We are not yet arrived at the shimmering sunrise of Easter morning.
Jesus has a dusty road yet to travel. The disciples will grow increasingly puzzled. The religious leaders increasingly agitated. Judas will plot to deliver his deadly kiss.
The Gospel of Luke paints an aching portrait of Jesus in anguished prayer in Gethsemane, sweat like great drops of blood spattering the earth around him. The soldiers massing below in the town to bring him to an unjust trial. The crucifixion between two thieves. A final promise. Then death.
Resurrection doesn’t come easily. Someone, or something, must die first.
As we journey our way through Lent, we have heard stories from our friends about love that has broken down self-imposed or culturally inflicted barriers. Barriers that once gave the false illusion of safety. Barriers that deluded us into thinking that systems and structures needed those barriers in order to assure our place in the world. Barriers that falsely isolated us from each other.
A broken boundary is a death of a sorts. It can be painful to let go of long accepted “truths.” It can be bewildering to discover that our location in the world is not assured by fences and limits. Letting go of assumptions, reordering our thinking is jarring and disruptive.
The life that comes after the tomb-shattering resurrection is also terrifying. The women, so eager to tend to their precious Teacher, cannot imagine a positive outcome to a missing body. There simply is no imagination for what could come after such loss.
So it is when we are faced with the disruption of what once was: a change in familiar patterns and practices, new faces, “different” music, beloved neighbors replaced by strangers whose language is foreign. We who are the church feel this acutely as weekly patterns of worship have begun to shift, when baptisms are done to please the grandparents but the babies never appear in church, when The Way We Used To Do It fades from memory. Hope is especially difficult when the future is shadowy, when we don’t have a clear picture of what is to come after what feels like loss.
A clear picture, no. But imagination? YES!
We are beginning to catch a glimpse of children, parents and mentors learning the faith together. When meals take the place of classrooms. When we spend as much time being church outside the building as inside the building! When confirmation is not a graduation but a launchpad. When worship becomes an all-community effort and children are bubbling out of the pews. When youth are given space to tell their stories of faith, forgiveness and belonging. When bearing witness to the faith that is in us is our common and primary language.
Indeed, it is hard to have an imagination for what could come when the church is no longer what it was in days gone by. But the cross, together with the empty tomb, teaches us that God has a will for life. Jesus Christ has laid a plumb line into the future. And the gift of the Spirit remains as our guide and map.
No, we have not yet arrived at the shimmering sunrise of Easter. There are a few miles left to go.
But the footsteps into which we tentatively place our own feet lead us surely into new life.