Returning Forward…

We’ve just celebrated Easter 2021. We’ve endured a full year of this pandemic, political and social unrest, and likely an untold number of personal struggles that accompany these external pressures. We have had to discern a new way of being in a world that feels less safe, less stable, and less familiar. We are anxious. We are afraid. Many of us are just plain exhausted.

We paused over the last week to contemplate Christ’s passion and navigated another round of virtual services, limited in-person worship experiences, and parking lot gatherings – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. And now, more than ever, we are left to reckon with what the Resurrection means in times like these.

This past year’s events have seemed like a death knell to many of our churches and ministries, but rather than clamoring to “get back” to how things were in a not so bright past, perhaps this is an opportune time to begin to embrace how we might “return forward” – that is, to return better, wiser, more compassionate, more faithful, than we have been.

I’m reminded of the account recorded in the Gospel of Mark:

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that ehe is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, ejust as he told you.”[1]

Jesus’ closest and most devoted followers showed up at the tomb after the Sabbath to anoint his body.  What they found instead was an empty tomb and set of instructions from the Lord’s messenger.  Jesus was not there; he had gone ahead of them to Galilee and they were to follow him there.

These women arrived at the tomb with the goal of honoring Jesus and perhaps paying some final respects.  And for some of us, this is what church looks like.  We want to honor Jesus, and pay our respects, but Jesus is not there.  He has gone on before.

While we are longing to “go back” to or “return” to some semblance of normalcy, to honor Jesus and pay our respects to him in our sacred spaces, Jesus is not there. He has gone on before us and left us with these instructions – “Return… forward…”

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [2]

Like the women in the text, many of us are seized by fear and trembling and don’t really know how to process what all of this means. What does it mean to “return forward?”   What does it mean to catch up with where Jesus is headed?  What does it mean to scrap our well-laid plans and redirect?  This messy resurrection has disrupted our well-conceived, well-intended plans – and while it is troubling and astonishing initially, let’s embrace it.  Life is ahead of us.  Jesus has gone on before us.  Isn’t this the power of the resurrection? Isn’t this the power that precludes us from returning to our mundane and familiar sameness.  Isn’t this the power that provides for us a new way of seeing and a new way of being in a new world?  Isn’t this the power of the resurrection, the power to ‘return forward’ with the confidence that Jesus precedes and will meet us as we go?

e ch. 14:28
e ch. 14:28
[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 16:7.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 16:8.
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