I was in a conversation recently in which the phrase “the joy of Easter” was repeatedly used. This is a joyous time of year, I was told, and our worship must reflect that. Indeed, the Bible tells us, some of Jesus’ followers were filled with joy when they heard of his resurrection.
In church this morning we read the resurrection account from the Gospel of Mark. It has another emotion: fear. When the three women going to anoint Jesus’ body find an empty tomb instead, the first thing the angel says is, “Do not be afraid.” The passage—and indeed the entire gospel, in its original form—ends with a most remarkable verse: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were very afraid.” (16.8)
Fear, terror—those don’t sound like “proper” Easter emotions to me. Most Easter services don’t end with everyone running away in terror. Why not?
One difference is that we have it figured out. I don’t mean we have all the answers but we can at least tell a story about why the resurrection happened. Christ died, is raised, our sins are forgiven, and a way to new life is shown. When we mark Good Friday, we already know how the story is going to end.
But what would our Easter look like if we could set aside our tidy retrospective interpretations of Easter morning and put ourselves there with those women on that first Easter morning? All their certainties and right answers were upended first when Jesus was crucified and now, again, in the most remarkable way in the early morning hours. Can we just sit with them at the frighteningly empty tomb?
We live in a world that prizes certainty and certitude. I know this in my own life because I know how uncomfortable I get when I don’t have an answer for everything. But if I let myself sit at the empty tomb with these women, all my opinions, answers, and expectations are challenged and upended. And when I’m left without answers, without certainty as to what I think I thought I knew, I’m left fearful and afraid.
To say that there is great joy in Easter is true. But that’s a retrospective evaluation that lets us off the hook without the unsettling experience of discovering the empty tomb.
Although we prize easy answers and certitude in our world, it’s clear that a lot of the answers we are living with are wrong. The world needs to be unsettled. The church itself needs to be unsettled.
But before any of that can happen, I need to be unsettled—and that happens when I bring myself back to that initial moment of discovery at the empty tomb and admit my expectations may not be fulfilled and my answers may not be the right ones.
What in your life—not the church’s life, the world’s life, someone else’s life, but your life—needs unsettling and shaking up? What expectations of ours will not be fulfilled? Can you—can I—live here and now without an adequate explanation for how things will work out?
To start asking these questions might be to begin to let the paschal mystery work its way into our being—to be the Easter people we are called to be.