One year ago, I was in a hospital room with my wife and my new daughter. She had been out of the womb a day, but I already knew that my life had inalterably changed. It is a cliché to say it, but there is truly nothing like meeting your child for the first time. For nine months their face, their shape, and their eye color is hidden from you, yet only inches away.
This is a week to think about birth and death — it’s Holy Week. And I have the distinct privilege of proclaiming the good news on Easter Sunday. My wife and I co-pastor, so I only get to do this every other Easter. And I do consider it a privilege. The pews are fuller than any other Sunday, which is a beautiful sight to see, and the de-churched, un-churched, agnostic, and doubting people of the world hesitatingly darken our doors. We’ve got on our Sunday Easter best; children’s bellies are full of peeps and other sugary easter goodies. Families anticipate Easter brunch — deviled eggs, ham, collard greens, and one hell of a dessert table.
But underneath all of that fanfare is a feeling of dread for the congregants and for me, the preacher of the day. Because at some point I’ve got to ascend to the pulpit and at the age of 33, offer a word of paradox to a people who live in a world of reason. There is no number of trumpets, brass or bellowing choir that can still the anxiety and fear that we all will feel on Easter morning this year. For one thing, a deadly virus spoiled two Easters. And even with the slight promise of the pandemic’s retreat, our screens are flooded with the terror of war, the prospect of a financial meltdown, and the reminder of it all every time we pump our gas at $4.57 a gallon.
This Easter, I am so tempted to soften the earth-shattering reality that resurrection portends. Instead of dwelling on a really dead human body really being brought to life, I could talk about spring flowers, the power of optimism, and the joy of being together again. But none of those things can rescue the world from its collision course with death. None of those things can wrangle us out of the chains of sin and brokenness.
There is only one who can do that — the God who rescued the enslaved Israelites from the tyranny of Pharaoh and the God who, in the language of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., can “make a way out of no way.” In Luke’s Gospel, this ridiculous message was given to the inner circle of disciples by women. When they shared their story, “the disciples believed it to be an idle tale.” That response may sound familiar to some of us. The disciples didn’t believe the source – the stories of women in the ancient world were not considered authoritative – the angels of God knew otherwise. Even more so, the disciples didn’t believe that the tomb was empty, that Jesus was alive.
Given that my wife is a preacher and my mother a woman of ministry, I’d love to pause here and deride the disciples for their idiotic myopia. But the older I get, and the more I watch the news, the easier it becomes to believe that Easter is in fact an idle tale. Can the dead really be raised? Can God really act in the world, and why doesn’t God act more often?
This Sunday, I’ll have to be honest about this resurrection business. I cannot prove it any more than I can prove that meeting my daughter for the first time changed my life. Nevertheless, on that morning a year ago, we chose for our daughter the name Joanna. We chose that name because we wanted her to be named after one of the first preachers of Easter — one of the three women who first beheld the empty tomb. We also chose that name, I see now, because of hope. Because we hope and believe this thing really happened. Because we believe the power of God is greater than death, even when it feels to be an idle tale.