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The Morning After

Christ is risen – but the clergy are dead tired.

That’s one version of an old joke about the grueling schedule of Holy Week services leading up to Easter morning. Not just clergy, of course, but choir members, flower arrangers, brass polishers, administrative assistants – just about everyone dealing with Easter preparations can feel a holy hangover coming on the morning after.

In the wake of all the liturgical fuss – and I do love the fuss – I start to reflect on what everyone was thinking. Kind of like hoping everyone liked the New Year’s Eve party while you throw out the empty champagne bottles. How many different views of resurrection, we might wonder, resided in our various congregations this Easter Sunday? Did they believe “it” – I mean, really?

I, for one, can believe nearly anything in a beautifully decorated church with an angelic choir providing a divine soundtrack to an inspiring sermon. But what do I really believe in the still, quiet aftermath?

Resurrection is difficult, much more so, it seems to me, than incarnation. Proclaiming “God with us” at Christmas feels good, especially with a cuddly baby as a prop. A battered, tortured body that won’t stay put in the grave where we put it feels, well, unsettling.

Other than the inevitability of taxes, Easter breaks the one rule everyone is taught to accept as inviolable: the finality of death. Few find that rule pleasant, but at least it maps out the playing field with tidy boundaries. Human life stretches from cradle to grave; that’s it. For the fortunate among us, the span between those two borderlines is long and full. But blur those boundaries, even just a little bit, and the queerness of Christian faith starts to shimmer.

For me, the queerly good news of Easter is just this: it dissolves certainty.

If we really can’t count on death like we used to, then the playing field expands toward a new horizon over which none of us can presently see. For me, that’s unnerving and exhilarating at the same time.

Among the queerest of the queer biblical stories are the ones about Easter. Consider the account in Luke 24. There we read about two grieving disciples who encounter a stranger as they travel to a village called Emmaus. After inviting the stranger to share a meal with them, they finally recognize him as none other than the risen Jesus; and in that very moment, he vanishes.

Road to Emmaus #2, Bonnell

No reunion hug. No war-story swapping. No debriefing of all those betrayal moments. No orchestral swell of music for the Hollywood ending. Jesus instead slips through their fingers. There’s no “there” there. Nothing to hold on to.

And that, it seems to me, is queerly good news.

If we know something with absolute certainty, we can be tempted to take it for granted; ask no more questions; set it aside; move on to something else. We might believe that we can control and manipulate it; use it; own it.

The risen Jesus will have none of that – no shrines, no monuments, no treatises, no creeds, no liturgies, no institutional gate-keeping. The risen Jesus instead starts sprinting away from us over that inscrutable horizon, egging us on to follow, giving us no compass points to do so.

I’m a full-throated Easter Christian – I believe death was not the final word for Jesus. And because I believe that, I believe that death is not the final word for any of us. But I have no idea what that means or what it looks like. That faith (which is not certainty) expands my playing field well beyond a game and into something like an adventure, where the next chapter is always waiting to be written – always.

That’s not a hangover you’re feeling; that’s the tug of morning-after energy. It’s urging you to step into life. New life.

Comments

  1. Randall Day says:

    Beautifully written, Jay – and important in terms of engaging the largeness of resurrection – especially in a postinstituional church.

  2. Don’t forget the clergy’s families! We participate in all the preparations of Holy Week and Easter too–if not directly in decorating the church or singing in the choir, indirectly in supporting our clergy family member who is exhausted and excited and always, always underappreciated. And we family members never, ever hear a thank you or acknowledgment. As they say, service is its own reward….

  3. Michal Anne says:

    I wonder if there might not be different types of certainty? I’ve always thought doctrinal certainty is an act of hubris. And it seems to me historical certainty is the worst kind of fiction. So what kind of certainty is created in/with/by the story of the resurrection we embody each year? I suspect is has something to do with the heart…the seat of intention.

  4. Kim Hinrichs says:

    This is beautiful, Jay! It articulates a lot of what was pulsating in me underneath all the layers of gilt and grandeur leading worship last Sunday. Thank you.

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