The events of Easter are at the heart of Christianity. You may argue forever about all of the details of life and death, the comparison of earth with heaven, immortality and creation all you want, but the real issue was decided uniquely when a crucified Jesus stood among his disciples and told them to check to see if he was alive or dead. Thus, Jesus' resurrection is both the beginning and end of Christianity, and the gateway to religious thinking.
With that in mind, I was introduced to a poem written by Cynthia Langston Kirk that appeared on the bulletin of the Arvada United Methodist Church on March 5. It is a Lenten Journey Prayer/Poem called, "Stripped by God." It raises more questions than it answers, but it is a great conversation piece for the Easter season. She writes:
"What would happen if I pursued God-If I filled my pockets with openness, Grabbed a thermos half full of fortitude, And crawled into the cave of the Almighty/Nose first, eyes peeled, heart hesitatingly following/Until I was face to face/With the raw, pulsing beat of Mystery?
"What if I entered and it looked different/Than anyone ever described? What if the cave was too large to be fully known, Far too extensive to be comprehended by one person or a group, Too vast for one dogma or doctrine?
"Would I shatter at such a thought? Perish from paradox or puzzle? Shrink and shrivel before the power? Would God be diminished if I lived a question/Rather than a statement? Would I lose my faith/As I discovered the magnitude of Grace?
"O, for the willingness to explore/To leave my tiny vocabulary at the entrance/And stand before you naked/Stripped of my pretenses and rigidity, Disrobed of self-righteousness and tidy packages, Stripped of all that holds me at a distance from you/And your world.
"Strip me, O God, Then clothe me in curiosity and courage."
As the pastor was preaching the sermon that morning, she stepped behind the pulpit and brought forth a sign which read: CAUTION, WE DON'T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! When I heard that, I had to think of all of the people in our world who are struggling to understand what life and all that it involves means.
Much of social life in America was molded out of Puritan ideals that controlled how Christians dressed and what they did. The early Catholic Church in the United States mandated the roles for men and women, and still refuses to acknowledge that God could call a woman to priesthood. Protestants strongly preached a prescribed method of salvation, and many have not deviated from it yet today. These movements and others have clearly motivated the way Christians worshipped, and much of Christianity is grossly confused today because of the changes taking place.
In many churches today, the bulletin and its liturgy have been replaced primarily by just two things: music and preaching. Oh yes, in some churches the closing prayer is five to ten minutes in length and tends to sound more like a revivalist's invitation to salvation than some kind of communication with the Almighty. You don't have to dress up for worship any longer, and the worship leaders often find it more convenient to just wear jeans and a tank top.
It seems to me that the gateway to meaningful Easter worship should start at the acceptance that we really do not know much about God at all. God is too immense, too powerful, and too incomprehensible for us to claim we know the answers we put forth. It is much better to acknowledge our finiteness and to ask relevant questions about God we hope will be answered during our lifetimes.
In the meantime, Easter allows us to pause before the empty tomb and to look for the resurrected Jesus who remains the gateway into heaven.