Last week Emerald and I sat at the back of the fellowship hall while Chad talked about the resurrection. The crowd that had come for lunch was now just nibbling on brownies and finishing up the last of their sweet tea, and Emerald crawled into my lap, nothing to do but watch her daddy as he gestured and preached at the front of the room. Early on the first day of the week, he read, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Emerald turned to look at me with wide eyes. I know this story! she said, excitedly. Then she rested there, sitting in my lap, leaning on her mama while she heard again the truth that Jesus is alive. She has heard descriptions of this all-important resurrection morning over and over again in her short life, like a refrain that is always chanting, There is hope, There is hope, There is hope…
And, she recognizes it every time as news to smile about, because this is Jesus, our friend, come back from the grave. She has seen more than her fair share of bodies in caskets. The pastor’s child learns to be comfortable with funerals and the strange way that the outward shell of a human being will sometimes lie there in a satiny bed at the front of the church. She has watched many a dear wife stand at the casket, tears streaming down, saying one last goodbye to the face of the man she has loved so well. Emerald has stood aside while her daddy walked past, leading a casket out of the church. She has played quietly just steps away from deceased church members who had only a few weeks earlier smiled down at her sweetly in the very same sanctuary. She has walked through a sea of tombstones, balancing on the concrete dividers between plots like a circus performer. And, she has heard her daddy repeat those solemn words over a gaping grave: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Blessed are they who die in the Lord, for they will rest from their labor and their deeds will follow after them.
When the familiar words of the Easter account crop up in her world once again, she knows very well what kind of good news it really is. It is news that says the cemetery isn’t the end of the story. It is news that says it is possible for a beloved, precious, vibrant person to lie in a casket and then get up again, more radiant than ever.
Adelade got a new Bible on Sunday and turned to the Easter story, just exploring her pretty pink copy of God’s word. She read in Matthew: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
She looked at me, mouth gaping in disbelief. She couldn’t believe she had never in all of her twelve years read or heard this. But, there it was, in black and white. When Jesus was raised, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, all kinds of loved ones who had been tenderly laid to rest came walking right out of once sealed, lifeless tombs. It was as if the cemetery suddenly woke up. Everything about Jesus’ death and resurrection turned this planet upside down, starting with the day that Jesus and a host of holy men and women simply got up, left the graveyard, and walked back into town.
Adelade shook her head, trying to decide what that would have been like. A mother, washing laundry in the river, looks up to see the teenaged daughter that she has endlessly grieved for. A playing child squints into the sun as he sees a familiar figure walking quickly up the path. He runs to meet his dear daddy who has been in the tomb for over a year. Here he is, looking stronger and more alive than ever before. All over the city, reunions. Cries of joy. Shouts of praise to the God of life. Declarations that death really is dead.
And, on another path, Jesus’ closest friends who had watched Him die a brutal death would realize that everything He had told them had come true. He is alive. The resurrection is once and for all, real life eternally.
This is our story. This is our destiny. We are the people of the empty tomb. The cemeteries will bust open one day, and Life will win.
So, here is the challenge in the days after Easter. When the echoes of the glorious music we sang on Sunday morning begin to fade. When thoughts of all that is wrong start to crowd out the truth that one day every little thing will be just right. Are we living, on the Tuesday after the resurrection, as if we really know this story? Are we, like little Emerald, content to settle into the joy and the hope of it, the sheer love of a Savior who says that no casket can hold us? That it can’t hold our dearest ones? Are we trusting in the God of Easter morning to handle whatever is coming?
We must live this short, troubled life with a resurrection mentality. With a soul that never stops smiling over Easter morning. With a mind that remembers that the risen Savior proves that death and sin have no power here. With a faith that can stand at the foot of an open grave, knowing this is not the end, not even close. I know this story, we will whisper with a smile, and we will lean on our risen Savior. He is alive forever, and so are we.