We were having a discussion—okay, an argument—in the Christian Education Committee of my first parish. I was wanting to commune children, and the chair of the committee was adamantly opposed. The topic was unofficially tabled when she in frustration declared, “Jesus would roll over in his grave if we did that!”
I knew immediately something was very wrong with what she said, but in the heat of the argument the reason, embarrassingly, eluded me. “Jesus would roll over in his grave…Jesus would roll over in his grave?” As I walked across the parking lot to the parsonage, it hit me. “Wait! No! Jesus would NOT roll over in his grave because he’s not there! Easter!!!” How could I have been so obtuse about the very foundation of our faith?
The Christian Ed. matriarch, of course, knew better also. It was just a euphemism, with Jesus as the subject for emphasis and because we were at church. Still, according to the way Luke will this month present that first Easter morning, confusion is the Easter norm. No risen Jesus appearances. No conversations in the garden. The women are doing the logical, normal thing in the face of death. Remember, anoint, grieve, bury. Dead people stay dead. Some foolish strangers ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!” How could anyone be so cruel?
Unless… No, it’s all too puzzling, too impossible. Still, we do wonder in our deepest moments and in our darkness, “Where, if anywhere, might I find meaning, purpose, and hope in a world that reeks of betrayal, broken relationships and dreams, maniacal autocrat invasions, global pandemics, guilt, grief, fear, death?” Searching desperately for somewhere hopeful to land in a world gone mad yet wondering if the angels and the old country song might be right, that in following this Jesus, we’ve sadly been “looking for love in all the wrong places.”
It would almost be better never to have believed him, never to have followed, never to have hoped. If by some miracle the angels are right, we have to face something infinitely more difficult than death: Life. Changed life at that. It’s not the change itself that’s paralyzing. It’s the loss that comes with that change. Like the cycle of domestic abuse teaches us, we’d rather return to familiar pain than to venture into the unknown. I’d rather be driving the bus as it goes over the cliff than trust someone else to drive it. We neither expect nor welcome surprises like Easter. Better to have Jesus safely and predictably anointed for burial and sealed in the tomb than to have him on the loose out there up to who-knows-what and expecting me to follow him there!
The whole point and centrality of Easter—not just in our liturgical year but in our very lives—is that God has done and is doing a new thing, bringing life out of death, and business as usual is at best denial and at worst unbelief. Our world, our politics, our culture, are undeniably changing at light speed. So is our church. And in the dark, we wander in a stupor doing the only thing we know to do. We bring spices to the tomb. Remember. Anoint. Grieve. Bury.
It’s totally understandable, if sad, except for that one little detail my Christian Education chair and we as the whole church forget. Easter! He’s not here! He is risen! And angels who chide us, “Why, Church, do you seek the living among the dead?” Why is your cemetery fund 1000 times greater than your mission budget? Who are you worshiping anyway? What are you so afraid of?
I’m fully trusting and invite you to do the same. Because of Easter’s promise, neither Jesus, nor the Church, nor any of us as individuals are consigned to rolling over in our graves. If love wins, then life, abundant life, wins. But somebody other than me or you is driving that bus.