Sitting in an airport years ago I was waiting for our delayed flight to board and decided to take walk down the concourse. As I got to an unoccupied gate area, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of brown above me. Looking up I saw a sparrow land on the inside ledge of the skylight in the ceiling. Here was a sparrow on the inside of the terminal looking out.
The bird seemed somewhat at home – as if acclimated to life in the terminal. There was no furious beating of wings as if the bird were trying to get beyond the glass. No frantic sense of the bird having recently become captive. As I watched it flew to the carpet to retrieve some sort of crumb or tidbit someone had dropped. Another brief flight and it sat again on the window ledge above me looking out at the world beyond the glass. I had a sense of forlornness within me as I watched this scene unfold. There was something deeply disturbing about it.
I realized this wild bird had probably flown in through an open baggage door somewhere and unable to retrace her path had become trapped within the terminal. This trapped bird is not able to return to the world for which she was created. Instead she lives in this foreign, temperature controlled, world without grass, insects, separated by a barrier and able only to catch a glimpse of the natural world. Sitting on the ledge of the skylight I sense her deep desire to be where she was meant to be and her resignation at being where she was.
Why did this affect me so much? Perhaps because we are all trapped by circumstances and barriers in our life that prevents us from fully being part of the world for which we were created. But unlike the sparrow we may not even know we are living in an artificial world rather than in God’s kingdom for which we were created. We seem content to live in our artificial world of consumerism, power and status. We live in the engineered world of work and the mall, and only occasionally see, let alone long for, the world beyond the barrier. We, like the sparrow, no longer try to get to that real world – no longer try to find out way to where we really belong. To do those things that we were created to do.
The women going to the tomb that Easter morning before sunrise… when the first day of the week was beginning to dawn… had experienced the real world of the kingdom of God as Jesus had lived it. But with Jesus dead they thought they were back to life as it was before. So Mary of Magdala, and the other Mary make their way, as Matthew phrases it. “to see” the tomb. This sounds to me a great deal like the sparrow looking through the window at life as it was supposed to be – but stuck looking out at it. Jesus was dead – the tomb contained the remains of the dream of the kingdom of God.
Matthew tells us that while they were there – there was something like an earthquake – they and the guards at the tomb were filled with fear. And the guards were like dead men – immobilized – frozen in fear. They all experienced the ground shifting – just as Jesus had shifted the disciples understanding of themselves and the world.
The angel gives them the message not to fear – and then shows them and tells them Jesus is not there. They are to trust their experience. Then the women are then sent to share the news with others.
What tells me we have a real human experience is that next phrase which says they left with fear and great joy. Great joy that their friend and master had somehow been made alive again. But that same news was also a cause of fear – for they did not understand how it was possible.
Then as they leave they meet Jesus – and after greeting them – he also tells them not to fear. He gives reassurance that they don’t have to understand it to experience it. And again they are sent to share the news.
We have the Gospel summed up in this vignette. We are given the opportunity to experience what we may not understand, yet are assured that we don’t have to understand it, and are asked to share our experience with others.
But the church wasn’t out of Jerusalem before the emphasis shifted to understanding rather than the experience of the risen Christ.
The problem with the Easter story is that an empty tomb is not proof of resurrection. It is merely a sign – something that points us towards a greater reality. We are unable to fully understand it. Our logic asks how this can happen – how can this be? The resurrection of Jesus is but one example of resurrection. They are myriads of example of small resurrections places where new life has emerged from what seemed dead and lifeless.. But we need to allow ourselves to see them and experience them rather than analyze them. Understanding won’t get us close to the reality of God’s world but to allow ourselves experience and name it will.
But how and where do we experience these bits of resurrection that we may not recognize or name? Perhaps an illustration from my own life may provide some clues. I applied for and was hired for the job “I always wanted” Director of Communications for the largest Anglican diocese in North America. Eighteen months later I was told my contract would not be renewed. Passive church-speak for “you’re fired.” SoI ended up in a parish in Buffalo working on behalf of the poor and infirm to develop a food pantry, built housing for the handicapped; and worked with the Buffalo New Neediest Christmas Fund. And in this forced return to parish work I found my way back to myself and to my God given purpose.
It was working at this parish that Nancy and I first met and worked together. And 7 years later we married.
Being fired was not life-giving, but what flowed from that because of the changes that brought to me have been very life giving and brought new life to me on several levels.