For some reason, something totally unexpected dazzles me about the resurrection passage this morning. It’s not the great earthquake. It’s not the countenance like lightning and the clothing white as snow of the angel. And it’s not the resurrected Jesus.
What I find deafening is the relative quiet of the passage, and what I find dazzling are the subdued tones with which St. Matthew paints his picture. This is why God didn’t choose me to write one of the four Gospels. I would have written purple prose. I would have extolled the virtues of the Mighty Hero who triumphed over the Devil and Death. I would have made the passage explode!
But St. Matthew plods along with his normal prose, describing things not as a composer of a hymn or fable but as someone who just wanted to write down exactly what people had witnessed. He doesn’t add his opinion or try to fill in the delicious gaps in the account which exist. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying very hard to glorify what happened. Look: he doesn’t even use a single exclamation point! !
Which is exactly why I love the Gospel narratives of the resurrection. I find that this is the way that God comes to me: not with a bunch of the heavenly boys whooping it up, but with a quiet narrative of what really happened. My knowledge of the resurrection comes not from a Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas movie but from a brief historical narrative.
It’s this mismatch between the extreme glory of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the quietness with which it has been related to me that gets my attention today. And now that I think about it, it requires a lot of faith.
I mean, think about how improbable the story is. A man dies and is placed in a tomb Houdini couldn’t possibly escape from, carefully secured by an armed Roman (or perhaps Jewish) guard. And then he not only rises from the dead but also escapes the tomb. All of this has happened 2000 years ago. Now I’m a pretty educated guy and somewhat skeptical of things sometimes. But I’ve bought this story, hook, line, and sinker.
Why? A sociologist could explain it by the influence of my parents and the American culture I was born into. A psychologist might explain it by whatever needs and neuroses and complexes he figured I had.
The answer lies in the power of the Resurrected Jesus. What else could explain why this improbable story has such a hold over someone like me and 2 billion other someones in the world and has found its way into every culture in a way that other religions have not?
It’s not just the resurrection that’s so improbable: the teachings of Jesus are so counterintuitive. I mean, what’s all this about if you want to be great, learn to be the servant of all? The #2 religion in the world (numerically), Islam, is mostly about power and domination, and has been from the beginning. Only in Christianity do you have an all-powerful God who improbably, impossibly, becomes a man and stays one. Some other religions have had gods who are incarnated as humans for a while but not permanently. And the other two religions with one all-powerful God, Islam and Judaism, will have nothing to do with a God who actually stoops to become a man.
But there’s something about this all-powerful God showing His strength in weakness that compels me to believe and live by my beliefs. The God who is powerful and loving enough to hide Himself in the form of a man and be born as a baby is the same God who hides in humble narratives and ordinary lives. He’s the same God who creates in unimaginably beautiful world and leaves undeniable and certain hints of Himself, and then frustratingly refuses to demand attention beyond all doubt.
This is like my life. If I pretended for a moment that I didn’t believe in the God who became man and in the God-man who rose from the dead, I could imagine that my life is just an ordinary, materialistic, secular life. I’ve had no night visions and no angelic visitations. I’ve seen no miracles, not in the deepest sense of the word. And yet my belief in God is so powerfully and inextricably a part of me that it defies explanation, aside from the power of God.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ happens offstage. Have you ever noticed that? Nobody was there at Ground Zero at H Hour. But what we see are the results of an explosion that makes the atom bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like the effect of a single bacterium falling to the ground. From that moment, the Kingdom of Heaven has been exploding. It knocks over the strong Roman guards, and it rolls away the massive stone. It transforms the lives of the disciples so that this tiny frightened band of brothers turns the world upside down in a matter of years. 40 years later it decimates the Old Covenant and its Temple and sacrifices.
55 years ago it swept into my life, causing me to be born to believing parents, and it’s been exploding, slowly, quietly, in my life ever since.
It is the shock and awe of the empty tomb, and it is the Day of Pentecost without the miracles. It’s the small still voice that was strong enough to create the world and yet gentle enough to perform spiritual heart surgery on me.
It is the Sacrament of Life, the invisible grace of God made visible in every imaginable way in my humble and small life.
It is the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s the meaning and end of my life. For I am a Christian.
Let me go out quickly from the empty tomb today with fear and great joy and run to bring word to His disciples and those who have not yet heard!
Prayer: O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through the same thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen. (Easter Collect from The Book of Common Prayer)
Points for Meditation:
- Now that you’ve meditated on the Resurrection of Jesus, how does it color the situation of your life today?
- Spend some time today meditating on your own resurrection.
- Spend time today praising God for the Resurrection of the Son.
- Sing some Easter hymns today!
Resolution: I resolve to rejoice today, for Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and if possible to share that joy!
Empty Tomb – Public Domain