They walked and talked with him, reported the greatest miracles and the richest teaching, channeled his testimony and his power in their own ministry. He shares with them, intimately, precisely God’s plan for his death and resurrection. And then, it happens!
“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
“But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.”
“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’”
“Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
I can totally relate.
I have learned how critical it is that I learn to walk with and like Christ, that my life be conformed to his image. I have learned about the power of these teachings and the radical nature of receiving and expecting the socially and individually reorienting and right-wising rule of God here and now. I have prayed for and practiced Kingdom ethics and Spirit manifestations, eagerly desired the greater gifts, joined my heart with others in the transforming agreements of Christian community.
Meanwhile, I began to accept that Easter, as good as it was for my children and church, was mostly a recognition of something God could do, or of something we affirm that God did do so that we might participate, mysteriously, invisibly, in the life of the Spirit now and with God forever. But, like Sōsuke’s mom in Miyazaki’s Ponyo says, “life is mysterious and amazing but we have work to do now.”
And the work is much easier to talk about that to get done. Plus, if you stop giving inspiring speeches about it and start putting your shoulder to it, it’s much more likely to be disappointing, if not painful. Maybe the beautiful ideas are enough. I’ve been disappointed in the concrete results. On top of all that, I’ve been disappointed with myself.
One of my favorite exchanges between Jesus and his fanbase is this obtuse response to a Beatlemania-like horde of coronation-happy miracle-cravers who’d cornered him in hopes of a command performance:
Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’
Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’
Their problem, and mine, is that I’d hoped for something with more immediate results. Maybe signs that others could see, and I could say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!” I was certainly not interested in having to spend another second within me or among us just as we were. Because I knew the high likelihood of that to bore or humiliate me to death.
Because, I assumed, nothing changes here, and it’s pretty terrible. Because I did not trust the God I “believed in.”
For all my best ideas, it just got a little bit louder and a little bit worse, among and within me. “God,” I kept asking, “what must I do to perform your work? When do I get resurrection for me and through me?”
Thankfully, I thought, I am not like these other folks, who simply “believe” and think that is enough. But nothing I did was enough, either. I knew I was certainly not enough.
Just like these dear friends of Jesus, standing there with him or with those who could say as surely as themselves Jesus is raised, who just don’t trust that information any further than they can throw a mountain.
Here might be why. It was my why, anyway:
And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
I did not trust what I believed, because I could not trust myself. I was so certain of the truth of my faith, but had no confidence that God was really going to do anything.
I pitched it very well. But it was not the work of God. It was all my deeds, and flawed as me. If angels had appeared to confirm the love of God for me, or the reliability of God’s promises in the here and now, I could do little more than be petrified, doubtful, astonished. I was already afraid; surely anything bigger than me, anything that could expose me, anything that bright, would be the end of me.
The good news is what lay beyond the end of me: Easter.
Of first importance, says Paul, is this: Jesus “died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared…” to people; these doubtful, fearful, disbelieving friends of Jesus, with Paul himself at the caboose.
The most important thing is this impossible thing. Something that only God can do. Something that I can only participate in to the extent that I believe – not think, or talk about, or act like, or even passionately love, but fully trust with my life. When I came to believe in this way, I began to experience something else. Something that makes sense of what Paul said right after what’s of first importance: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
When I begin to do the work of believing, I begin to experience the work of grace for me, and even through me. When I come to believe that the Kingdom is within and among, and that the King is truly in charge, I become willing to come into the light, that I might uncover the Kingdom beneath my wreckage (of which God has no fear). When I come to believe – to trust – that God will do what I cannot, the effort becomes grace.
And so I find that every day which begins with Easter begins with my work done, and contains the possibility that I will glimpse the work of God. I used to think I had more important things to do. The truth was, I couldn’t do them, and it wore me out to struggle along the path to my will being fulfilled. Occasionally now, Spirit invites me to put my hands into the ongoing work of God. And when I say yes, it has been the continuation of my way to freedom.
There is more to be said about this. For one thing, believing is sometimes hard work. But what I mostly want to say is this: Easter is the work of God. I am so glad, so grateful, to be discovering that my work is to believe the one who accomplished this. I am done explaining, imitating, and awaiting Easter, because I have been given the gift of celebrating it.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Our work is to celebrate Easter. May we celebrate Easter so well, and so thoroughly, that we begin to see God’s work among us, and hear the Spirit call us to the grace of receiving and supporting God’s work, which is always full of love for us.