by Emmy Kegler
The resurrection will not be tamed.
Oh, the church has tried. We have washed out the lightning-bright glare of the angel’s robes with pastel eggs and streamers. We have folded up the bloodsoaked burial clothes so that only the good side shows for company. We have joined in the frustration at women’s idle tales, silenced their joyous evangelism for the promotion of Peter instead.
But the resurrection will not be tamed.
It retains its fierceness, its dusty and dirty realness, its inability to fit pleasantly into a plastic egg and be tucked away except for an hour every year. The resurrection finds us without the benefit of weeks’ worth of planning. The resurrection shows up in hospital rooms, in recovery centers, in prison cells, on sidewalks of streets and in the halls of political powers. Every day the resurrection refuses to let death have the last word.
But the resurrection will not be tamed precisely because it shows up in death. The resurrection is no eraser, no cosmic Ctrl + Z, no “revert to last saved settings.” The resurrection takes death seriously. The resurrection does not move on from death but through it, pierced and stained by it, with wrists and feet still marked. When the resurrection finds us, it does not negate the death that has come; it wraps death up in holiness, and declares it not the end.
On Easter morning in 2019, we find in our pews almost every kind of death and resurrection. We find the lump that wasn’t cancer, the divorce that made way for liberation, the rich man’s heart opened to the witness of the needy beside him. We find the resurrection in our longtime members, in those who have walked through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, in the families with children in new dresses, in college kids wrestled into ties for spring break at their home church, in wonderers and wanderers thinking of coming back to church and trying it on Easter of all days. There is death and resurrection everywhere. We must beware the attempts to tame the resurrection too quickly, to turn it into glory and celebration without honesty about the suffering and violence that came before.
Yet most of our Easter liturgies are designed to do so -- to start and end at the resurrection, and trumpet gloriously our risen Lord. And today, whatever day you are reading this, is likely too late to rework the entirety of Easter Sunday worship. It is likely too late to call the musicians and re-run the bulletins, too late to begin with dim lights and somber strains of Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, too late to schedule the least-listened-to of your congregation to break down the locked doors of grief to shout We dared go to the tomb, and we found it empty!
In the midst of an hour planned to be the most shiningly golden, we have perhaps fifteen minutes to take people back into the pain of death, to let the manifold richness of the resurrection sink in more deeply than the instrumental prelude of Christ the Lord is Risen Today may have allowed.
Stand in that few minutes boldly.
The rest of worship will proclaim Christ’s resurrection unabashedly; for a moment, step back two days from it. Remember the heavy silence in the house where the disciples and the women hid, their faces downturned, their hearts perhaps too heavy even to drag to sabbath worship. Recall the taste not of jellybeans and chocolate but of tears and sweat and grief, of all hope seemingly beaten and buried. Remind those gathered on our Easter morning -- the members, the visitors, the stalwart Holy Week attendees and the early service coffee-makers and all in between -- to step back with you. Step back together from the easy glory, the relief of undone death, and remember what had to be walked through to get here.
Speak slowly, even quietly. Leave words hanging in the air. Let it feel uncomfortable, uneasy. The creaks of pews and murmurs of children will break into what would more easily be meditative silence - let them. Let the sermon begin at the pace of the days that came before the resurrection: the days of hurt, of confusion, of terror and dread, of despair and resignation.
Proclaim the truth: Christ crucified, God scarred, the molder of the universe alongside us even unto the full stop of death. Tell the stories: not just of Easter two thousand years ago, but of the sting of death that haunts us even now. Name the suffering we try to turn our minds from. Make space for the reality of Christian life; it is not every day triumphant, but glory and ordinary and pain all mixed together and still consecrated as claimed by God.
And then: sing Alleluia. Whisper the possibility of the destruction of death; speak the ridiculous tale of an empty tomb, two angelic messengers, a risen Lord so transformed he can be mistaken for a stranger yet so full of life that he cannot be anyone but Christ.
Sing Alleluia. For the resurrection will not be tamed.