Today, I thanked a tree for its shade, pausing under its broad branches for a moment’s break from the late morning sun. I even blew it a kiss, the only gift I could think of to offer back was this bit of extra CO2 for its respiration. A very small bit, to be sure.
On a normal day, I wouldn’t notice this tree or at least I would pay it no mind. But these aren’t normal days, are they? These are odd days, co-opted by the novel corona virus. They have us thinking a-new about every thing and thinking more about everyone. Paying closer attention and taking more care.
Unannounced, this had me attending in a different way to many things I passed in my outing. This tree was the first of many trees I thanked, along with the woman riding toward me on her bike who got off and walked it wide so I could pass at the prescribed social distance. I returned the favor to a cyclist where I had room and he didn’t.
Not all were happy things. I lamented the loss of the life of a turtle who, in departing his pond in search of a distant and deeper shore, didn’t make it that far. This invited sudden thoughts of people who were now in peril because they had embarked on a similar trip. What was it like in the face of this virus if you were in close quarters, in a homeless shelter or detained as an immigrant seeking asylum?
Further on, from another resting spot in the shade, I could see a family of Sandhill Cranes walking along the shore. Mom and Dad mate for life; each year their brood is only two fuzzy yellow crane-lings. This family who only had one saddened me; I had watched two chicks with these parents only a day before. The danger to the young and the defenseless is real in all species.
Actually, that today was yesterday.
Today, I thanked the rather the tall hedge who provided me shade as the sun was still early in the sky.
The walkers gave me less leeway, so I swung wide for them.
The early bikers preferred the roadway to the path, as auto traffic was far more sparse than pedestrian.
The turtle now rested on its shell, having provided sustenance for scavengers nearby.
The cranes pecked their way along the familiar shallow hillside. Mom, Dad, and baby.
I paused then to appreciate the cool shade offered by the trees by the pond. I marveled at the majestic blue heron fishing, the glistening snowy egret so still, and the black bird in flight whose red wing patches gave it away. It landed in the reeds near the cranes who paused in pecking their way along shore’s edge.
Mom, Dad, baby and… another spot of yellowish white. From my distance I couldn’t be sure, but perhaps. If it moved I would know. I waited and watched. No one sped me along. No one called me home. No one pushed my pace or bid me hurry. I waited and watched, craning my neck and squinting into the quickly brightening day.
The spot moved; I was almost certain. As I looked on, it did move and then, sure enough, it straightened into a gangly, yellow fluff of a walking thing. It wasn’t dead; it was alive. I had witnessed a resurrection! Praise be!
In the times we are living, these 2020 times, this corona virus time, this Lenten time that will now almost surely conclude in canceled Easter services, this chick come to life felt like a sacred moment.
I have heard some quip that “This Easter Jesus will stay dead,” but watching the baby crane I wondered if things had turned their way around. Perhaps resurrection is happening among us, so that this Easter, in the very midst of the hardship and sacrifice we’re witnessing, we will be the ones telling the stories of all that God is redeeming and bringing back to life.
And that tomorrow will be all our todays.
Does it matter if the Resurrection actually happened?
This was the question we considered in my adult Sunday School class at a church I used to belong to. I was a regular at Sunday school, where we considered issues of faith and its practice as a matter of course. Sunday school was organized and led by the laity and always promised a lively discussion and discourse. But one Easter Sunday, a bunch of us who came for the sunrise service and stayed to participate in the other morning services had gathered for Sunday school only to realize nothing had been planned. So a class member took charge asking the question of the day: Does it matter if the Resurrection actually happened?
Our class leader didn’t think so. It’s so unreasonable, unrealistic, so hard to believe, she argued. My faith is in Jesus. If I follow him, that’s enough. Whether or not he was actually raised from the dead doesn’t matter.
I found my heart oddly soured when nods of assent went around the circle. Wait a minute, that’s Easter, this is Easter! I wanted to say. But I didn’t because I couldn’t. I couldn’t justify my response or defend it against this rising tide of head nodders satisfied with the Son of Man who showed us the way. This man healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed storms, silenced his detractors and regularly attracted crowds. Isn’t that enough?
Well, no. Because if that was enough, he’d still be here, healing and casting and calming and teaching. But, and I think all authorities agree on this, he is not. There are no longer sightings of Jesus, the good man. He did die. And scripture tells us that when they went looking for Him, He wasn’t where they put Him. Word was, they were looking in the wrong place. He had gone to Galilee and would be receiving people there. Go and see.
Easter, to me, is about the go and see. Could it be possible that a man has died and yet lives again? Not according to any text book I’ve ever read. And not, apparently, according to my Sunday school leader. She was taking the safe approach: let’s be satisfied with the Jesus we know. If we go looking for him as if he’d come back to life we might not find him, and then where would we be?
The thing is, we need more than the tame Jesus we find believable. Now more than ever, we need Christ who is beyond belief. One who works miracles, walks on water, and who accepts death on its own terms so we can know there is life for us beyond the death of all that is un-good, un-kind, un-fair and un-godly in us. Christ died so we can know that those things in us are mortal; we can live without them. We are better without them. He came to show us that life. Not just in eternity, but now during this one.
Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19)
Last week I visited an historic site on the western coast of Florida called Historic Spanish Point. It was filled with the stories of ancient peoples and settlers enduring hardship and trials. The most recent inhabitants considered it sanctuary and rest. The grounds were alive with story and layer upon layer of meaning.
The guide took us to see “Mary’s Chapel,”a tiny sanctuary that, in it’s day, was open to all who might come.
Next to the chapel was a centuries old graveyard filled with headstones proclaiming the inhabitants, pioneers and patrons who had found a home here. Oddly intertwined among the headstones was a trunk sprouting a few brown and dying ferns. “That’s the resurrection fern,” our guide told us. “It looks dead, doesn’t it? But in a few days, when the rains come, it will spring to life. No better place to have a resurrection tree than in a graveyard, eh?”
Oh my, yes. I’m so grateful there is such a tree in the graveyard of my life.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15: 12-14)
“I’m not leaving his side.” This is the expression of love. A love so deep that it proclaims, nothing is separating us. I am staying right here… in case he needs something, in case he hurts, to prevent him from getting lost or wandering away, so he won’t be confused or lonely. This is the language of love and devotion.
How must it have felt to Jesus to leave those he loved so dearly? Those who had loved him and been his closest companions. Those whom he had ministered to, taught, mentored, loved. These with whom he had laughed and cried, eaten, slept, prayed, walked, and sat in silence. These with whom he shared his final hours around a table where bread and wine became body and blood. What must it have been like to know that your leaving will cause overwhelming grief, mourning, pain and sorrow? To anticipate this pain and yet, agree to go?
Perhaps this pain was even greater than that inflicted by those who derided, flogged and crucified him. Perhaps this was why he asked this cup be taken, why his prayer evoked drops of blood. He longed to stay with those he loved. What reason could there possibly be to separate a love like that?
Only one: to prepare a place for us, all who love him, so we can be where He is. The only thing greater than a love like that is a Love Like That.
I sit mesmerized by our choir singing powerfully of the lamb of God slain. Crucified, dead and buried. We emerge in the silence of the dark night. As I sit in my car waiting for traffic to clear so I can make my way home, I wonder at what I’ve seen and heard. A dinner with friends so closely followed by denial and death. This speaks so loudly of the way of this world. Why do I force myself to sit before the sights and sounds of Good Friday? I know this story; it slays me.
The parking lot begins to clear and I power up my car to make my exit. I have inadvertently left the radio on and its lyrics shock the silence. “God’s not dead he’s surely alive,” croon the Newsboys. I smile to myself, then sing along. “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion…” I even turn up the volume a bit as I pull past the few remaining cars, motioning one woman driving a mini-van into the line ahead of me.
I wonder if she or the parking attendant in reflective orange who is directing traffic with orange-glo sticks can hear me and the Newsboys. Can they see me smiling and singing along? Probably wondering about me.
The way I see it, why wait? The weight of three days has already been lifted. God’s not dead; he’s surely alive.