Yellow daffodils bloomed in my yard as I began this Easter reflection. A few days later, those daffodils were covered in an inch of snow. Is it spring or not?
Our world seems confused, illogical, and out of step. Church attendance continues to decline as mass shootings rise. Nations are attacking each other as if the consequences of waging past world wars have been forgotten. Treaties and sanctions alike are being reconsidered. Communities are so polarized we cannot speak to each other, let alone agree on a path forward.
In one movement of his long poem “Six Lectures in Verse,” Czesław Miłosz reflects on Matthew 28:1-10. “Christ has risen,” he writes. “Whoever believes that/ Should not behave as we do.”
Miłosz describes our muddled behavior: we “have lost the up, the down, the right, the left”; we cannot even distinguish the heavens from the abysses. Written in the 20th century, Miłosz’ words still resonate.
Matthew’s determined to get our attention, though; to set our course with God. He’s fond of earthquakes and uses them often. In his commentary for Working Preacher, Greg Carey highlights how Matthew uses the Greek seismos to describe the “storm” on the sea in Matthew 8:24, the earthquake as an eschatological sign (24:7), the earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death (27:54), and again here at the empty tomb (28:2). All of these events are revelatory, pointing us to a truth Matthew doesn’t want us to miss. Carey writes, “It is fair to say that Matthew emphasizes the dramatic.”
Which makes Matthew a good choice for this Easter Sunday. Being so lost, we need an earthshaking text.
In “Six Lectures in Verse,” Miłosz describes our enemy as “generalization.” Poetry can save us, Miłosz believes, by grounding us with specific, concrete images. Having lived through the horrors of the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, Miłosz’ poetry depicts scenes we have come to know again this past year: Eastern European cities reduced to rubble, armored vehicles patrolling ruined city streets, and refugees forced to flee. But he resists reveling in such horrors, calling his readers to attend to miraculous signs, both ordinary and extraordinary. In another poem, Miłosz describes his belief in angels, who he hears in “a melody repeated by a bird” or “in the smell of apples at close of day.”
Miłosz is also comforted by signs that run “contrary to common sense.” Extraordinary signs are held in “The Book” like a dead man rising. Also, that Christians still gather each Sunday, to sit together and sing together in pews, to hear the Word, and echo it in the world.
Could such concrete signs, both ordinary and extraordinary, bring us comfort? Ground us in our confusion? Inspire us with a trepidatious but real hope?
Nothing in Matthew’s Easter scene makes sense. All its details feel extraordinary. People do not rise from the dead. We do not experience angels landing so hard they cause the earth to shake. Women are not empowered to “go and tell,” to preach and proclaim God’s word in an oppressive, patriarchal society. Yet, here, in the Gospel, they do.
This Easter Sunday, we are in desperate need of comfort and hope. Miłosz was, too. But yellow daffodils are blooming despite the threat of snow, as Christians gather – across the globe – for a good, grounding Easter word. Nothing of our world makes sense, except to a God who transcends the limits of sense — a God who has come, who has died, and who has risen to show us the way.
Questions for reflection:
- How do you come to this Easter Sunday? What are you carrying? What are you needing?
- What miraculous signs can you identify? Both ordinary and extraordinary?
- How is God calling you to “echo” the Word today?
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