When Poetry is not Enough
04/04/2016 12:30PM ● Published by Jennifer Gonzalez
I remember as a child standing among the testifying azaleas at community Easter Sunrise services at Bryant Park in Richmond, Virginia. Azalea blossoms became visual parables of how the seasons change in God’s world. Winter yields to spring, death yields to life and life, somehow, never ends. The swollen attendance in churches on Easter says that at least on this point the church and world still want the same thing – we long for assurance that there’s more to life than once and done.
There’s no doubt Christians caught a break when the Council of Nicaea declared in 325 CE that Easter would forever be calendared among the rites of spring. What a leg up, to have your central holiday dedicated to the reality of resurrection buttressed by longer days and shorter nights, the return of songbirds and the colorful eruption of a sleeping earth becoming wide awake and alert. Surely the Christian idea of resurrection was written in the ready testimony of the book of nature. The dogwood blossom in legend becomes but another gospel, its petals cross-shaped, its rust colored points stained by crucifixion blood and its central green cluster a crown of thorns.
The witness of spring, though, has a way of changing the Christian resurrection story from history to poetry. As the writer Frederick Buechner points out, in our pluralistic and skeptical age: now it is the teachings of Jesus that are immortal, or the Spirit of Jesus that is undying, or Jesus himself is but a pointer to a kind of truth that is more profound than literal. Hope can be reborn in a despairing soul. Is that not enough?
I think the story of Easter resurrection is best heard in near darkness. That’s the way it happens in the gospel of Mark. The women show up at Christ’s tomb for the first Easter Sunrise Service with only the smallest hint of light to guide their steps. And seeing for themselves the glad good news of resurrection, what do they do?
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
What explains this? Not a resurrection, because that is simply poetry for the way things are. No, they got a shadowy glimpse of a resurrection that should never be, but happened nonetheless. Easter is about the resurrection of a dead man, body and soul, not an idea. And if that be true, your resurrection may be about much more than you think.
Resurrection is not another term for what the flowers do on a seasonal basis. It isn’t even the idea that believing souls shed their bodies and are finally free for heaven. To believe in the resurrection of the dead is to believe that in God’s good time we will be raised body and soul for life in a new heaven and a new earth. Heaven for now is but where we wait. It’s what so many of us have been praying for Sunday after Sunday, year after year:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
To believe in Easter, to look forward to resurrection, is to believe in heaven on earth where all that we have done in faith, hope and love will not disappear but be swept up into a future we can only call the kingdom of God.
It is because of Easter that we should savor creation, create beauty, do justice and practice faith for these are the gifts and works of our hands which God, along with our very selves, will raise up from the dust of the earth to an eternal life. Imagine the day on which you were your best self, did your best work, did it in great faith and amidst great beauty. Now, imagine it only becoming so much better than you ever thought it could be. That is to stumble upon the outskirts of Easter, knowing that the best of it is beyond words.
So is it enough for us that once again the days lengthen, the gardens are ablaze with color or the unknown potential of a new life is again born into a tired, old world? Is it enough that hope can be reborn in despairing soul? Such things are blessing and a wonder, but they are not enough. I’m holding out for Easter. I’m counting on resurrection, mine and yours. I hope you will do the same.
Dr. Michael Garrett is the interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville.