Did you miss Easter? It happens all the time. Lots of people miss Easter. Even well-intended, faithful people miss Easter. As my old friend Sam Portaro once wrote: “If you missed Easter, you're in good company; history’s on your side.” (1)
According to the gospel accounts, very few people were actually around for the first Easter. Sure, there were curiosity seekers who watched, and maybe even followed along, as Jesus carried his cross through Jerusalem. There was a small group of loyal women, including Jesus' mother and Mary Magdalene. There were Roman guards, and perhaps, a few religious and political authorities keeping an eye on the execution. There was also a scattering of onlookers at Golgotha.
There were a couple of folks who took Jesus' dead body off the cross and carried it to the tomb. And on that first Easter morning, depending on whose gospel record you're reading, Mary Magdalene, a few other women, and Peter went to the empty tomb. Luke's gospel then records an episode on the road to Emmaus with two other disciples, as well as a meal with the rest of them; and Matthew tells of the Risen Lord meeting the twelve disciples (less Judas) on the mountain, ordering them to make more disciples, to baptize and teach in his name.
And then there's John's Gospel account. It tells us that Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus in the night, helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus' body for burial and carry him to the tomb. It recalls Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb while it was still dark, finding the stone rolled away and running for Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved. The Fourth Gospel also recounts several post-Easter appearances of the Risen Christ, including two visitations to the disciples in an Upper Room; Thomas’ demand to see and touch Jesus’ wounds; Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach and instructing the disciples on where to drop their fish nets for a miraculous catch; and lastly, Jesus' conversation with Peter about love and loyalty.
It’s not because they went to Easter, but rather because Easter came to them. Easter came to Mary, who thought he was a gardener. Easter came to Thomas and others locked away in fear. Easter came to pilgrims on the road to Emmaus, and to disciples fishing in the early morning hours. Easter finally came to Simon Peter in a moment of repentance and reconciliation.
Easter comes to us, and not always on Easter Sunday. Often, maybe usually, Easter comes to us when and where we least expect it. I’ve witnessed Easter come to hospital rooms, homeless shelters, and unemployment lines. I’ve seen Easter show up at a crowded restaurant, a city sidewalk and a lonely beach. And yes, Easter can come to someone sitting in church but not expecting to receive the good news of resurrection.
Last year, Easter came to me in a most unexpected way when I was newly diagnosed with dementia and spent Holy Week on a transatlantic, repositioning cruise, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar under the full moon of Maundy Thursday. Since then, I’ve been traveling the globe and living in the realm of God in some new and wonderful ways, discovering and claiming the fullness of a life with dementia.
Resurrection - the central message of Easter, a stumbling block for many - is a paradigm shift: an altering, breaking, and transforming of the rules. It changes the most powerful and pervasive rules of all - that good guys finish last, evil wins, and death has the final word. Resurrection says that, in God’s realm, good guys and gals finish first. Resurrection insists that goodness can overcome evil. Resurrection also says no to the finality of the grave, and yes to life. Yet, paradigm shifts - especially those that are profound and life changing - are hard to explain and harder to accept, even for those who see with their own eyes and touch with their own hands.
Thomas Kuhn, in his groundbreaking book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, explained the power of paradigms this way. If I show you a deck of cards, you know what to expect. The red cards are diamonds and hearts, and the black cards are clubs and spades. But what if I show you a red spade? Experiments have demonstrated that chances are fairly certain your eye won't see it. Rather, you will most likely insist that my spade is in fact a heart or diamond. Why? Because that's just the way things are.
The resistance to paradigm shifts is as old as history itself. Remember Galileo, the one who insisted that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. He was excommunicated because of his wild, heretical ideas. Or Peter Abelard, who taught that God’s love was universal and unconditional; he too was excommunicated. Simply put, Jesus was all about shifting paradigms, and the resurrection was the biggest shift of all.
Thomas, whom tradition calls The Doubter, wasn't with the disciples the first time the Risen Christ visited them in the Upper Room. While they were locked inside for fear, Thomas was out in the world. Maybe he was out buying groceries. Maybe he was going stir-crazy and had to get some fresh air. Who knows? But he wasn't there the first time Easter came around. And when he returned, he demanded proof: "I'm not going to believe this miracle unless I see it for myself."
As Frederick Buechner writes: “Imagination was not Thomas’ long suit...He was a realist. He didn’t believe in fairy tales, and if anything else came up that he didn’t believe in or couldn’t understand, his questions could be pretty direct.” (2)
You know what that's like. Your friends, family or co-workers tell you about an event that sounds too good to be true, and deep down inside, you don't believe it. It happens to me all the time. Someone tells me about a fabulous movie, a great restaurant, a book that I must read, or an easy diet or a simple exercise routine that promises miraculous results. I listen intently, and then I think to myself: maybe, we'll see. And then if I check it out for myself, I discover that sometimes they’re right, and sometimes, they’re not.
Thomas saw, heard, and touched. Jesus showed up again, just for his sake. Easter came to Thomas in a most unexpected way, and yet, it was exactly what he asked for.
With all of our uncertainty and doubt, you and I approach the empty tomb, the wounds of the Risen Christ, and the mystery of resurrection in differing ways. But in showing up, in being present and accounted for, in acknowledging our uncertainties, and in asking God to accept both our faith and our doubt, Jesus replies, "Blessed are [you] who come to believe" - however you get there.
So, if you missed Easter, it’s all right. If you open your eyes, ears, mind and spirit, Easter will come and find you, wherever you are. But it doesn’t hurt to ask for a little help. So why not give it chance. Ask to meet the Risen Christ, and be ready to welcome Easter into your life. - Tracey
1 - Sam Portaro, “Missing Easter,” http://credoveni.wordpress.com/2012/04/08
2 - Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, New York, Harper & Row, 1979, 165.