An Easter Morning Message.
When I think back to the beginning of this journey with The Land, there are really only one or two times that I felt we had approached the end of our story. The first time is understandably the most memorable. Only a year into our planning stages a rumor arrived through the clergy grapevine that the Conference had leased the mineral rights of this property to Conoco Phillips to utilize for a well site. I was confident this was the end and made calls one by one to our team members to tearfully share the news. Despite our collective commitment to desperation, the news would soon travel to my inbox that the property leased for a well site was on a property site, but that the property had been swapped for a new property at a new site, the site we sit and stand on today. It seemed we wouldn’t be closing shop, merely relocating our plot.
The arc of this experience was a beautiful teacher for all that would continue to come our way; a reminder to welcome the arrival at the empty tomb not as a tragic ending, but as an unplanned new beginning. This was a vital lesson seeing that empty tombs pop up like noxious weeds in an arid climate. Their frequency, while draining, has also functioned as a personal trainer for spiritual fitness; the repetition of persevering through despair culminating in a spiritually sturdy attitude of “yes, the tomb is empty but, surely, we’ll make it through.”
For the biblical characters in our scripture this morning, it seems this was likely their first, or perhaps their most significant, arrival at an empty tomb. So much hope had been invested in the promise of the Messiah. So much despair in the outcome of their efforts. It’s understandable that in all they saw as having gone horribly wrong, the empty tomb would have been missed as a sign that something had actually gone incredibly right.
Our unique position to see the parts from the perspective of the whole give us an upper hand in our ability to mark their disbelief as a mistake. We know the pieces of the story, but the faith we hold is present in its whole. And while the disciples have been placed in the context of a (retrospectively) predictable story, they are living it out in the blind spots of real life broken up into individual parts. They didn’t get the script or the favor of a spoiler alert. They carry with them only the experiences from when Jesus was with them and the expectations their culture taught them. None of which proved particularly helpful in predicting patterns of resurrection.
Jesus predicts, angels announce, and the women report back and still the possibility of resurrection arrives as unbelievable. Whatever resurrection was supposed to look like, feel like, sound like, it is evident that this was not it. Perhaps a marching band but not a silent tomb. Perhaps a physical embrace but not the absence of even his distant presence. Regardless of time period, these would be more culturally appropriate versions of victory. The good guys winning and the bad guys loosing. Dreams coming true and troubles blown away. Regardless of how antithetical this ending would be to everything they had learned about the presence of God and the character of Jesus; this version of victory proves impossible to let go of. Impossible to give up on the hope that finally there would be an easy answer, some tangible trophy, a concrete closure. The message of an empty tomb, the blatant arrival of a new beginning, meant nothing to an audience waiting for a grand finale after what they interpreted to be Jesus’ final scene. The arrival of empty tombs, it seems, are defined as much by their time of arrival as by their contents.
This past Thursday I admittedly was anything but ready for a new beginning. If I could have filled my metaphorical tomb with metaphorical dynamite, lit with a metaphorical match, there would have been no stopping me. While The Land is no Notre Dame, for the people who have spent years visioning, planning, fundraising and participating, it represents a purpose and promise expressed beyond the contours of architectural design. We have worked so hard, not just to acquire the deed to this property or to receive approval for the planning documents, but we have worked so hard to be taken seriously. Following a vision toward a world yet seen requires a constant awareness that a million skeptical eyes rest in the risers waiting to see where you land. So, when our canopy structure was laid flat by the snow bomb cyclone, it was received as an invitation to solicit the public cheers of social media bound palm waving supporters. When Rick Stephens called me on Thursday to let me know that he was at The Land, but that the steel frame to our canopy tent was not, the scenario transitioned into a scene more emotionally equivalent to a crucifixion.
However detached from reality the finality of our crucifixions may be in retrospect, empty tombs seem to arrive when we are least able to embrace the possibility of a new beginning. Here we are at the most vulnerable moment, just about to celebrate the resurrection of a shelter in the relentless storm of the skeptic’s gaze and BAM! we arrive and nothing is there. Literally, in my opinion, the exact opposite of where faith should lead. This unwelcome new beginning a thief of the hard-earned victory clearly written into our plans. If the disciples had sold resurrection as a return of a Jesus-gladiator kicking butt and taking names, then The Land had marketed resurrection as two tents and a parking lot by Easter 2019. Clearly, neither panned out most likely because it turns out resurrection moments are not defined by an arrival to a destination but by a departure into the unpredictable path toward what is next.
Although plans for The Land began almost five years ago now, it has only been the last nine months since I have been a constant companion to her life. For so long my visits arrived similar to a grandparent seeing a grandchild only once or twice a year. Each arrival greeted by the shock of new growth since their last meeting. Unlike a grandparent, however, I rarely thought about what happened in those in-between seasons marked by my absence. This neglect of mindfulness for the heaviness of the seasons and the patience required for their passing, wove the winter around my chest so tight I could barely breathe. Even though I have seen The Land, just months ago, flush with flowers, grains and grass, the Winter seems to have stripped the promise of its certain return and abandoned my spirit in a precarious holding pattern of knowing what should come next while doubting that it will ever happen.
This feeling, they call despair. This experience, they call grief. The amnesia of hope in the midst of a barren winter when even the most heated parts of our being fall numb. I have yet to find peace with the unraveled endings of our empty tombs but I collected tricks along the way when I feel tangled in their tales. I have learned to depend on a muscle memory shaped by all the times I found myself here before. To let my body carry me to places my heart would rather not go for risk of breaking all over again.
I remember the way to The Land. The way the road empties and narrows at the same time the closer I get. The openness that slowly unfolds like a flip book designed just for me. Each morning. Each week. We show up to the piece of our story called today. We notice a small bloom, a lone lady bug, a flirty meadow lark and slowly our heart meets where our body has brought us, and we settle into the new life that before us has been resurrected.