I was stopped at a red light a few days back when I spotted a bumper sticker on the back of an AT&T van. It said, “Put your phone down. Keep your eyes on the road. It can wait.” Although this whole message is an imperative one for us in this age of texting, I found myself honing in on three little words. It. Can. Wait. This is not asked of us too often in 2016. These days, everything is at our fingertips. News. Music downloads. Photos instantly shared. Fast lanes at amusement parks. We can even grab hot soup at our local grocery store for our on-the-go life! When we do have to wait, we lose heart quick. This isn’t any kind of aha moment. But, it seems waiting is becoming a lost art.
I found myself feeling this way on Easter Sunday. Easter came and it’s as if an old piece of confusing news revisited me. One that I’ve heard many times before, but am still totally puzzled by: “Jesus is risen!” As familiar as I am with these lines, my mind can’t quite grasp the meaning, yet I sense a communal urgency to move past any discomfort experienced.
Whereas Holy Thursday and Good Friday have their own awkwardness; these two days of remembrance are easier to grasp. Holy Thursday invites me to imagine friends around a table with their teacher, food and conversation shared. Christ bent down looking up into his disciples’ eyes as he washes their calloused feet. Because I’ve served and been served, Holy Thursday spreads forth images of gracious hospitality to the undeserving. Likewise, the crucifixion lures me into a valley of visions expressing mockery, torture and insults. I picture those who love Christ standing within the crowd terrified, grieving and horrified by what is happening. I envision a divine man loving humanity as his last breath fades. This leads me to remember times in my own life when I’ve mistreated others or been mistreated and how both bind me to a loving God. I am able to deeply connect with both these meaningful Holy Week observances.
But, let’s get back to Easter. It’s true. The absence of Christ in the tomb on Easter Sunday rattles me. Let me clarify. Easter Sunday at church is certainly a joyous occasion. Praise music, joyful smiles and bright colors surround. Words of “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!” are heard. But, there is a struggle within me of the juxtaposition from Friday night when Christ is crucified to the moment we joyfully proclaim “He is Risen”. It seems once the “good news” is heard, we chalk it up to another year of Christ rising and get on with life as is. But. We miss the middle. The empty space. The waiting. It’s as if the empty tomb of this story is ignored.
In each gospel, the tale is told a little bit differently. But, in each, a woman (or women) arrive and find the tomb empty. There is no Jesus. There is no body. The linens are neatly folded beside where his body has been lain. Even when the angel(s) tell the women, “He is not here, he is risen”… well, it’s not as if the ladies high five each other and go away with huge smiles celebrating. Nor do they sit around with morose faces inactive. Rather, the unknown prompts them towards engagement. In the waiting to understand the meaning of Christ’s absence, they move forward with deep human response, not surface level smiles.
Here is a list of verbs (NIV version) I found in the four gospels surrounding the empty tomb:
hurried (Matthew 28:8)
afraid (Matthew 28:8, Mark 16:8)
filled with joy (Matthew 28:8)
wondering (Luke 24:4, 24:12)
fright (Luke 24:5)
bowed down (Luke 24:5)
remembered (Luke 24:8)
told (Luke 24:9)
did not believe (Luke 24:11)
ran (Luke 24:12)
looked up (Mark 16:4)
alarmed (Mark 16:6)
trembling (Mark 16:8)
bewildered (Mark 16:8)
fled (Mark 16:8)
running (John 20:2, John 20:4)
saw and believed (John 20:8)
crying (John 20:11)
Of all the verbs I found amid the empty tomb, my favorite is the word “wonder”. In the book of Luke, first, the women “wonder”:
“But when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.” (Luke 24:3b-4)
Then, Peter finds out Christ is absent:
“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (Luke 24:12)
When wonder is present, curiosity is present. Questions are asked. Where did Christ go? Who took him? What can this mean? Who rolled the stone away? Why are the linen strips folded so neatly? On the edge of wonder lurks worry. Should I stay or flee? Who will I tell? Will they think I’ve lost my mind? The risen Christ for those who followed Christ was shocking! This was front page news. And, as the wondering unfurled, did Christ’s past words come back to them igniting hope? Could this mean He is really alive?
In the news that Christ is risen, a flood of emotion and action erupts. Not merely joy in a seated chair among celebration, but rather fear, wonder, bewilderment and disbelief that prompts action. This resonates for me. The last several years on Easter Sunday, I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of confusion. In some ways, I’d find it more refreshing to walk into church on Easter Sunday and find others with looks of astonishment on their faces, “What in the world just happened? Christ is Risen?! What does it mean? For Christ? For Us?!”
Today, it’s as if we hear the news of Christ rising and we are ready to head back to our ordinary lives of egg hunts, chocolate and ham dinners. In the aftermath of Easter, I’m curious if we give ourselves enough time of waiting? Is our own wonder ignited in the story of Christ’s rising? Do we allow ourselves to ask questions? To experience an array of emotions? To sit with our discomfort? Because, what does Christ’s resurrection really mean for you and for me today in 2016? Surely this is good news, but it also means NOTHING is the same. Now that Christ is risen, life is meant to be different. The bewildering, wonderful, fearful, unbelievable, terrifying, joyful, believable news is this: You and I get to be a part of this incredible, ongoing Christ-filled love story in the world.
Just this simple thought unsettles. It means something is required of us. Change is beckoning. Participation is pursuing. The question arises, “Where does this resurrected life begin?” Maybe it begins when we slow down to ask questions, experience heartache and show vulnerability. Maybe it begins when we stop seeking the destination and live in the mystery. Maybe it begins when we take our gaze off all that is around us and fully engage as we wait in the empty spaces of our lives.
“Waiting is the in-between time. It calls us to be in this moment, this season, without leaning so far into the future that we tear our roots from the present. When we learn to wait, we experience where we are as what is truly substantial and precious in life.”
– Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits (page 37)
Name a time when waiting was especially difficult. Reflect on what this experience taught you.
The next time you find yourself waiting for something to occur, practice becoming curious about the space you are in. What questions do you have? Is there another person you might engage in conversation? Allow yourself to notice the emotions that arise without judgement.
A fantastic book on Spiritual Waiting is the book mentioned above:
When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd
Formerly entitled, “Unfolding”, this poem has unfolded and shifted to become “The Gift of Waiting”, found here.