I was greeting parishioners one Easter Sunday morning with a hearty, “Christ is Risen,” enjoying the joyous refrain, “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” Until I got to Bernice Knuckles (not her real name.) “Christ is Risen,” I exclaimed to her. She looked at me blankly for a long minute and finally replied, “Oh well, yes, I suppose so.”
Although somewhat less traditional, I somehow think Bernice’s response strikes a deeper chord of recognition in us. It is one thing to declare the triumph of life over death on a bright Easter morning complete with brass, but quite another to summon that conviction when we need it and yearn for it most – at the mouth of a grave of a loved one or in the wake of a community tragedy; in the quiet early hours when we find ourselves contemplating our own entrance into the great unknown, or even in the face of the daily dead-ends we encounter in our careers, our homes, our loves, our lives.
One year my then quite young sons were making Easter cards for their cousins. Just make a picture of what Easter means to you, I encouraged. One of my sons thought through this aloud. Bunnies? Nah, they’re all over the place. Dying Easter eggs? Well that’s fun but nothing more than fun. Candy? It’s gone by the evening.” Finally he announced, “Mom, Easter doesn’t mean anything to me.” At this point the preacher in me kicked in, “But, dear,” I offered, “you know that Easter is when we celebrate that even though Jesus was killed on a cross, God brought him back to life!” He looked at me hopefully, expecting me to go on and when I didn’t, he said, “So mom, what does that mean to me?”
What does it mean? Certainly, the women in Mark’s gospel didn’t know either. Mark leaves us dangling – with the women fleeing the tomb in amazement and fear, not sure what it meant. The gospel ends mid-sentence as if it is for the reader to make up the ending, to complete the story. If Christ is risen…then…then… what? The answer to that question we write with our lives.
“Friends,” thundered the apostle Paul in his bottom line admonition to the Corinthian Church, “be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord!” But this encouragement comes after the word “therefore.” Therefore, my friends. What possible conversation would he have been having, what argument could he have possibly been putting forth that ended with such resounding assurance and encouragement to faithfulness?
“Lo, I tell you a mystery.” It is the mystery of death and resurrection. The one who raised Jesus will raise you also and bring us all into God’s unveiled presence. “Lo, I tell you a mystery.” It is the mystery of the imperishable. The trumpet shall sound and these perishable bodies will be raised imperishable. “Lo, I tell you a mystery.” It is the mystery of the eternal. We do not lose heart; though our outer-self wastes away, our inward self is being renewed in every way. “Lo, I tell you a mystery.” It is the mystery of ultimate values. We look not to things seen but things unseen. “Lo, I tell you a mystery!” It is the mystery of immortality; we sigh with longing that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life!
We sigh with longing that our mortal lives be swallowed up with LIFE. How different that is from our view of death. Where our mortal lives are swallowed up, slowly, perhaps, but inexorably, by death. Death stalks us, taking up his collection. Give me your loved ones. Your hopes, your plans. I return nothing. And it all comes to nothing. It means nothing. “In the end, we all die,” wrote the cynic.
“In the end,” writes Paul, “we all live!” Therefore, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.
“Death is not the greatest loss,” wrote Norman Cousins. “The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
Therefore, my beloved friends, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because, in the Lord, you labor is not in vain.
Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia