Easter . . . You Feeling It?
Are you feeling it? Joy, faith, excitement, wonder? Or maybe holy fear, terror (Mark 16: 8), stunned disbelief (John 20: 15)?
A confession. As a pastor, in the midst of the many demands of Holy Week, I often found it challenging to make a transition, emotionally, from Maundy Thursday/ Good Friday to Easter Sunday. As the Good Friday hymn, “Go To Dark Gethsemane” puts it “All is solitude and gloom.” That’s Good Friday. And it is a Good Friday world in so, so many ways.
Sometimes it seemed difficult, just a little artificial, suddenly to flip the switch and be all full of joy and excitement only two days later.
Good news: it’s not all about your/ my feelings. Feelings? Yes, important. But they aren’t, despite what we are sometimes told, everything. They aren’t, so to speak, God. In the end, the question regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t, “Are you feeling it?,” but “Is it true?”
Is it true that Jesus has been raised from the dead, that in him God has triumphed over the powers of Death and Sin?
The gospel narratives, while rich in their diversity, are as one on this: they all give us a realistic, detailed, sensory, this world account. They speak of the massive stone rolled away, an empty tomb, of burial garments cast aside, or a messenger who asks, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It’s not a sacred blur, not something occurring “long ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” or some kinds of lights and sound show intended to dazzle or overwhelm, as if watching a “Blue Angels” fly-over or Super-Bowl halftime.
The point is, it is true. Whether you’re feeling it or not.
This is not to say that the Gospel narratives are offering incontrovertible or “scientific” proof. In fact, the resurrection itself is neither pictured nor described. Only the empty tomb and later appearances of the Risen One to his shocked disciples. No, this is not something that can be proven (any more than you can prove your lover loves you).
But the Gospels are all saying, “this happened,” “this happened in this world,” “this happened in history.” They are not saying, “it’s but a symbol, like butterflies emerging from their cocoon,” or “it’s just a great story,” or “it’s a good feeling.”
One is reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s response to fellow writer Mary McCarthy’s observation that the sacrament of a communion is only a symbol. “If that’s all it is,” said O’Connor, “to hell with it.”
Sometimes we need rescuing from our modern cleverness, from the way we make things into “literary truth,” or “metaphor.” Sometimes we need to be confronted by that which is not dependent on how we feel about it. It is the truth. Christ died for us. Christ is raised for us. Christ will come again for us. (Note that this traditional acclamation from the liturgy encompasses past, present and future.)
Can it be proven? No. Can it be trusted? Yes. Can you put your whole weight down upon this outlandish claim that life triumphs over death, love over hate, that the burden of the past regret and failure has, like the stone, been “rolled away.”
Andrew Sullivan wrote on Good Friday of anticipating a return to actual in-person worship (mass, as he is Catholic) this Easter Sunday. He confessed he has kind of enjoyed his lazy pandemic Sunday mornings. But what he missed about church, about the mass, was its otherness. In a sense, its indifference. It does not depend on how he happens to feel about it. Here’s Sullivan:
“The one thing Catholicism teaches the bored and distracted church-goer is that your own mood doesn’t really matter. The consecration will happen regardless. Your inspiration is not the point. And what makes this all cohere somehow is physical, communal ritual — and that, I realize, is what I really miss.”
We tend to think our mood matters. It matters a great deal. If I’m not feeling it, well, the hell with it. We believe our inspiration is the point. If we’re not inspired, why bother?
I remember the story told by a clergy friend. A woman was visiting her church. After worship, the guest came through the shake-the-ministers-hand-say-hello line. She said, “Your service didn’t do anything for me.” My friend responded, “Well, thankfully, it wasn’t about you.”
So, if you’re not feeling it, if you’re not super-charged with joy and wonder and Easter jubilance, don’t sweat it. It’s not all on you. It doesn’t depend on your feelings.
Christ is Risen! It’s not a cheer line. It’s a statement of the truth, of the truth of faith. Death does not get the last word. God does. Thanks be to God.
And as a little Easter gift, enjoy this new recording and visual feast from St. Mary’s Basilica in Barcelona.