Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Considering the Unexpected, in a Graveyard, in the Dark.

Do you like surprises?
Scary movies?
How do you deal with the unexpected?

For me, I’d rather follow the Scouting motto and, “Be Prepared” than face anything that might disrupt my day.

What if I asked you these questions while we were walking in a graveyard in the early morning before dawn? Would your responses change?

When I was a pastor I recall a graveside service I was leading on October 31st. It was early afternoon, but standing next to an open grave on that Halloween day did cause me to pause for thought. I definitely wouldn’t have liked a “surprise” of any sort on that day.

In general, when unexpected surprises in scary places come my way I respond with fear.

In Matthew 28:1-10 we read the same reaction from those at the tomb of Jesus.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When we read this story in our day it’s easy to think, “Why were the women so afraid? They knew Jesus was going to rise from the dead.” But did they? We have the benefit of knowing the full story. To get a “feel” for the situation we need to recapture the utter astonishment these women felt. If we try and put ourselves in their shoes, we can feel a bit of their experience.

The truth of our human experience is we live in the moment. We can look back and make forecasts, but we really don’t know what is happening next. We try and figure it out and make plans based on predictions, and for the most part that works pretty well. For example, right now it’s raining outside. It was raining while I drove to work and the weather report for today says it will shower all day. I won’t be fearful of the rain or if a thunderstorm appears, I’m expecting it. In fact, to see sunshine today would be unexpected. I’m living today based on this prediction.

The resurrection of Jesus is a central proclamation of the early church. And looking back in time as we get to, we can miss the awe and wonder that it brings. I like to think if I were there I wouldn’t be afraid but would have walked boldly up to Jesus given him a high five and said, “Welcome back.” However if I’m honest, I know I would have been just as afraid as those who were there that day.

However, notice there is also a different emotion present. Joy. In verse 9 the women hurried away afraid, yet filled with joy.

I love it that in the midst of the unexpected, there was a profound sense of joy that Jesus was alive.

This Easter, try and put yourself in the shoes of those first responders. Allow yourself to feel the fear of a graveyard in the dark and seeing things you don’t expect to see. And because of the fear, then allow yourself to experience the tremendous joy of discovering that Jesus is there and he is alive.