About Easter, St. Francis said, “Listen, my child, each year at Easter I used to watch Christ’s resurrection. All the faithful would gather around His tomb and weep, weep inconsolably, beating on the ground to make it open. And behold! In the midst of our lamentations the tombstone crumbled to pieces and Christ sprang from the earth and ascended to heaven, smiling at us and waving a white banner. There was only one year I did not see Him resurrected. That year a theologian of consequence, a graduate of the University of Bologna, came to us. He mounted the pulpit in church and began to elucidate the Resurrection for hours on end. He explained and explained until our heads began to swim; and that year the tombstone did not crumble, and, I swear to you, no one saw the Resurrection.”
Therefore, let’s leave Lent and Easter as they are: the most marvelous mystery imaginable. It is beyond our comprehension that God suffers with us and that death can be conquered, that evil can be overcome, that justice can roll down like a river, and that peace will someday reign. But, we believe in spite of our grief, our frustration, our lack of empirical evidence, and the gnawing fear in our gut that faith is but a sham.
Jim Harnish, a pastor friend from the Florida Annual Conference told the story of a little boy who was, “not exactly happy about going to church on Easter Sunday morning. His new shoes were too tight, his tie pinched his neck and the weather was just too beautiful to be cooped up inside … As he sulked in the back seat, his parents heard him mutter: ‘I don’t know why we have to go to church on Easter, anyway; they keep telling the same old story and it always comes out the same in the end.’”
This reminds me of a book I read recently about the Battle of Gettysburg. It is a revisionist history of the battle by Newt Gingrich, of all people. Author Harry Turtledove has other revisionist histories of the Civil War that are also interesting, but what made Gingrich’s Gettysburg so fascinating is that General Robert E. Lee acts decisively and wins. That’s a switch for any Southerner who has visited this site of such abject defeat. I have a love-hate relationship with visiting Gettysburg. I had ancestors who fought there, and I know they left defeated and broken. My Great-grandfather, Daniel Byrd McClendon was there and then a year later on July 9, 1864, 25 miles down the road at Monocacy Junction outside of Frederick, Maryland, he was shot in the back of the head and captured, treated by Union doctors, and then survived a Union Prison before making his way back home. He went through abject loss in the battles of Gettysburg and Monocacy, plus the ruin of the South after the war.
Nevertheless, no matter how many times I visit both battle sites I know the outcome. I know what happens and I am still drawn back to those hallowed grounds. Sure, it’s easy to know how things turned out in both battles. There are a lot more Yankee monuments than Southern ones at both places because the winners usually have more reason and more money to do such things. Nevertheless, even though I know how Gettysburg and Monocacy always come out, the trek is worth it. Both battles were pivotal in my personal and our national narrative. By the way, Monocacy is known as the “Battle that Saved Washington, D.C.”
Similarly, I keep coming back to church for more of the same at Lent and Easter. The message, though always the same, is one that I need to hear, some years more so than others. This is one of those years. I have a lot on my mind. I’m tired and weary with the weighty issues that face our district churches and our denomination. Our family has been through so much since last year’s Lent and Easter, too. Cindy’s mother’s illness and death were and continue to be cause for reflection for us all. So I desperately need this Lent and Easter this year. These are days that are the penultimate hinges in history, cosmically and personally. Thank God it always ends the same. That’s a sameness that I can bank on year after year, day after day, and minute after minute, and I am grateful.