Mainline Protestant Channel
Holy Week Meditations: Opening to the Complexity
A few years ago, while I was tidying up the house, I heard the conspicuous rip of pages, a then-favorite activity of my 2-year-old. I went to the living room to survey the damage and found that my son had gotten his hands on my Bible, opened it and discovered the truly satisfying sound of a torn page, particularly one so wafer thin.
I looked down at the few pages scattered on the floor to see what my toddler's heresy had destroyed. It was the resurrection. And it made me wonder whether, if there were no resurrection, would the gospels then be enough for me? Is the way Jesus lived powerful enough to command my allegiance? Do I follow Jesus because something miraculous happened, or do I follow Jesus because I believe the way Jesus showed us is the Way?
In other words, I wonder whether our human need for Easter—for a sign or wonder to legitimate the Good News—is what makes the resurrection essential to the Christian faith. And, I question whether the resurrection should be such a theological lynchpin that the slightest doubt or disbelief topples the whole thing and makes Christian objects of pity, as Paul remarks. Doubt and disbelief are important to the Easter experience in the Gospels, and Jesus does not condemn his disciples for them. So, if we want to experience the resurrection, I suggest that we not simply celebrate it or find joy and hope in it. We must doubt it, too. We must admit our disbelief.
In truth, Easter absorbs both the joy and triumph as well as the fear and disbelief, and is irreducible to just one experience of it. It would be easier if Easter were only the trumpet blasts and Alleluias. Or, it might even be easier if Easter were only fear and disbelief. But Easter is all of this, it holds all of it, even the contradictory emotions, and makes them one. And that is what makes the Paschal event such a profound mystery.
O God, we confess that we need Easter to believe in your Christ, and we repent that his life is too often not enough to sustain our faith. And we confess our conflicting emotions, the doubt coupled with triumph, the fear coupled with joy that we carry with us this Easter day. Give us the strength not to reduce our experience of Easter to a single emotion, but rather open our hearts to the complexity of our response to these mysteries of faith. When we doubt the resurrection, renew our belief. When we believe the resurrection, renew our doubt. And always, unite us in that renewal.
As a child, my family had an odd way of expressing our love for one another.
We would scare each other to the point of tears, screams, and then laughter. My mother would hide on top of the washing machine if she knew we were coming in from the garage, hop down and roar at us. My dad would pop out from behind couches and make us jump out of our skin. And when we were old enough, my brother and I loved returning the favor.
I didn't realize this was strange behavior until I got married and infuriated my newlywed bride when I jumped out from behind a door with a shout. Apparently, this kind of prank is a weird expression of affection.
The resurrected Jesus, put simply, is weird.
He is constantly shape-shifting, transforming from a gardener into God at the tomb, from a vagabond into the Lord on the road to Emmaus. He vanishes from sight like a ghost, but fills his belly like a man who loves food. He appears inside locked rooms. He still has gaping wounds in his hands, feet and sides, but doesn't drip pools of blood. Jesus pops out of dark corners unexpectedly and scares the bejesus out of his followers.
David Henson is a writer who lives in Augusta, Georgia, and is currently working on a novel. He received his Master of Arts from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. His meditations on scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk through Advent (2009), the Christian Century web site, and numerous other blogs. He authors the blogs Unorthodoxology. Find him on Twitter or Facebook.