The Terror of an Empty Tomb

Resurrection terrifies me.

There. I said it.

It's been a few days since Easter, and I've noticed writers and speakers and teachers releasing the post-Easter call for Christians to be "Resurrection People", even after the Easter candy has gone stale. This hits me at first like a worthwhile admonition. I don't want to loosen my grip on the miracle of a risen Christ, Whom death could not defeat. Whether it's Christmas or Easter or All Hallows' Eve, I want to be found kneeling in a posture of surrender, offering my life to a mighty King Who is not bound by the ticking clock that ages my emerging-adult skin a little more each day.

But I can't always summon the courage to hope with such stone-rolled-away boldness.

Years ago, probably in a music theory class, someone introduced me to the idea of a tension-filled life. I've heard it presented in many ways since, most recently by Andy Crouch when he offered an insightful play-by-play of a Bach prelude as a metaphor for culture making during his visit to Gordon (if you're curious, the music begins at 42:20).

I latched on to the idea of tension like a drowning man to an inflatable tube. I can't count the number of times I've told or been told that our existence is suspended in the fragile tension of already, but not yet. Follow the course of any single human story and you'll find triumph and terror, sorrow and success interlocked like Jenga cubes. Move one block too many, and the whole tower comes crumbling down. Take out the job loss, the divorce, or the diagnosis, and you'll also lose the new opportunity, the second chances, and the hard-won recovery.

I've been digesting the taste of a suffering world since I was l bullied by the bigger kids on the playground (and doing a fair share of bullying myself, I might add).

I am well-equipped to find worth and meaning in hurting places. I know firsthand how tragedy, betrayal, heartbreak and loneliness can crack open our hearts in order to receive connection, joy, trust and belonging.

In fact, I can't think of one good thing that's happened in my life that didn't cost me or someone I love something.

Cue the terrifying thought:

I've become so adept at understanding suffering that I'm no longer sure how to live without it.

A new kingdom is coming soon where tears once deemed "precious" are wiped away, where pain is a distant memory, where sorrow no longer abides in your bones and hurt feelings scatter like shadows in the glorious midday light of G-d.

I've heard it described, but I cannot fathom how this kingdom works, how a place could sustain itself apart from evil.

"Imagine what would happen if God actually gave us the desire of our hearts," writes Craig Barnes. "We would have to abandon the craving that has become so much a part of life. That would be frightening."

Abandon the craving? The longing for restoration? Frightening only begins to explain it. I have "made do" for so long, articulating and rationalizing and explaining this dimly-lit path of life, that I'm terrified by the possibility of a day when it all fades away.

I hear a faint whisper within: Maybe you have raised up suffering as an idol.

I slowly nod my head at the suggestion. Yes. Maybe I have.

Maybe it's easier somehow to suffer than to hope.

Or perhaps my vision of resurrection is one-dimensional: a flat, pastoral scene of tranquility, an illusion of what life could be without pain or fear.

"Put your hands into my wounds," Jesus, the risen Jesus, says to Thomas. "and you will know who I am."

Put your hands in the flesh that was torn by nails and a spear, and you will know who Jesus is. Suffering, even after being dead and buried, became a part of Christ's identity.

But the wounds told His disciples who he was, not where He was going.

Today, I'm terrified by the empty tomb. It testifies to a promise written in a language I cannot yet speak, though perhaps I've grasped onto a foreign word here or there in fleeting moments, in a gentle breeze on a clear spring morning or in the silence hovering behind a hard phone call.

Some days it is this unseen promise that keeps me going, keeps me choosing life on behalf of others or myself. Some days I am a Resurrection Person.

But today, I am afraid of that place: hope fulfilled, questions answered, conflict resolved.

I wonder who I will be in the land where Jesus reigns, and if, as T.S. Eliot eludes to, if my feet will finally feel at home on its hallowed ground.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

 

excerpt from Little Gidding, the fourth poem

 of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets