Surprised by Life: A Reflection on Easter

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen today. He is risen for us.

He is risen in the midst of sickness. He is risen in the midst of grief. He is risen in the midst of isolation. He is risen in the midst of political polarization. He is risen in the midst of societal disruption and economic turmoil. In the midst of all the muck and mire of human life, Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed.

Alleluia!

The accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospel are all strange stories. They are not the joyful, triumphant texts we might expect. Instead, they are all very human stories, in which catastrophe, grief, and doubt wage war against hope, joy, and, faith. Nothing that happens here is expected. Even those who believed in the resurrection of the dead believed it was for the end of time, not for an otherwise normal Sunday morning in the Roman Empire. Everything that happens is surprising.

In the account from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, two of Jesus’ disciples, both named Mary, are on their way to his tomb when there is an earthquake. In my experience, there is nothing quite as surprising as the solid ground beneath your feet moving as though it were jello! Then an angel appears — always shocking — and he proclaims the surprising message: “He is not here. He has risen, just as he said.”

The Marys run off “with fear and great joy” to tell the other disciples the news.

One of the through lines in the Gospels is Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection and everyone choosing not to hear it. It’s even here in this story, “He is risen, just as he said” — it’s like the angelic version of “As per his previous correspondence…” There’s a sense in which no one should be surprised by Jesus’ death and yet they are all devastated and shocked. There’s a sense in which no one should be surprised by his resurrection and yet they struggle to believe it could be true. After all, people don’t just rise from the dead. After all, that’s for the LORD’s Day, not their day, for the end of time, not the middle of time.

The resurrection is always a surprise. New life is always a surprise. Every Spring I know one day I’ll hear songbirds out my window again, but it’s always a surprise to hear them. I know the trees will leaf again, but it always stops me short to see that first blush of green. I know the purple crocuses will pop up, but they are always a miracle. (As Alice Walker wrote, the colour purple “is always a surprise but is everywhere in nature.”)

New life is always a surprise.

Easter comes at a needful time for us this year. We’re all badly in need of Good News, an injection of life and hope in a situation that seems like the dictionary definition of “doldrums.” News of the Resurrection is like a comet streaking through a bleak grey sky reminding us that we are not alone, that there is Light, that there is Life. As followers of Jesus, our “life is hidden with Christ in God,” as today’s Epistle reading puts it (Col. 3.3). If he has been raised, then we have his new life within us. To use Hildegard of Bingen’s image, Christ’s greenness — the insidious, unstoppable, persistent, in-breaking power of life itself — is working in and through our world, in and through our circumstances, and most especially, in and through us. And if we have eyes to see it, it will surprise us at every turn.

And so, on this Easter Sunday unlike any other in living memory, I encourage us all to be surprised. Let’s put aside our boredom and cynicism and allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to be surprised. Be surprised by hope. Be surprised by beauty. Be surprised by goodness. Be surprised by joy. Be surprised by life.

For he is not in the bleak, arid, stony grey of the tomb. He is risen as he said. Risen to new life — always beautiful and always surprising.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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