Yesterday made me shrink before the mystery of death. I attended the funeral of one our pastors, Marian Woodle Dyer, age 53, who fought a courageous battle against cancer. She was always so positive and full of faith. I preached a revival for her last fall and sensed an overwhelming expression of how much she was loved by the congregation at Mt. Pleasant. We celebrated her life yesterday and we rejoiced in Christ. The pain of loss is real and I especially grieve for her husband Mike and teenage daughter Adrianne. I know today is Maundy Thursday but I need Easter before Sunday comes. I need the mystery of death defeated and unraveled by the deeper mystery of Easter
Someone once said that God’s incarnation in Jesus was just as the Apostle John phrased it in his Gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and theologians have been trying to explain it away ever since.” If Christmas is beyond the ability of human language to adequately explain, then the mystery of Easter is totally out of reach. As a matter of fact, our attempts to explain the unexplainable may even detract from the miraculous news of Jesus’ resurrection.
In this vein, St. Francis once 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 Easter as it is: the most marvelous mystery imaginable. It is beyond our comprehension that death can be conquered, that evil can be overcome, that justice can roll down like a river, and that peace will someday reign in God’s kingdom. 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 attitude reminds me of a book I read several years ago about the Battle of Gettysburg. It is a revisionist history of the battle by Newt Gingrich, of all people and this is no political advertisement. 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. No matter how many times I visit I know the outcome. There are a lot more Yankee monuments than Southern ones because the winners usually have more reason and more money to do such things. Nevertheless, even though I know how Gettysburg always comes out, the trek is worth it. Its pivotal role in American history is without precedent.
Similarly, I keep coming back to church for more of the same at Easter. The message, though always the same, is one that I need to hear, some years more so than others, and this is one of those years. Easter is the penultimate hinge 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’m glad! Today I’m especially glad for all of us who will miss Marian Dyer.