“Explaining the Unexplainable”
Luke 24: 1-12 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ April 21, 2019
If you were to visit the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem, you would find yourself right next to the Garden of Gethsemane ~ the place where Jesus prayed…the place where Jesus was betrayed with a kiss…the place where he was arrested and taken away. And as you step inside this church, you would see a sign at the entrance as sign: “NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH”. They say the sign was placed there to discourage talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambience as they shout their lectures. No explanations inside the church. As we gather on Easter Sunday, I think it is equally good advice for us as we find ourselves embraced by the Holy mystery of this Easter. No explanations inside the church. On this Easter Sunday, I wonder…are explanations wise…are explanations even possible?
There is an immediate problem though…for explanations are what we modern-day people like to do. Following the enlightenment’s move into modern thought, we have adopted a scientific mind that seeks to explain everything. Splitting the atom, cloning a sheep and mapping the human genome, we have evolved from understanding ourselves as being a part of the food chain to the growing belief in a world that does not need God ~ God’s mystery, God’s grace, God’s guidance…for we have both metaphorically and figuratively left the garden of Eden. Yet, with this all in hand, we still are left with the unexplainable mystery before us today. We find ourselves gathering dressed in our Sunday best; caught up in a jelly bean and chocolate infused haze as we try to make sense of this mystery of new life continuing after the dark events of this past Holy Week. We are confronted by the empty tomb, devoid of a body, yet overflowing with possibility.
The first witnesses – the brave women who had lovingly returned on the day after Saturday’s Sabbath to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper burial. The text reports that they were “terrified and bowed their faces to the ground”. It is unfortunate that our understanding of the word ‘terrorism’ has changed very recently. Over the past while it has become associated with instilling fear in people by extremists. In an earlier time, terror had a very different understanding. Here, is reporting upon the state of awe-inspired fear which was instilled in the first witnesses. To be in God’s presence was to be in a fear-based state of absolute awe. To see the empty tomb was that moment of fear-based awe that would soon transform the first witnesses’ understanding of what God’s transformation could accomplish in the face of Roman violence. In the face of religious elitism, in the face of our human brokenness that was implicit in sentencing Jesus to death, they found themselves in awe and fear for they were experiencing a power greater than they had ever seen. With all these forces mounting against Jesus’ Way, the women did not find a corpse symbolizing death. Rather, they found an empty tomb overflowing with possibilities.
Yet…they still do not believe do they? The women race home and tell the disciples this shocking news and it is summed up to be nothing more than “an idle tale” told by confused women. They can’t explain it, so they do not believe it. 13th Century church father, St. Thomas Aquinas, who often wrote about how reason is found in God as well as in one’s mind wrote: “to one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible”. Yet here we are feeling the compulsion to explain this holy mystery of the resurrection of Easter. There they were calling it “an idle tale”. Easter is a time not for explanations. It is a time for opening oneself up to the possibilities of what God is doing. It is a time for faith! I wonder, if rather than trying to solve the mystery of all this, what we are called to do on Easter is live in the mystery of Easter…to not attempt to explain the unexplainable, but rather to be embraced by the transforming power of this holy event of Easter’s new life.
Mystery is something that we do live with, like it or not. There have been some interesting findings around the age-old mysteries of Easter Island, the island located about 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile with those massive statues. The inhabitation of the island since the 13th century by Rapa Nui people and the construction of the 10 metre tall, 74,000 kilograms statues has stumped scientists since their discovery 3 centuries ago. Researchers have recently discovered the Rapa Nui people’s desire to make a home there…fresh water that flowed from the volcanic tubes where the statues were located. New theories have arisen as to how these massive statues were erected. Yet…the mysteries of Easter Island, for the most part, continue to this day.
Perhaps, as much as we try to explain away mystery, it will always be a necessary part of our human condition. A recent article in the journal Psychologies, explored the necessity for mystery in our human condition. British artist John Newling spoke of mystery as being: “a predisposition to search, enjoy, play and wonder that becomes lost when we’re controlling it all”. And further to that point, Psychologist Tanis Taylor advocates for renewing our receptivity for mystery writing that “mystery dispels the arrogance that we know where we’re headed. It keeps our minds open and our lives interesting”. So…perhaps our call on this Easter (and perhaps for the other days as well) is to have a little faith and take a walk into God’s gracious mystery that is offered to us in Easter. What does the mysterious empty tomb look like? Every year it seems to look like something different…
Mystery is so wonderfully powerful when savoured. What causes you all to unite and create this amazing community where we seek to live out the mission statement “Embracing the community the love of Christ”. The mystery where people are welcomed…with worship when they need to grow in faith…with fellowship as we find Christ in their midst…with food when they are hungry in body and mind…with clothing and other items when they are in need…welcoming people near (here in Surrey)…and even afar as we have now welcomed the Hammouds (a Syrian refugee family) into their first year in Canada late last year. Maybe we don’t need to explain it…this church is a living Easter miracle! With a leaky roof that is replaced…with an aging building that continues to be brought back to life…with people who infuse life into others through the time, talents and treasures that God has uniquely blessed each of us with. This church is a living miracle to all who unite and live out its mission.
Where are the Easter mysteries in your life these days? What is it about time spent with another…giving of one’s care and love in ‘listening’ to them that allows the mystery of healing to be found? What is it about the mystery of seeing a child’s sparkle that ignites that in you? What is it found in an elder’s wisdom and gentle care shared that allows one to know that ‘this too shall pass’? What is it about music that is sacred to you, that mysteriously transforms this church (or your car – or wherever you listen) transforming that experience into one where angels are heard? What is it about forgiveness offered to another and the mystery of God’s grace is uncovered? What is it about gathering at the bedside of a loved one and praying together that you mysteriously know that “in life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone”? What is it about holding a loved one’s hand for the last time…watching the casket descend into the ground…sprinkling ashes into the earth…that you know the mystery of God’s new is still present? Where do you find the mystery of Easter these days?
I am currently following an interesting Facebook post in the neighbourhood in which I live. It is an open page where community members can post items: recommendations for a good plumber, concerns for the community, etc. This post caught my attention…it was placed by a single woman whose marriage had just ended and suddenly found herself in deep need as she found herself starting again, furnishing her new apartment on a very modest income. As I looked at the post, there were over 40 replies from strangers who mysteriously felt led to help. Post after post of people offering furniture, housewares wanting to help. I responded mentioning how our Northwood Thrift store often gets donations of large items that we cannot house, so if she could give me a list of gaps, I could ask them to keep an eye out for them. She messaged me back in a state of awe “I am overwhelmed with people’s generosity. I think I have even more than I need”.
The thing with the text is that it doesn’t explain Easter, it invites us to live in the mystery and be embraced by the limitless possibilities of the empty tomb. The mysteries of Easter are all around us. They will never be explained…and the wise among us won’t even try. May we be, like the women, embraced by the mystery in that ancient tomb. May we be embraced the mysteries of Easter that we find expressed in our lives.