come to recognize the significance of the redemptive mature of our resurrections… and recognizing the debts that go with them… debts that may indeed never be repaid, and as a consequence move us to a deeper sense of gratitude.
“I can’t ever repay this… but thank you! Thank you! Thank you for my life!”
A striking fictional visual expression of this is the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, from 20+ years ago. It’s a World War II movie that follows an Infantry squad that's tasked with finding and rescuing the only surviving son of a particular family, right after the Normandy invasion in June of 1944.
They go through adventures and challenges to get to this private – and they are able to save him… but at a cost, of almost everyone in that squad.
As the last battle is almost over, Private Ryan, who’s now safe finally, is at the side of the mortally wounded leader of the squad, Captain Miller. Miller looks at Ryan, and with his dying breaths, says; “Earn this! Earn this!”
The movie then shifts to Ryan, many decades later, an elderly man by now, walking along the grave markers of the Normandy cemetery. He finds the grave maker he’s looking for – Captain John H. Miller. And all his memories seem to come back.
He recognizes not only was his life saved, but so were the lives of his children and grandchildren – present with him at that cemetery. (Interestingly, the number of his family present with him there equal the same number of lives it took to save him.)
He falls to his knees in front of the marker – his wife and family a respectful distance to give him and the spirits privacy. His family may or may not have known any of the story of his rescue, but we – the audience – do know… we do know the cost for his life and the lives of all his descendants after him.
“Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
By this point his wife has come to his side. He turns to her, “Tell me I’ve led a good life.” – Did I live well enough to honor their sacrifice? – “Tell me I’m a good man.”
She’s surprised at first, looking from her husband to the grave marker and back to her husband. Initially she's not sure what's happening. But then she becomes aware there’s something profoundly meaningful there to him.
“You are!”, she says.
In any resurrection story, I think there’s a redemption story – a story of the cost for New Life, and a story of how the unfolding New Life relates to that cost. And in this, we can’t help but feel a deep recognition of gratitude!
I dare ask you to think of a time you went through a death of some kind – a deep challenge, a dark night… and found the dawn breaking into a New Day for you later… a Resurrection. Your “coming back to life again” was probably the result, the help, of many others around you; their prayers, their holding you up, their working behind the scenes!
For sure, you may have done some hard work too! But more often than not, there’s so many others involved in our resurrections.
When I was first in the Army, I was part of a 12-man team. Among all our training and exercises, we also trained to compete in a yearly Ranger Challenge competition – testing our Infantry skills against teams from other units. The last event was a grueling 10 mile run with combat load (uniform and boots of course, load bearing equipment, our rucks filled with about 50lbs worth of basic soldier gear, and rifle).
It was grueling because we were competing against other teams, all of us trying to win. And to win, of course, we had to run as fast as possible. The rules were that during the run we had to stay together as a team – we had to start and end together.
I participated in about three of these competitions. One of those years, during the run, at about mile 7.5, one of the guys on our team just completely “lost it”. He must not have been drinking enough fluids, and for sure not replacing any of his electrolytes. He just stopped functioning properly – screaming, flailing, getting all crazy… then he just quit.
Well, mostly. From the waist up, he was non-functional. From the waist down however, he kept running (drive on!).
But... we did have a bit of a problem on our hands. So we quickly arranged ourselves to take up the slack. One of us held him up on his left side, another held him up on his right side, and I held up his ruck behind him… and as Forrest Gump said… we “just kept on running!”
This is a long story to talk about redemption and New Life – but it works! Sometimes people hold us up on our hard walk to Resurrection! Sometimes they hold us up on our sides when we can’t do it ourselves. Sometimes they pray for us when we can’t pray for ourselves. They do this because they love us. Because they love us… what they wouldn’t do for us!
And this is the story of our faith. What God wouldn’t do to lead the people to the Promised Land! What God wouldn’t do to bless the people. What God wouldn’t do for the people in the life of Jesus.
The cost paid for empty tomb leads to New Life!
This Easter story is a deeply redemptive one! It’s a way to tell us God’s love for us is deep enough, is profound enough, is wide enough… to lead to New Life. And at the cosmic level, that cost is already paid.
This story of the empty tomb is a way of saying to us, from God’s perspective – you… your resurrection… is worth ANY price!