Friday, April 5, 2024

No drama in Easter. . .

It is to our great poverty of faith that we reduce important things to symbolism and make symbols into important things.  Such it is with the Gospel of the Resurrection of Our Lord.  We play with the story as if it were high drama.  In reality it is nothing of the case.  It is not a story particularly suited to dramatic telling and lacks the kind of dialogue and details that would be required to rivet our attention.  Instead, the Gospel of the Resurrection is raw and blunt and almost disjointed as it conveys not a story at all but facts and truth clouded with the shock and awe of those direct witnesses to its revelation.  Sadly, we do the gravest of disservice to this Gospel when we try to make it dramatic, when we try to convey the details as if it were story and not witness, drama and not fact.  You know how it is when we combine drama and documentary into one -- it suffers.  Either it suffers as a story or drama or it suffers as fact and truth.  So it is with the Gospel of the Resurrection.  It should not be reworked into a better story but left as it is, particularly from Mark, as rough and unsettling as the whole thing truly is.  Where death was, life is.  Where the body once lay, angels now spoke.  Where grief once ruled, shock prevailed.  The women who left the grave bewildered and alarmed (despite the counsel of the angels) were reacting as honestly as anyone can to what is the most unsettling truth of all.  Death and taxes are what you can always count on, right?  Except now, even death is no longer certain for Christ's resurrection has turned death into a door and a gateway to our own joyful resurrection, in glorious flesh, without threat of sin, affliction, illness, frailty, or death ever again.  If you can approach that whole thing without some fear and trepidation, you are a better person than I or any of the disciples.  Christmas is a great and grand story, rich in details and personalities.  Easter, in comparison, is raw fact and truth put out there without anything to soften its sharpness or blunt its life-changing new reality.

    It is not a major production at all, and the minor attractions we have created around it—the bunnies and baskets and bonnets, the dyed eggs—have so little to do with what it’s all about that they neither add much nor subtract much. It’s not really even much of a story when you come right down to it, and that is of course the power of it. It doesn’t have the ring of great drama. It has the ring of truth. If the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster. Here there is no skill, no fanfare. They seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is as fragmented, shadowy, incomplete as life itself. When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt.

    The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness. You can’t make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn’t move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide. Even the great choruses of Handel’s Messiah sound a little like a handful of crickets chirping under the moon.

    He rose. A few saw him briefly and talked to him. If it is true, there is nothing left to say. If it is not true, there is nothing left to say. For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same again. For some, neither has death. What is left now is the emptiness. There are those who, like Magdalen, will never stop searching it till they find his face.    Frederick Buechner


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