A pastor friend of mine, Renita Eidenshink, shared on Facebook a few days ago: “There’s a scribble in the crook of my Bible that says ‘BS!’ It refers to Luke’s Gospel, the 24th chapter, the 11th verse.” In Luke 24:11, the Greek word, “leros,” describes what the male disciples thought of the women’s report about the empty tomb and the message that Jesus was alive. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, [that is BS!]”
Resurrection. As David Lose says, “No one expects it and no one believes it.” The group of women who came to the grave to anoint Jesus’ body were not exactly joyful to find the tomb empty. They were not singing Hallelujahs. They were out of their minds with shock, confusion and worry. Luke says they were “perplexed” and “terrified.”
Yehuda Amichai was a celebrated Israeli poet; he might be surprised to find his poem as the subject of an Easter sermon. And yet, as I read his words, and took them in, and mulled them over, they taught me something crucial about the meaning of this day. Listen to them again…
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
Easter, his words helped me to realize, is not something we experience, or live, while walking on the hard-packed ground of certainty. Easter is, in fact, a triumph of doubt. It is a message that digs up our world disturbing the ground we walk on, causing our feet to sink and stumble. Doubt is a natural reaction to resurrection. In Luke’s Gospel, all that Jesus’ followers had (like us) was a message. They had no Jesus. Jesus makes no appearance in the garden. There is not even the assurance, as there is in the other Gospels, that they will see Jesus again. There is only the tomb hanging open: dark, cold and bare. And then the haunting message from two mysteriously shiny strangers: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.” Doubt is, in my mind, faithful response to Easter. It’s faithful to doubt because doubt understands the magnitude of the claim being made. The claim, you see, is not simply that God brought some guy back to life 2000 years ago. Why would that matter to us now? The claim is not that God goes around capriciously breaking the laws of nature. I’m with my scientist friends, who say, why would we want a God like that? Doubt is a faithful response because it doesn’t just say, oh, yes, this old story again; it’s as stale as yesterday’s jellybeans and as silly as those battery-powered chicks hopping manically around the house. Doubt uses stronger language. Doubt says “BS!” with some anger, some sorrow, some disgust. Doubt aches for the message to be true because it has entered into the possibility with seriousness.
New Testament Professor Craig Koester has this to say about Easter and doubt:
Unbelief does not mean that people believe nothing. Rather, it means that they believe something else. People say “I don’t believe it” because there is something else that they believe more strongly. Yet here is where the Easter message begins its work, by challenging our certainties. Experience teaches that death wins and that even the strongest succumb to it. Experience teaches that life is what you make it, so get what you can while you can because it will be over soon enough. And the Easter message says, “Really? How can you be so sure?” Death is real, but it is not final.
The Easter message is a message of doubt, not of certainty. Yes, death is real. Death of body and spirit, of relationship, health and hope: they are all terribly, tragically real. But resurrection asks us to doubt death itself. What if death is not final? What if Easter is not an anomaly, but in fact, the power of God at the very heart and center of the universe, made visible as reality itself. What if life is always stronger than death? What if love forever wins over hate? What if there is a liberating spirit that dislodges all stones from all tombs that raised Jesus and raises us that frees creation from every force that seeks to imprison and oppress?
On Wednesday, an essay appeared in the Washington Post written by a woman named Eleni Pinnow. Pinnow’s obituary for her sister, Aletha, published in the Duluth paper, caught the attention of the Post because of its unusual honesty. The opening line of the obituary was simply this:
Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, … died from depression and suicide…. I went on to share with everyone—friends, family, students, and work colleagues—the cause of my sister’s death: depression and suicide. I told them that my hilarious, kind, generous, helpful, silly and loving sister couldn’t see any of that in herself and it killed her…. Depression lied to my sister, told her that she was worthless. A burden. Unlovable. Undeserving of life. I imagine these lies were like a kind of permanent white noise in her life—a running narration of how unworthy she was. After years of the lies and the torment, my sister believed that depression told her the truth. In the notes she left for my parents and me, Aletha wrote, “Don’t feel sad, I’m not worth it.’”
“She was so wrong.” Pinnow laments, “Depression lies. I have to tell the truth.”
My sister’s depression fed on her desire to keep it secret and hidden from everyone. The lies of depression can exist only in isolation. Brought out into the open, lies are revealed for what they are. Here is the truth: You have value. You have worth. You are loved. Trust the voices of those who love you. Trust the enormous chorus of voices that say only one thing: You matter. Depression lies. We must tell the truth.
Easter does not ask us to be certain about anything; only to doubt the destructive lies we have accepted as truth. Lies that name us unworthy and unloved. Lies that justify violence and repression. Lies that say greed and theft and inequality is the only way to live. Lies that claim peace, wholeness, shalom, is impossible. Living Easter means breaking free of this BS, living instead “as if” life and love and freedom are the truth. In this world, we walk so confidently, on so many hard-packed lies, that traveling through the world as Easter pilgrims means navigating extremely uncertain and unsettled ground. Pinnow puts it this way:
There is a thick black line that separates the before and the after of my life: I’m still new to the after territory. It feels uncertain, disorienting—like walking through a carnival funhouse where the floor is uneven, rotating, slanted, curved.
My friends, “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring. The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard. But doubts and loves dig up the world. Like a mole, a plow. And a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined house once stood.”