Beyond Expectations

Easter Vigil Scripture Readings (I, III, V)

When the women came to the tomb early in the morning on that first day of the week after the Sabbath, they expected the tomb to be sealed. They expected to find Jesus, and they expected to anoint his dead body with burial oils and perfumes. Everything they were doing that morning was based on that set of specific expectations. The Sabbath had ended at sundown on Saturday, and although they were free to do their work at that time, the sun was setting, daylight was fading, and I’m sure they weren’t anxious to be in the tomb in the dark. They could wait until sunrise. After all, Jesus wasn’t going anywhere.

What they found bore no relation at all to what they had expected. Their considerations, their plans, and all their careful preparations were entirely in vain. Their encounter with the young man in white waiting for them in the empty tomb left them astounded, confused, and perhaps even panicked. What they had anticipated to be a mission of mercy, providing a service to honor a deceased loved one, became a life-changing experience. Once they had encountered the empty tomb, nothing would ever be the same.

Can we relate at all to what happened to these kind and generous women? How often have we made the effort to consider carefully what might be our best response to any given situation, then to decide on a course of action and commit to it, then to invest our time, energy, and resources to see it through, only to find all our efforts to have been for nothing because the situation had changed in ways we’d never anticipated. Of course, we have. We all have. Yet, there’s a huge difference between our reactions and how the women at the tomb felt. Where we most likely felt frustration and disappointment in the face of our thwarted plans, the women experience amazement. The difference between them and us can be distilled down to one thing: faith.

When the women we confronted with a wholly unexpected an implausible new reality, they experienced a metanoia—a change of mind and heart. Did they see, with their physical eyes a young man dressed in white seated in the tomb and speaking to them in words they could hear with their ears? Perhaps. But the way the young man was described hearkened back to descriptions of angelic appearances from the ancient Scriptures. Angels are personifications of God’s communications with humankind. For those women, was it then a physical apparition, or was it a sudden comprehension of God’s message—a remembrance of all that Jesus had told them about himself? Either way, they had, in an instant, understood that God’s plan for them was immeasurably more profound than anything they could ever have imagined.

Today’s gospel challenges us. The empty tomb confronts us. When our plans and efforts are all frustrated by forces beyond our understanding and control, can we summon enough faith to see in it the gift of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God? Despite all that Jesus had told them, none of the disciples actually expected the resurrection. Only faith lifted them over the barriers of fear and doubt. Do we then have the faith and vision to see in the empty tombs we face in life a sign of the resurrected Christ?

The resurrection was not just something that happened to Jesus a long time ago. It’s happening still. It’s happening now. It’s happening to us. It happens whenever we’re able to see with the eyes of faith the hand of a loving God transforming the apparent tragedies and disappointments of life–even including death itself—into something new and unexpectedly wonderful. For, whenever we try to put God in a box and think he’s limited in the ways he can rescue and save us, if we allow our faith to open that box and look inside, we’ll hear the same angelic voice that the women at the tomb that Easter morning heard, “He has been raised. He is not here.”

Христос Воскрес (Christos voskres)! Christ is risen! Воістину Воскрес! (Voyistinu voskres)! Christ is truly risen!

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