Along with every other Christian on the planet, I’m contemplating the empty tomb in the midst of a pandemic.
Before COVID-19 descended upon us, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection might have seemed like a grand, liturgical “Ta-da!” The agonizing notes of Holy Week had faded away. The resurrection was the final chord that brought all the storm and stress of the Passion to a satisfying, joyful closure.
But this is a weird Easter. We will sing “The strife is o’er” huddling in our homes, wondering how much longer this epidemic will last. The other day I thought, “It’s sort of like celebrating resurrection right in the middle of Good Friday.” And just saying that to myself brought on an “Aha!” moment.
The resurrection is not some isolated event that will happen to us after we breathe our last and leave death behind once and for all. We participate in resurrection right now in a pattern of dying and rising. We lean into it. We grow in a new kind of life by being what Paul called “in Christ.” We become a “new creation” by opening ourselves to Christ’s love. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
To be in Christ is to be in relationship with Christ. That’s not the same thing as being doctrinally correct about Christ. It’s about being changed by Christ’s love for us. Christ’s infinite love. Making space in our hearts, minds, and souls for the risen Christ to dwell in us.
Christ is infinite love. We are finite. And so there is only one way to make room for him. We have to be stretched by that love. An old, narrow, false self has to die for a new, true self to emerge. Not just once. But again and again. That’s what eternal life looks like: a process of dying and rising.
For those of you who have read my last book—A Resurrection Shaped Life—it may seem odd for me to admit to having this epiphany yet again. After all, in those pages I joined authors like Peter Enns and the late Marcus Borg in saying that, during this life, we emerge again and again from some version of Good Friday into new and larger life.
Well, you see, we don’t get our heads—much less our hearts and lives—around the resurrection all at once. Not even people like me who have a habit of writing about it. Not even Jesus’ own closest friends. Just look at John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection.
Early on the first day, Mary Magdalene approached the tomb. She was stunned to see that the large stone barring the opening had been rolled away. So, without getting any closer, she hurried back to tell the apostles.
On hearing her report, John and Peter raced to the burial site. Mary Magdalene trailed behind. John got there first but drew up short, peering into the tomb from the opening. He caught a glimpse of the dead man’s linen wrappings.
Peter didn’t hesitate. Plunging right in, he saw those linen wrappings, and he also spotted the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face. Someone had rolled it up and placed it aside. Finally, John squeezed in beside Peter. And, as the Gospel says, he believed.
Getting your head and your heart around the resurrection doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process. John and Peter had heard Jesus talking about being raised from the dead for some time. But what Jesus had meant was only slowly hitting them.
They weren’t just clarifying their theological concepts. Jesus himself was gradually, invisibly changing them. They were becoming a new creation.
Peter and John returned to where they had been staying. But Mary Magdalene lingered alone, hoping to find Jesus’ corpse.
The risen Christ appeared to her. She took him to be the gardener, so she asked him about Jesus’ body. He spoke her name,“Mary!” She recognized him and reached out to embrace him. “Don’t hold on to me,” he said. “I haven’t ascended yet.”
That seems like an uncharacteristically cold thing to hear from Jesus. But, I invite you to try reading it like this:
“We’ve been really close, and it’s good to be with you. But I can be more to you, closer to you, than you realize right now. And you can be more truly you than you’ve ever imagined. But there’s going to be a lot of stretching and a lot of letting go involved. What do you say?”
This is a weird Easter. But then again, resurrection should always be a bit of stretch.
Jesus invites us to share his very life. Eternal life. Beginning in all the messy places we find ourselves and stretching into eternity. That’s what resurrection is: sharing the life of the risen Christ right where we are.
Sure, there’s going to be a lot of stretching and a lot of letting go. But that’s how Christ gives birth to a new creation.
What I get from this is that it’s ok for the resurrection to be kind of a stretch for me. Thanks.
If it’s not, it’s not resurrection. Welcome to the club. BTW, did you really run a 10K recently?
I really WALKED a 10K. Gave up running many years ago. The Crescent City Classic is held in NO every year (usually) so I do the race, visit with grandkids, and go to Easter service at Christ Church Cathedral. This year we did the race on our own and turned in our time – big time honor system.
Thank you, Jake.
Beautifully written, Jake. My favorite of all your writings. As I do with all your blogs, I post on my Facebook LoveIntention page. It’s always my hope and prayer that someone will be changed in coming to the decision to accept Christ. Thank you for using your writing talent to shape God’s invitation To Love ❤️
“An old, narrow, false self has to die for a new, true self to emerge”.
I’m a continual work in progress. Thank God the Creator hasn’t given up on me. I could have been “taken out” on Good Friday, April 16, 1976 when I suffered a motorcycle accident. Even since surviving that collision, I’ve encountered many more life threatening “intersections” that could have been the end of me on this earth. “Not so fast”, God may have whispered as He saved my life time and again. So, like all of us dealing with suffering, loss, and what may seem like unfair circumstances, we plod forward, often learning a lesson or two coming out of shadows to the light.
With faith, gratitude and love in my thoughts, words, and actions, I continually seek “a new and larger life” through God’s purpose.
Thanks, Jimmy! And thank you for sharing my posts on your page. Happy Easter!
Wonderful Jake! Sometimes my parents used to blow up balloons for an event. A balloon straight out of the packet was tough. I have a vague memory of dad stretching the balloon a few times by pulling on it with his hand and then blowing it up – one big breath at a time. Your words above bought this memory into my head. When I first stumbled across your blog I was like the inflexible balloon, the visions soon after did the initial big-stretching, and your sharing/lessons with the help of some Spirit-led insights have continued the stretching and growing one breath at a time. (Sometimes losing a bit of air but never too much – recovery and continued growth regained without too much pain). Actually, much like your ‘spiral staircase’ 🙂
Happy Easter, Liz! I know it’s a little belated for you. But in my tradition Easter is also a 50 Day season stretching right on to the Day of Pentecost. I’m grateful for our friendship and for being along for the ride that God is giving you. What a delight!
Hi Bishop Jake, Blessed Good Friday to you. I have loved all five of your posts this week. My favorites are Tuesday’s and today’s so far, which I found kinda relate to each other? I shared with you before (Facebook message) that I’m a convert from Judaism (at 40 years old). Before I converted, I used to be able to kinda “see” certain parts of me/my personality that were currently lacking and I wanted so badly to “be” or to “access.” No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to do that. It was very frustrating. After becoming Christian, I realized because I was baptized, I was “different,” whether I FELT different or not. And that by trusting Christ, I really became a “new creation” in Him. After a bit of time, I started noticing that perhaps some of those desired traits were actually developing, by no effort of mine! It was amazing. Dying to self, trusting Him, and allowing His plan for me to unfold into whatever He wants it to be, using the brain He gave me. So the mini resurrections you speak of – yes, I believe I get that! I think maybe those (like me) who are able, through the intersection of grace and will, stay “sober” in addictions one day at a time perhaps experience mini resurrections. I am still waiting to receive your book. I can’t wait to read it! My prayer is that through this horrid pandemic more people turn to God. How can we not?
Thanks so much for sharing your story and your reflections. And you’re right, those posts (all of them actually) are connected more or less. Have a joyful Easter! May each day—one day at a time—hold out the promise of resurrection for you.
Stretch me…if it means being closer then stretch me…..