Sunday, April 20, 2014


John 20:1-18

            But as yet they did not know the scripture that he must rise from the dead.

            Had he not told them?  How could he not have said what to expect?  But their world had no place within it for a crucified Messiah, and none at all for a Messiah who was raised from the dead.  So they could have heard it from him a dozen times and been no more prepared. 

            For if the resurrection is anything at all, it is a surprise.  Long before it is anything at all about life after death for you and me, it is a surprise.  Before it is ever a subject of debate or a theoretical construct or a stumbling block to those who know nothing outside the provable and verifiable, it is a surprise. 

            They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.  Sometimes the surprise is bad news.  And you know that bad news, because one or more times, perhaps myriads of times, you have heard it or felt it or seen it.  You heard it when some voice said, “Malignant.”  You saw the doctor shaking her head and heard her say, “I’m sorry.  We did everything we could.”  You went to work one Monday morning and found a pink slip you could barely look at.  You opened the envelope that read, “We regret to inform you…”  You heard it when he looked at you and said, “Divorce.”  You answered the door in the middle of the night and there stood two men in military uniform.  Someone had taken away your Lord, your life, and you had no earthly idea of what to do, nor how to do it, because you did not know where they had laid him. 

            And it was all the harder because day was about to break.  It is hard to die when all the birds are singing in the sky.  It is hard to see anything to celebrate when your body is battered or your whole world is shattered.  So all you can do is just cry.  “Why are you crying, ma’am, sir?”  Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.

            If your heart has never been broken, you are in for a surprise.  It assuredly will be.  And all those stories like the binding of Isaac will make sense because you will know that you are living them.  And the Passion of Christ will no longer be a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.  You will see that the betrayal, the denial, the flight from reality, the last somber supper with what is left of your life are the stories that you could write because they are yours. 

            The impulse is to run.  Not necessarily to run away from anything, but to run to see what the siren is screaming about, or what the origin of the blaze is, or what has brought about such pitch-black darkness.  We don’t think twice before we run to see if it is true, this terrible tragedy.  Disciples run. At times like that we do not necessarily recall what the scriptures say, if indeed they say anything at all.  Certainly no stock phrases do us much good.  No pat answers comfort us.  And there is no time to untangle all that stuff that we have not figured out of the meaning of.  All we know is that what we had clung to and loved and wanted to go on forever is suddenly dead.  Unbelievable.  Does no one understand?  Pain is isolating.  Grief more so. 

            The scene befuddles.  There are the grave clothes where the body should be.  And there is the little napkin, all rolled up in a place by itself.  There is the slab on which the corpse had lain. Little mementos that meant nothing two days ago—a pair of shoes he played golf in, her apron hanging on the kitchen door, the little trophy sitting atop a pile of papers on her desk, his toy from two Christmases ago—things so insignificant, grave clothes, napkins, signal loss.  The world is messed up, turned around, out of joint, O cursèd spite! 

            The sun keeps rising. 

            Is it really what we thought?  It can’t be true, can it?  Let me look one more time.  She stoops, sticks her lantern through the small opening, sees two angels.  Oddly she is neither frightened nor comforted.  What difference do angels make when they have taken away the Lord of angels?  And, like all the people yet to come around bringing their platters and platitudes, they ask a stupid question, “Why are you weeping?”  Are you not an optimist?  Can you not see that this is just a passing moment, that everything will get better?  Et cetera.  She says what is beginning to sound like a mantra.  “They have taken away my Lord,…”  She wants to spit out the words but they stick in her throat with the sobs.

            Then, a presence.  Crouched down in the little anteroom of the tomb chamber, she can see the feet of a man outside the tiny doorway.  Whose feet they are she does not know, but they look like the feet of —must be the cemetery caretaker, the man that trims the bushes and whitewashes tombs.  She hears him ask like all the others, “Why, why…?”  And she finally thinks that maybe he can help because maybe he knows.
Don’t you understand her flash of hope?  Maybe at last there is something, some doctor, some treatment, some source of money, some something that can fix it, fix him or her or me.  And in a rush of words, not yet looking up or out of the tomb, she says, “If you have taken him away, tell me, and I will…”  I will.  I will. 

            Something like an eternity goes by between her last word and his next one.  Like C. S. Lewis’ bus trip one day in London, we start the journey not believing in anything, and get off the bus fully convinced that everything we thought was backwards.  He called it, “Surprised by Joy.” 


            Oh, my God.  My Lord and my God! Rabbouni!  Surprised is too light a word.  The sound of her very own name takes her breath away.  Her hand goes to her mouth and the tears momentarily stop.  She wants to hug him, hold him, touch him, but for some reason he says no.  For now she simply hears his commission, his command.  “Go to my brothers and tell them…”

            So begins the resurrection of Mary, the resurrection of Peter, and of the Beloved disciple.   Thus begins the resurrection of Tim and Barbara and Debbie and Raphael and Joseph and Tina.  Because in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, dozens and hundreds and thousands, and gazillions feel the earth quaking from some stupendous, indescribable Truth that roars when it awakens.  We all hear our names, our very own names, pronounced by the One who made us.  We are not fixed; we are changed.  We are not guaranteed anything, but loved like everything.  And we become not a bunch of isolated individuals, with only our own pain and suffering to attend to, but a community that tells, that teaches, that baptizes, that preaches, that feeds and heals and celebrates.  It is not that nothing will ever go wrong again, but that everything that could ever go wrong has been overwritten with a Power so strong it seems rather pointless to try to describe it.

            Don’t you see?  It is not his story and his resurrection.  It is theirs.  It is yours.  It is mine.  Broken, grieving, wintry hearts we continue to carry.   Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.  Scars we have and will always bear.  But the whole world changes the moment we hear something or someone uniquely calling our names.  And the only thing we know to do is to gasp, “Rabbouni!  I knew it, I knew it!”

© Frank Gasque Dunn 2014

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