~ Resurrection Celebration, 2003 ~
For a starting perspective, let's ponder these words from the prophet Isaiah:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?…Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed the path of understanding?
“Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales… Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing… He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers… No sooner are [the rulers] planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, then he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40: 12, 14b, 15a, 17, 22a, 24-25, NIV).
The rulers of our nations today would dismiss these words if they would ever read them. Intoxication of power causes an illusion of grandeur and self-importance. Think of them now, the power-brokers of our world, and the kings, dictators, and conquerors in history, now dead. The perspective of God does tease a smile of amusement… Just like grasshoppers, like withered weeds blowing in the wind, they are. And so are we.
One of greatest worldly powers of all time was the Roman Empire. Its record keepers noted Jesus’ death, as they did His birth in its census, without further comment. Drunk and dazzled with the power and splendor of the empire under Caesar Augustus, Roman historians didn't see the poor King who walked its roads, the One who Herod frantically tried to kill by murdering the male babies in and around Bethlehem just thirty years before.
The Pharisees and their temple institution under Roman occupation did take great notice of Jesus, to the extent of even fearing His blood-drained, shredded body. So they persuaded the Roman Empire to seal and guard the great stone cover of His tomb with the tamper-detecting state emblem and a detachment of warrior-guards who knew the penalty of failing their orders was their death, even if their prisoner was a dead one.
Though their mission was serious, the brutal and expert soldiers must have done a lot of joking during their couple of days and nights on the job, happy for probably their easiest assignment ever. They must have had fun making playful talk about how hard it was to guard a poor, homeless, wandering Jewish teacher wrapped tightly in a burial shroud behind a multi-ton rock whom provincial rulers Pilate and Herod found to be no threat to the Empire. Laughter must have punctuated their talk of how even the crucified man's nation wanted Jesus guarded. Against whom? The dead prisoner had no army or fighters. His weak remnant of followers were in hiding, scared to death. Maybe off-duty Roman soldiers came by to visit, teasing their comrades about their “brave and tough” assignment. I'm sure their buddies just couldn't resist. None of the Gospel writers knew what had been going on during those days at the tomb. Even if they heard about it, it wouldn't be worth recording.
It is, however, worth pondering. Like the strange image of the Incarnate God's first crib being an animal feeding trough, or that of millions of powerful angelic beings passing by the palaces of the rich and powerful rulers to announce the coming of the King of the Cosmos to poor, disheveled and despised shepherds. The pre-resurrection image is also a remarkable but characteristic one. So many images of Jesus are jarring and startling to us humans who are “as grasshoppers.” These images keep saying “This is what I am like, and follow me.” Images that make so many hesitate or reject, especially the world's rulers who don't see themselves being like “chaff blowing in the wind.”
These images are not made vivid by a quick reading of scriptural texts. Perhaps to truly appreciate and feel their powerful reality, we “had to be there” as the saying goes. In our silent hearts and quiet minds, we can visit “there” and be awed by the Holy One.
We can hurry to the tomb with Mary Magdalene on that dark, first morning of the week; we can turn around with her and share her surprise and ecstasy at hearing our names called by the Risen One. We can run with Peter and John later that morning to behold the sight of an unguarded and empty tomb and ponder deeply what that means for us and all creation. We can imagine how the self-amused Roman guards were seized by a paralytic fear too great for them to even scream in terror as their dead prisoner exploded in glorified brilliant light, heat, wind and power from the dark rock tomb in a resplendently restored and almost ethereal body of perfection and beauty. Contrasting and contradictory images: The slaughtered Lamb yet King of kings; the Lord yet Servant. Yes, that is our Jesus, our Friend, Brother, Redeemer, Master.
Since that historical day, scores of rulers and nations since the Roman Empire have also tried to keep this dangerous and threatening Jesus sealed back up in the tomb. Even today, guards of revisionist history, false and twisted scholarship, persecution by defamation, forced poverty or imprisonment, intimidation and death are actively standing by the site of the resurrection. But Christ's resurrection keeps exploding in power through His followers and Church. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5, NIV).
We commemorate and celebrate Christ's death and resurrection just days apart. Let us not think of this as a celebration of a 2000 year old historical event. What was happening then is happening now. We celebrate our participation in these redemptive mysteries and in our witness of others who die daily in the faith and those who are reborn in it.
What awes me in this daily
participation is that we can do it, by grace and blessing. I think Isaiah
was perhaps too generous in his simile of we being like grasshoppers to
God. As I consider the grand infinity of the Creator and His Word, the
Christ, I see myself closer to a single celled amoeba or pollen grain.
That we are gifted to share in His resurrection and life overwhelms me
like the resurrecting Christ overwhelmed the Romans soldiers. His love
is so brilliant and fiery that my little spirit cannot conceive it and
can only feel a bit of its infinite depth. This is certainly worth celebrating
and growing into for all eternity. It will take us at least that long to
|John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © April 19, 2003
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