Monday, April 2, 2018

Between Death and Life (a piece for the Newspaper)

In my line of work I am often asked “ready for Sunday yet?” Normally my response is something like “sort of”. But at this time of year I think the question is really quite apt. Are we ready for Sunday? Are we ready for resurrection to be revealed and the world to be changed? Or are we really spending our time living on Saturday, to stay in the space between death and life.

Holy Saturday, the time of waiting does not get a lot of attention. Some churches have prayer vigils on that day, but many use the time to change the decorations from the sombreness of Lent and Good Friday to the brightness that will accompany the Easter celebration. But we need to stop in that time in-between time, we need to ponder what it means to exist in the time between death and life.

There is a cartoon that popped up in my Facebook memories as Easter approached this year. It was about “Schrödinger's Easter” and said that as long as the tomb remains closed Jesus can be seen as both dead and alive. (The reference is to a thought experiment called Schrödinger's Cat and I only know that courtesy of Sheldon Cooper and The Big Bang Theory.) I think it is a great way to describe Saturday living. Dead or alive?

Jesus is dead. They watched him die. But we who know the rest of the story know that on Sunday morning the tomb will be empty. There us a temptation to jump to the end. Even as we tell the story of the death we want to jump to the end, because it makes us feel better to celebrate life than to name and feel the reality of death. I want us to stop and spend time in the in-between.

Being in the in-between allows us to name the reality of death and loss. Remaining in the in-between allows us to feel the reality of death and loss. I know it is not often a comfortable place to be but maybe it is the time spent in the in-between that opens us up for the transforming power of resurrection. Because, in the end, Easter changes everything. Unlike Lazarus, Jesus is not resuscitated, he is resurrected and transformed. Truth be told, I think most people actually look for resuscitation.

One of the biggest challenges about resurrection is that it means transformation. The Easter stories in the Gospel make it clear that people had trouble recognizing the Risen Christ. In a very real way the man they met in the garden or on the road to Emmaus was different from the man they had seen led out to be killed. It was not just life being breathed back into the old body and the stopped heart restarted. Jesus had been transformed; the new life after Easter was not the same as life before the cross.

The same can be said for Jesus’ followers. Before they experienced resurrection they were afraid, hiding, certain they would be next for the cross. Afterwards they were filled with strength and courage, able to launch a movement that would reach from a tiny Roman province to the center of the world and beyond. The transformation was complete and world-changing.

To embrace new life means we have to stop looking for the old life to return. To open ourselves to the possibility of resurrection life means that we need to be ready to be surprised (although that does sound like a contradictory sentence). Nobody expects resurrection, it comes out of left field and surprises us with a life we had not foreseen. Saturday time, the liminal space between death and life, gives us the space to let go of old hopes as we stand on the threshold of something new.

Maybe we need an economic resurrection? Not just the resuscitation of the way we have been for decades but a transformed way of living with each other. Maybe we are struggling with addictions, and we need to let that part of our life be killed so that healing can occur? Maybe we have been aiming at the wrong goals and now need to let those things fall away so we can work toward goals that bring fuller life? Where do you need death and resurrection in your personal life? Where do we need death and resurrection in our corporate life? Can we sit in the in-between to give God space to bring new life and hope?

Blessed Easter to all. Beyond the fear and uncertainty of Saturday time, the space between death and life, may we all find the promise, the hope, the joy of Sunday’s dawn.

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