The Tension in the Air

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For weeks—ever since we took the ashes and heard the words, “from dust you came, to dust you shall return; repent and believe the gospel,”—I’ve known that Easter is coming. I’ve known that Easter is coming the same way that I know that a storm is coming: by the tension in the air. People anticipate. We start asking questions like, “what are you doing for…?” Decorations grow around us like flowers reaching out for the rain.

I’ve known that Easter is coming the same way that I know that a storm is coming. Kind of.

For a year—for a little more than a year—things have been… strange. We have done our part. We took the ashes and heard the words, “from dust you came, to dust you shall return; repent and believe the gospel.”

We dressed the altar in purple, and recited the kyrie, “Lord, you are merciful, have mercy upon me. Christ, you are merciful, have mercy upon me. Lord, you are merciful, have mercy upon me.”

We waved the palm branches and shouted the hosannas. We ate the bread and drank the wine. We heard the story and departed in silence. We have done our part.

And now… no matter how many times I say, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” it doesn’t feel like Easter. Not quite. It feels close, and the calendar is right, and the weatherman keeps saying that a storm is coming, but…

A week ago, there was tension in the air… and it was building.

This rabbi… from Galilee… this teacher, this healer, this prophet… rode into Jerusalem in glory and in humility, on the back of borrowed colt. And the crowds threw their coats down on the road in front of him. They cut palm branches and waved them, and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!””

And this rabbi… from Galilee… he spent his days teaching at the temple. He spent his days sparring with the Pharisees and the Sadducees; with the scribes and their spies. And all of these people were listening. Every morning, the rabbi came down from where he was staying on the Mount of Olives. And every morning, he set up his little seminar on the temple grounds. And every morning, people would get up early just to go hear him.

And people were saying that he was the messiah: the king long foretold, who would restore that which once was, to greatness.

A week ago, there was tension in the air… and it was building… and something was going to happen. It was all going to explode.

And then, something did happen. Everything fizzled. The crowds turned on him. The disciples abandoned him. The powers-that-be hung him on a cross. And some… guy,,, laid him in a tomb.

A week ago, there was tension in the air… and it was building. The calendar was right… and the weatherman kept saying that a storm was coming. But…

No matter how many times I say, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” it doesn’t feel like Easter. Not quite. But that’s okay. Because the first Easter—the real Easter, the Easter Easter—absolutely did not feel like Easter.

I’ve been told that I used to be a bad person to watch a movie with… if that movie had a twist. That’s because I used to be the guy who, five minutes into the movie, would say things like, “Oh, that guy’s really been dead this whole time,” or, “Oh. She’s the murderer, but really, it was an accident,” or, “Oh. They’re obviously going to see the that top of the Empire State Building.”

And I’ve gotten better. I don’t say those sorts of things out loud anymore. But when Mariah and I watch a movie together… well… she knows that I know.

And I’m telling you this because the problem with Easter is that we know what’s going to happen. Our whole thing is based on it. We are an Easter people; we shout, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!” and if Christ is not risen—if Christ has not been raised—then our proclamation and our faith are in vain; we are misrepresenting God and we are still wallowing in our sins.

And everything resolves around that tomb being empty. So we keep talking about it. We put the twist on the poster and we drop it in the trailer. We give people a choice: you can believe it, or you can doubt it. But what you cannot do—what you can never do—is be surprised by it.

And that’s too bad. Because the first Easter—the real Easter, the Easter Easter—absolutely did not feel like Easter… a surprise was coming.

A week ago, there was tension in the air… and it was building…  and then everything fizzled. And the powers-that-be took this rabbi and hung him on a cross. And this… guy,.. took his body and laid it in a tomb. And Friday night rolled by. And Saturday came. And there are traditions to uphold. So the few who remained… rested. And wept.

And now the sun has risen on a Sunday morning. And there is work that needs getting on with. So the women—Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and some others—are doing what women have been doing since the beginning: they’re getting on with the work.

They take their spices and they go to the tomb. They ask some guys to roll he stone away and they go in. They stoop down to walk in and kneel down next to the body. They undo the shroud and they wash the body. They recite the prayers and the psalms. They rub in the spices and the ointments. And then they leave… and the guys roll the stone back… and everyone gets on with their lives in the best ways that they can.

And sometimes, some of them break the bread and pour the wine. And sometimes, some of them tell the story. And sometimes, some of them try to forget.

Except… wait. Because sometimes, there’s the way that the story is supposed to go, and there’s the way that the story does go. And when they get to the tomb, the stone is rolled away. And there are just these two… guys… standing next to an empty bier with some linens lying on top. And they say, “Why are you looking for the living here, among the dead? He told you what was going to happen. Several times.”

And the women… remember. And they freak out a little. And they run back to the place where the apostles are staying and tell them what happened. And some of the apostles say that it’s just an idle tale. And some of the others ask, “Why would you make something like that up?” 

And Peter stands up and runs. Peter stands ip and sprints.

And when he gets to the tomb, all he sees is an empty bier with some linens lying on top. And he is amazed.

I’ve known that Easter is coming the same way that I know that a storm is coming: by the tension in the air.

And we have done our part. We took the ashes and heard the words, “from dust you came, to dust you shall return; repent and believe the gospel.”

We dressed the altar in purple, and recited the kyrie, “Lord, you are merciful, have mercy upon me. Christ, you are merciful, have mercy upon me. Lord, you are merciful, have mercy upon me.”

We waved the palm branches and shouted the hosannas. We ate the bread and drank the wine. We heard the story and departed in silence. We have done our part.

And now… no matter how many times I say, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” it doesn’t feel like Easter. Not quite. It feels close, and the calendar is right, and the weatherman keeps saying that a storm is coming, but… it doesn’t feel like Easter. Not quite.

Until it does.

And after this year… after this little more than a year… there’s part of me that things that Easter—real Easter, Easter Easter—well…

There’s part of me that thinks that no matter how much you feel the storm coming, you can’t plan on it. Because it shows up in the most unexpected way: when everything is the worst it can be; and all that you can do is sit, and weep, and get on with the work that needs getting on with; and you go to the places that you do not want to go so that you can do the things that that you do not want to do… ready for nothing but sorrow… and you find…

…good news.

You discover that the tomb is empty. You discover that, yes, from dust you came and to dust you will return, but then from dust you will come again. You discover that this is not the end, but only the beginning.

Because a week ago, you were striving to believe the impossible. And it turned out that you were underestimating the impossible. The storm that was oncoming, is here. The world is made new. Morning has broken. And there ain’t no grave can hold this gospel down.

For Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

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