We humans are a short-lived species. The average life-span in the United States hovers between 75 and 80. The age of the earth, on the other hand, is around 4,500,000,000 years. The age of the universe is around 13,800,000,000 years. You and I inhabit just a small bit of that time, the tiniest morsel of spacetime lived out on a relatively small planet that orbits an average size star. Our star, the Sun, is one of trillions upon trillions of stars, and our planet is one of trillions in the known universe. But it’s ok.
Easter is all about smallness.
* * *
I like to re-read the Easter accounts in the Gospels each year. Despite the ocean of books, songs, sermons, and lectures on Easter in the last two thousand years, the accepted Christian canon includes just four small stories about a person who rose from the dead. I am often struck by their brevity. The combined resurrection stories encompass about 3500 words–the equivalent of about 15 pages. A term paper.
Jesus’ resurrection was a humble thing. He first appeared to women, then to a few men, then to a few small gatherings of people. He spoke about peace, about the Spirit of God, about hope. He showed his wounds and ate some food and then he drifted up into the clouds. He didn’t march on Rome or lead a rebellion against the priests who brought him to Pilate. He didn’t heal anyone else or preach to vast crowds as he had done previously. He didn’t cast out more demons, trade barbs with more theologians, or visit the Temple. The resurrection, in many ways, was quiet.
* * *
It challenges me, theologically and personally, to read that Jesus showed his followers his wounds. “See,” he seems to say, “a broken body is not made whole by erasing the imperfections. Feel the hole in my side,” he says to Thomas and to us all, “and see how I have sanctified that which the world calls spoiled. A broken body is made whole not by removing the scars but by embracing the permanence of the wounds.”
That’s all nice, but I don’t appreciate the message on most days. I don’t like permanent wounds.
Jesus appears to Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
* * *
My wife and I are foster parents and have recently completed our first adoption through the State of Indiana. The many children I have encountered during this process foster care have struggled with lives I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I want their wounds and scars to be temporary. I want to be able to remap their brains so they are not haunted by images of violence and pain, so they can see life through new eyes of hope. But the best efforts of science conclude that such healing may never, in fact, be possible. Humanity is a frail animal species.
* * *
The human brain is a conditioned muscle. It creates pathways for remarkably complex thought and learns from its surroundings. It is made healthy by forming healthy connections to others, and by being loved in those connections. If someone learns that all relationships are forms of abuse, said person becomes accustomed, down to the neurons, to treating relationships in this way.
I don’t know how to deal with this theologically. I mean, I can give you answers based on fancy theological footwork, but I can’t explain why some are born into healthy homes and others are not. Why some get bombed and others are safe. Why some die and some live. I may as well explain to you what came before the Big Bang.
But I guess this is why I like a small and quiet resurrection, a resurrection where Jesus is no superhero. He does not return triumphant and knock Pilate off his throne, bringing God’s wrath to the bloody and vicious Roman Empire in a large swath of righteous violence. He appears to friends, showing his wounds and talking about love.
I suppose the resurrection was small for exactly the same reason why I can’t theologically understand the lifelong damage done by childhood PTSD. God embraces frailty, not perfection. Oh Jesus wants us to be perfect, but not the kind of perfect that Superman exemplifies. Jesus wants us to be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Well, to put it bluntly, your heavenly Father didn’t stop the Shoah, so God’s perfection is definitely not Superman’s. Superman would have stopped Hitler.
* * *
God’s perfection, then, and the message of a quiet Resurrection is and must be the unconditional embrace of frailty, pain, and brokenness.
It is an embrace that encompasses the world, resisting all forms of violence, power, and hatred. For Jesus did not arm his apostles with weapons of mass destruction or theories of just wars–he armed them with prayer and baptized them in a spirit of hope and forgiveness.
When I look at the world today in sadness and fear and anger, it is this embrace that pulls me back into the arms of God over and over again, often kicking and screaming about the impossibility of such hope. But deep in this caress of God our Mother, in the security and sanctity of enfolded arms, only here am I able to turn and open my arms to those in the world around me, to sanctify this broken world through the relentlessly compassionate love of God. This is the beauty of a frail and quiet resurrection.