By Ed Thompson

Part of me thinks that the women heading to the tomb on that first Easter morning are pathetic. I want to say to them, “He’s dead. Get over it. You’re wasting your time.” Not that they would be hanging out at Starbucks or taking a Pilates class at the Y if they weren’t heading over to the cemetery that day. I’m sure they would have found other chores to keep them busy. Sometimes, I think I would probably scream at them in frustration. Other times, I imagine taking a more pastoral, almost wistful approach because I do feel sorry for them. I know they’re still grieving. Still, I can’t escape the sense that they’re just going through the motions.

Gil Rendle says several times in his book, Quietly Courageous, “When we don’t know what to do, we do what we know.” That fits the women on their way to the tomb. They don’t know what to do. Although in some ways they probably saw this coming, the crucifixion still catches them by surprise. They were probably thinking that Jesus would just leave town and lay low for a while if things started to get too hot. They never thought he would end up on a cross, even though he had predicted that he would. For them, Jesus was just too smart, just too good to have this happen to him. He was not a criminal and certainly not really a revolutionary, at least not in the way that the Romans usually thought of revolutionaries. Nevertheless, the Romans crucified him, egged on by religious leaders who were filled with jealousy and fear.

So these women did what they had done for their grandparents and maybe for their parents, perhaps for a spouse or a sibling or maybe even for one of their own children. They took spices to the tomb to anoint the body. It was their way of honoring those who had died – people they respected, people they loved.

They were doing what they knew how to do. In disheartening ways, that sounds too much like the church. We keep doing what we know how to do. We keep doing what we have always done because it’s the only thing we know how to do. Who know? Maybe things will be different this time. Maybe a family with young children will come to church this Sunday. They’ll fill up a pew. They’ll want Sunday School classes for their kids and maybe a youth group. Maybe they’ll want to sing in the choir. Maybe they’ll be willing to serve on the session. Maybe we’ll have to put chairs in the aisles because there’ll be so many people at church on Easter Sunday. It could happen.

Hope springs eternal, and we are people of hope. We believe in resurrection. We are waiting for a miracle, and it will take a miracle to bring new life to some of our churches. Yet, a miracle happened on Easter, maybe several miracles. God raising Jesus from the dead is the primary one, the one we focus on and rightfully so. I also think it’s a miracle that the women start to speak, to repeat the words of the angel (or young man or men, depending on which gospel account you go by) at the tomb. It seems almost un-Presbyterian, though, talking about what we believe, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve seen God do in our lives. We listen. We take it in. Then we go home. Bottom line, we keep the good news to ourselves.

We could and maybe we should be asking ourselves the Dr. Phil question, “How’s that working for you?” Or maybe we should reflect on the definition of insanity because we keep doing the same things and yet we expect to get different results.

We can keep doing what we know how to do and wait for a miracle. One might happen before we die or before Jesus comes again. I don’t think that’s the point of the Easter story, though. I don’t think that the gospel writers simply want to encourage us to be persistent thinking that just by being faithful a miracle is going to happen.

I do think we need to find a way to talk, to tell our story, to share our experience, to explain the difference Jesus makes in our lives. If the church is going to survive, we can’t just leave that all up to the minister. The gospel lives in and depends upon all of us. Maybe, just as importantly, we need to listen to our neighbors, to understand their problems, their frustrations, their needs. Until we know them, we won’t be able to speak to them with any integrity. Until we know them, our stories will all be about us, our hopes, our fears, and our needs. We need to flip that script so that it becomes all about our neighbors, their hopes, their fears, and their needs.

Easter gives me hope. It celebrates the victory of life over death. It demonstrates that God is not limited by our faults, our failures, and our fears. Easter happens in spite of us, and somehow I believe the church will survive in spite of us. We may be doing our best to be faithful, but mostly we end up doing the same things the same way because it’s all we know how to do. I believe, however, that we can change. I believe we can speak. I believe we can listen. I believe we can move beyond our old habits, outdated traditions, and unrealistic expectations. We don’t have to do that. But I believe we can, and when we do, I believe that we will experience resurrection.