Sunday, 20 April 2014


We arrived at my friend Bryn's (he is a boy) parents' house on the thankfully-warmer-than-expected Easter Sunday afternoon, ready to carpool out of state for an Easter dinner. Bryn and his wife were housesitting for his parents - and somewhere in the house there was a surprise, an Easter basket his parents had left for them. Bryn's wife, Mollie, was determined to find it. Most of the house had been searched twice, and desperate text messages back to mother-in-law had afforded a few clues. But it was nowhere to be found. As we drove to New Hampshire, a creeping pessimism lurked and we joked that maybe the basket didn't really exist; this alone would explain its complete impossibility to locate. Seeing how preoccupied Mollie especially was with finding the basket, I made it my mission to bring it up throughout the day, just to annoy them both. That is, until I began to worry that the threats to make me walk back to Massachusetts were serious.
Credit: Ronnie44052 on Flickr

I live most of my life somewhere between extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. There are surprises I look for in my life, and the longer they don't show up, my dual emotions of pessimism and optimism become more intense. I begin to doubt that the surprise will ever come, yet my longing continues to occupy my mind without fail. I fear, I hope. But the further they push, the more they they morph into nothing more than an obsessive disappointment. I keep longing for something I don't believe, deep down, I'm going to find.

But my Easter weekend was filled with lots of little surprises.

On Saturday night, I felt the emptiness of not having had the opportunity to go to any worship services throughout Holy Week. A surprising impulse overwhelmed me. Seeing as it was going to be a clear, star-filled, night, I suggested the organization of an impromptu Easter vigil under the stars with seminary classmates. I don't typically expect my whimsical ideas to become reality. I hope for them to, I long for them to, but I also realize that many of my spontaneous ideas are often unrealistic. But, to my delight, a faithful gathering of willing guitar-players, Scripture-readers, and worshipers, materialized. And we had a beautiful evening. I began to feel hope in my bones for the first time in a long time - hope for the sins, failures, burdens, I'd been carrying and had begun to feel so heavy. We celebrated the power of the resurrection breaking in the midst of darkness, and I remembered that this dead-filled life could know surprise. Surprise.

I made another spontaneous decision. I said yes to an invitation to go to a sunrise service on the beach. At 6 AM. The churches sponsoring the service were local churches I had never heard of, from denominations that are more-often-than-not quite liberal, especially in New England. But we sang simple, beautiful, hymns full of Gospel truth. The sermon was given by a woman. And despite my rather outspoken opinions in favor of full equality between men women in ministry, I often ashamed to find an old unfair bias that a woman, especially from this particular denomination, was likely to be quite liberal. But she preached forcefully and with conviction about the necessity of believing that Christ had truly risen, that the miracles of Scripture are trustworthy, and how this reality must radically transform our lives. Here in 'liberal,' 'godless,' New England, from the mouths of pastors not on the unofficial list of churches part of the Evangelical culture surrounding my school, I heard the Gospel preached. Surprise.

I don't usually have many friends to sit with at my church. The church I attend here in New England is small, and reeling from a severe split several years ago that left it pretty shook up. For a variety of reasons, it's hard to get to know people there, and only one or two friends from school go to this church, and we usually don't go to the same services. Today, my carpool buddy had to work in the nursery, so I expected a lonely Easter Sunday. To my great delight and surprise, my friend Julie on staff at the seminary (a fellow Tennessean who glows with all the southern goodness I miss from home) decided on a whim to visit my church. It was nice to have someone to share Easter service with. Surprise.

There are many surprises I'm looking for in my life, and I wonder when I'm going to find them. I wonder when Saturday will turn to Sunday. This weekend, I had a few very quiet, simple, tiny, reminders that surprises happen. Hope peeks its head around the corner from time to time, from places we don't expect. There is a God who loves to fill the world with surprises.

And because of these little surprises, my heart was softened to ponder anew the great surprise of the resurrection. The great surprise that death turned to life, that God has come to put everything to right again. And because of this surprise, I can have hope in all the surprises I'm looking for but haven't found yet.

There are so many tombs inside of me. Tombs of my own past, my own present, my fears for the future. Tombs of my desires for other people or other parts of the world - for friends who are suffering, or countries filled with war. When will anything come out of those tombs? Are there any Easter baskets to be found here? I hope for a yes, and I fear a no. But I look to the resurrection, and hope bursts up from the ground again.

I would be remiss if I did not note the fact that this is a rare occasion in which the Eastern and Western Easter days fall on the same Sunday. I hope so much for a Church more truly united. I'm pessimistic about this hope, but I desire it so badly. But I am reminded, that if God could raise a man from the dead, He can unite His Church by the power of that same resurrection. I hope and pray that our shared commitment to the resurrected Christ could lead us on side-by-side. We share one joy, one victory, one baptism, one Spirit, one Father, one Risen Son  - the world needs the Gospel we proclaim, much more than it needs our fighting and our disagreements. May the necessary humility start with me. May the Lord surprise us all. Because He is risen, I believe it can happen.

Children dying, families breaking, diseases ravaging, sins enslaving, Satan scheming, lies persuading, wars raging, wicked prospering, and the innocent losing. Truth is silenced, and enemies kick the innocent while they're down. I have hope, and fear. Optimism and pessimism. I want to find surprises, I want to find Easter baskets, I want to find resurrection in these things. In me, in others, in the world. But I lose my hope. I lose my wonder. I stop believing that the Easter basket can be found, that the dead could walk with life.

But because He lives, I can face tomorrow. And I believe that, somehow, someway, somewhere, that darned Easter basket will be found. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in this life. But there is reason to hope. Because He is risen. I'm ready to be surprised. I'm ready to drop these obsessive pessimisms and live with hope. To believe in miracles. To walk with the freedom of hope. To believe that I will rise out of the grave, on the other side of all my fears and failures. That the love of Christ will never let me go, and I will rise into the air with Him, and my feet will never again set foot on the cursed ground from whence sprang all our angst and pain, but walk in a new heavens and a new earth with my risen Lord.

"O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep."

St. John Chrysostom - Paschal Sermon

Oh love, don't let me go
Won't you take me where the street lights glow?
I can hear rain coming like a serenade of sound
Now my feet won't touch the ground

Gravity, release me
And don't ever hold me down
Now my feet won't touch the ground

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