While I “know” that the reason the church makes a big deal of Easter is Resurrection and its promise of New Life (most often read, eternal life), I’m easily taken off topic and distracted by the details that aren’t quite in the spotlight… or that are in the spotlight, but we don’t see because we’ve been conditioned to see something else. I like things that are in the background and corners and just out of sight, but that I’m pretty sure are there. For example, I like that Easter happened in a garden, and that I don’t really know what a garden in a burial ground in 1st century Jerusalem would look like. My imagination is glad for my ignorance. I could Google search an image, but I won’t. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince and one of my favorite quotes: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” I like that what we know for sure is that the tomb was empty. The gospels all agree on the presence of absence when there should have been something else – a shrouded body, empty of its life. I like that the women were the first ones there, that it served God’s purposes to have another Mary peering into the empty tomb to discover that it was an empty womb, just given birth, the burial shrouds discarded – afterbirth. I like that we don’t know for certain that there is resurrection or eternal life, that all we have to go on is the unreliability of a story. While the Church – with its weight of tradition and guilt and historically powerfully mixed motives of control and compassion – has made it a certainty and personally shaming to doubt, I’m glad that deep down I don’t know. And so am left to wonder.
I am coming to terms with my faith – that in uncertainty it is best glimpsed around the edges, like the goldfinch that must have been in the lilac bush when I walked past – seen, though not seen, in a yellow flash out of the corner of my eye; or the presence of someone who’s not there, noticeable as I enter the empty church through a scent they left behind – perfume or cigarette or cooking. An absent person lingers there in some small essence of their life, left behind in the air. They become incarnate in me as I breathe them in and register the scent, perhaps matching it in memory to the real body who had preceded me. (Is that the resurrection body? Is that why Jesus wasn’t recognized by sight, but only in deed? )
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
We want assurance. We are comforted by conviction. We are trained to look for proof, not to trust without fact-checking from at least two directions or independent sources. We aren’t good at rhetorical questions or empty spaces on the Æbleskiver sign-up sheets or the time between the question and the diagnosis. We look for the known entity, the actual thing, and feel somewhat better knowing – even if it’s not the known entity we wanted… A small bird in the hand being better than a sky full of swans heading north.
But, as much as I want my life to conform to known facts and fit into the given-ness of expectations and explanations, it seems to resist. Faith, health, relationships, memories – there is an inherent freedom built into the system that each of these possesses. We cannot control them, but live within them, within the mystery of cell walls and synapses. The new life promised by God in Easter isn’t necessarily waiting for you around the corner of death, but is open to you every moment. Open like the tomb with it’s huge stone rolled away. Open-ended, circling back to draw you in again. A new way of seeing an old solution.
I think that is God’s way, God’s gift: a new way of seeing an old solution. That is redemption. God’s love and mystery surround us from our birth and accompany us all of our days. Sometimes we can’t see God working or feel our faith functioning or reason it through or trust it. Sometimes the best we can do is catch a glimpse out of the corner of our eye, or in the background, indistinctly, a glimmer or a flash of gold.
“Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all…” Emily Dickinson.