Ruth was hustling her two girls out the door so they wouldn’t be late for school. That’s when she noticed that her pants were too big. Way too big. They kept sliding off her hips. So she cinched up her belt and slid into the minivan.
Those sagging pants plagued Ruth’s thoughts for the whole drive. She hadn’t worn them in a while. But they had always fit her just fine.
She must have lost weight. Not just a little bit, either. And come to think of it, she hadn’t really been feeling herself for a while.
Life had been too hectic to take time out for a checkup. If she wasn’t at work, she was helping the girls with school projects or shuttling them to some practice or game or event. The doctor would have to wait.
As her daughter’s tumbled out of the car Ruth realized that she must be sick. Cancer sick. There was no other way to explain those baggy pants. On the road home she fought back tears as she thought about dying. About leaving her husband Bob a widower and her two girls without a mom.
Back in the house and away from public view, she came undone. Eventually, she looked at herself in the mirror. And that’s when she accepted the terrible truth:
She was wearing her husband’s pants.
Ruth was so relieved! With a good laugh at herself and a few deep breaths, she got on with her day.
Facing our death can be pretty unsettling stuff. I mean, we’re all generally aware that people die. Mostly other people. But not many of us routinely think: I am going to die.
It might come as a surprise to you, but all four of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s resurrection urge us to confront our own death. The particulars vary in each Gospel, but all four Evangelists agree that some women went to Jesus’s grave early on the third day. And we readers accompany them there.
Yes, the tomb is empty. But we actually have to go to the grave to find that out. We have to go for ourselves to the place of our own mortality to discover that it is the birthplace of eternal life.
And that is not the kind of life that we could even dream of giving to ourselves. As Robert Farrar Capon once put it, resurrection is only for the dead. And the dead cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Only God can give us eternal life.
The resurrection stories then go on to tell us how we mortals receive eternal life.
The Gospels tell us that, after seeing or hearing about the empty tomb, the disciples have face-to-face, personal encounters with the risen Jesus. The point is that eternal life comes from a connection to—from a real participation in the life of—the risen Jesus.
Some Christians think of eternal life as a celestial address change, as going to Heaven. For them, intellectually assenting to the right concepts about Jesus ensures that they will go to The Good Place after they die. But it seems to me that Jesus had something more in mind when he talked about eternal life.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus told his friend Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And he goes on to say, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (John 11:25)
Jesus wasn’t saying that those who have the correct ideas about him will get a ticket to paradise. To believe in him is to love him. To make our relationship with Jesus the animating core of our lives.
As I’ve written elsewhere, “Eternal life is the kind of existence we begin to inhabit as we enter into relationship with Christ in our ordinary, everyday lives…. God’s love saturates and transforms us…. [This] kind of life has an eternal trajectory. No tomb can contain it.” (Looking for God in Messy Places, p. 13).
If you don’t go to the tomb, you’ll never see for yourself that it’s empty. But once you do, you’ll know what it’s like to be truly alive.
To schedule an in-person or Zoom event with me please contact my EA Holly Windham (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can learn more about my latest book by clicking here.