Easter dreams and “the rest of the story…”

I’ve been reluctant to move on from Easter this year – wanting to slow down, to savor ever moment, to linger over the hope that is freely offered to all. And as I ponder what it means to be Easter people, to be captives of hope in a hopeless world, I am struck again and again by our vantage point in the middle of the story. No matter where we are in the story of our life, we are still a work in progress. Our dreams are growing, changing, coming to fruition in fits and starts, stalling and dying and being reborn in unexpected and unforeseen ways. We are unfinished, and cannot see where we will go, what we will become, or whose lives we will touch. And we never will, until we live out the rest of the story…

The disciples are a prime example of this. From our vantage point, the story unfolds with a certain inevitability and it’s easy to forget the roller-coaster of emotions that must have been present for those actually living it. From the ecstasy of vindication as they rode into Jerusalem with their Master on Palm Sunday to the cheer and acclaim of the crowds: “Surely,” they must have thought to themselves, “We are about to be rewarded for our service. Now is the day that the King has come to Jerusalem, and all things will be put to right – the Romans destroyed, the oppressors of their people cast down, and the restoration of David’s glorious kingdom.” Their dreams were coming true. They didn’t know the rest of the story.

Fast forward a few days – tension is rising in the temple courts as the teachers of the law and Temple establishment try to trap Jesus, tricking him into alienating either the people or the Roman authorities. Jesus manages to outmaneuver them time and time again. Fractures appear in the group of disciples, with Judas approaching the priests to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in the next few days, while the others stick close to him. This was the moment when things would fall one way or the other, and I’m sure the stress was incredible. Where was the story headed?

And I can hardly imagine the cycles the of the disciple’s emotions on Thursday night – the sacred tradition of the Passover meal, the washing of feet, the embarrassment and intimacy, the delight and the doubt… The last teaching of Jesus to the disciples as they hung on his every word, at some level grasping the momentousness of this occasion… Prayer in the garden, falling asleep while they waited, and finally terror and anguish as a crowd of thugs melted out of the darkness around them cutting off escape… One last surge of expectation that maybe NOW was when Jesus would act… That expectation evaporating as Jesus was swept off to a hasty trial and public lynching… And over the next day, the devastation of watching their hope be dismantled, degraded, dehumanized, destroyed… Deeper and deeper and deeper into despair as they ran, abandoned their Master, denied they knew him, and committed suicide… The story was crumbling around them.

Then the burial, and the dark of night, and a long, quiet Saturday – disciples staring wide-eyed into space, some in numb shock, others beginning to feel the faint stirrings of anger and disappointment at Jesus, this man they had given up everything for, followed for years, who had abandoned them and betrayed them. Maybe some began to make plans for what their life would look like “post-Jesus.” Peter and Andrew mumbling together in a corner, wondering if their father would let them back into the family fishing business… Simon the Zealot ready to resume the rebellion against the empire that he had given up because JESUS had asked him to do so… Matthew wondering where he would go, what he would do – he couldn’t go back to tax collecting… Not after what he’d seen. But the money was so good. And if everyone was just going to die anyway, and the hope Jesus offered was a lie, then why not make the most of it while he could? John – asked to care for his dead friend’s mother – yet every time he saw her the pain of loss bubbled up anew…

Stories aren’t supposed to end like this – surrounded by blackness and consumed by the void. We know it deep in the core of our being, and we fight for it over and over in our lives despite all evidence to the contrary. Even in this world of death and destruction, of broken promises and disappointment, we fight for happy endings because we know, deep down, that we were made for fairy tales. Frederick Buechner explores this in my favorite book of his, “Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.” Our lives – our stories – are the stuff of tragedy. Brokenness and failure haunt our every decision, and even the most glorious moments of transcendence come to an end all too quickly. Yet in the midst of that tragedy is the ridiculous comedy that reaches in and declares that God loves us anyway – in spite of our lies, our failures, the way we hurt and betray and wound those we love the most. This fusion of tragedy and comedy declares that ultimately, life IS a fairy tale – that redemption is possible, that all hurts will be healed and every tear wiped away – that all things will be reconciled one day, and we will have life abundant and eternal, quenching our parched souls. This is the promise of the gospel.  This is the promise of the story we have been invited into.

Thankfully, the story of Easter didn’t end on Saturday. Looking back on it from a distance of 2000 years, we know what happens next. We can imagine the fear and bewilderment of the women who approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. We crinkle with anticipation as we watch them run back to tell the disciples that SOMETHING has happened. We know a surprise is waiting – more glorious than any Christmas surprise, more life-changing than any long awaited birth. And we see the slow dawning realization begin to spread among the disciples – ever so slowly, from one to another…

“What’s happened?”

“Have you heard?”

“I don’t believe it…”

“Do you really think…”

“No.”

“But…”

“What if?”

And then the appearance of Jesus in their midst. The one who was dead and now lives forever. The one they watched crucified. The one they had loved. The one they had abandoned. The one they had buried. The one they had mourned. This one was in their midst, and he laughed with them, and reassured them and said, “Do not be afraid… Mmm, that fish smells good. I think I’ll have some…”

He was alive. He defeated sin, and hell, and death. Sin could not conquer him. Hell could not hold him. Death could not contain him. He was back – and he was himself – gloriously, surprisingly, unbelievably present and alive!

He is alive!  And those who saw him, accepted him, believed in him – they were never the same.

2000 years later, the story goes on…

This is my challenge, and yours: How do we remember that the story is unfinished? How do we realize that we are living in the tension of the now, of the tragedy and comedy of life, with questions and uncertainties and incredulity much more common than answers, certainty, and understanding? Because we don’t see the end. Not yet. Not fully. We are living on Saturday. But Sunday is coming. Hope is real. God is good. And the end of the story will be more glorious and poetic and full of grace than we can imagine now. I know this is true. And on my best days, I sometimes can begin to live as if I actually believe it…

…until, one day, we can clearly see the rest of the story, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well…

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1 Comment

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One response to “Easter dreams and “the rest of the story…”

  1. Chuck

    Thank you for this. You write the way I (try) to teach. I am going to have to check out Buechner’s book. After all, any Christian who enjoys Pratchett has good taste in literature. Or at least similar to my own. If ever you need encouraging, drop me an email. Remain strong and courageous, and when you have done all you can, keep standing.

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