Unless we are dead we are on a journey. Our journeys might be more inward focused at the moment, they might be more about outward changes, but either way life is filled with journeys.
But the best kind of journeys are the ones that cost us something: where risk is involved, where we are stretched to or beyond our capacity, where we are made alive in the the process of change.
In August 2003 Emily and I packed had one of these life-changing journeys when we moved from Ohio to someplace called Pasadena where there is a little old lady who owns a new shiny red Super Stock Dodge.
See we got married in Ohio in 2001 and by 2003 we were ready for change. Emily had finished a degree in middle-childhood education – she was drawn to teach english to poor kids in public school. I was youth pastoring at a Friends church and began feeling the itch to get my masters degree.
We labored with this decision for at least a year. We prayed. We talked to every sage we knew. We even made honorary sages just so we had more people to talk to about it. We argued. We cried. To be honest, we were afraid. The thought of such a huge risk with so few resources and no friends or connections on the other side of the country was both exhilarating and terrifying.
What would it be like to move across the country from the only home I’d ever known? (I had up until that point always lived within a 25 mile radius of where I was born in Canton Ohio.) Would we fail? Would we make friends? What would living in So.Cal be like? Could Emily find a job? Looking out across the map of the United States we were filled with equal amounts of hope and fear of the unknown.
Should we take the safe route or take the leap into the unknown?
There were good reasons to stay and good reasons to go, there were challenges with both. But I have to say that part of our decision what that when I thought about staying I felt like something in me would die if we did that.
So that August we threw the dice and took a gamble, packed up the U-haul and hoped that it would meet us where we were headed to. Emily and I set out on a 5-day across the US in our little Mitsubishi Sedan.
Driving across Kansas I wasn’t sure we’d make the trip. When we got to the Rockies I felt we’d finally seen where God resides. And driving through Arizona and Nevada we literally jammed cardboard in the windows to block the August Sun.
I remember when the 210 freeway – the main highway through Pasadena – opened up into a 6 lane highway (on each side). We had arrived, but where on earth had we come to? What had we done?
That summer we both experienced “little deaths” and in the following 6 years of our life together in So. Cal. we experienced an aliveness and new birth we’d never felt. But it started with a leap into the darkness, a huge risk, and the willingness to cross a threshold that had terrified both of us.
It reminds me of what Howard Thurman says:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman
By staking out into the unknown, passing through what felt like a kind of death not only drew us closer to one another, it drew us closer to Jesus. As we crossed over a threshold of death to our old lives I am helped in understand the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning.
Passing through the Cross
Jesus’ death on the cross has held different meanings for Christians throughout history. Sometimes we stress the outward meaning — the liberation from oppressive structures, the defeating of death, the victory of nonviolence. Sometime we emphasize the inward — the freedom from sin and brokenness, the call to discipleship, forgiveness and reconciliation with God and one another.
If I were to ask all of you “what is the meaning of the cross?” I know given our diverse make-up and experiences that we would have many varied and rich ideas about it.
The beauty of the Cross is that our questions and yearnings are met with the vastness and mercy of God’s love wherever we are at.
In a similar way to our road-trip across the country offered both hope and mystery, the cross holds the tension of both hope and mystery, of both reality and new possibility.
*We can face any journey, no matter how challenging and scary it might be if we accept the cross as a paradigm for our inner and outer lives.
Jesus showed that despite our fears and anxieties related to death, to pass through the experience of the cross is something that we must each do.
Jim Miller put it this way:
We tend to keep the cross over there at a safe distance, but we need to be put on the cross.
*The truth of the cross is that there is life on the other side of the journey, even when death and change are a part it and that is where God wants to take us.
Christ’s experience of the cross is not meant to be “for us” passively – like “thanks chief for taking one for the team” or “better him than me.”
I believe that it is a revealing of the movement towards fullness in God. That we must be put on the cross, everything: our fears, our ego, our broken families, our back stories, our beliefs about religion, our complicity in the systems of the world, our addictions, our self-loathing, all of the things that we cling-to as the old world slips away.
The cross stands for a stripping away of all mediators, all obstacles, everything that stands between you and your neighbor, and you and your savior.
Now we don’t have to get up on the cross. If the old world has worked for you, then you may find no need for Jesus to create a new world of possibility.
We don’t have to get up on the cross – the fear it evokes, the facing of our own death of self, and death to what is comfortable, norma, predictable is justifiable.
But if the old world has not worked for you – then it is time to be put on the cross.
If keeping things the say within your inner and outer self feels like a kind of death and you long for new life – then it is time to get up on the cross.
If liberation is what you seek then follow Jesus and he will liberate you, but not first without you have to surrender your very life.
Only then can we be broken open into a the hope of resurrection.
[Ill. One part of the story I left out was that I wanted to go to school because I had given up on ministry. I decided to go a different path. But it was while in seminary that Jesus broke me open again and renewed my call to ministry. A result I was not expecting.]
Because Jesus rose from the dead, because he “came back” Easter is not about escaping this world and going somewhere else – it is about constantly called back to the divine present.
Easter is not about avoiding the difficulty and conflict of living life. It is about learning how to die and live anew within this reality. It is about witnessing where God is already at work within the world – in the places we expect God and and in the places were we may have been running from God.
This is why the accent mark for the Quaker church is not on the cross, it is on the empty tomb.
The reason we continue to remember Easter is because we can “cross over” into a new life of freedom, love and celebration in this life.
But let’s face it no one expects resurrection! We never do!
If you’ll notice the first people to witness the resurrection – in every Gospel story – suffers from what we might call resurrection doubt. They did not believe their own eyes.
And this is because Resurrection is unbelievable. Or as David Lose puts it,
“If It’s Not Hard to Believe, You’re Probably Not Paying Attention!”
And that seems about right.
Even the fact that Jesus told his followers this would happen, they still were confused and thought it was an “idle tale.”
No one slaps their knee and says “I knew it! Good one, Jesus.”
Why is it that we tend to expect the worst, we anticipate the far more pain and the gloomiest endings, when we are told in plain Scripture:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
In other words – why do you look for the dead ends, when you could be looking for all the ways in which God can transform you through these moments and difficult times?
Even though we know that we can pass through these challenging situations, conflict, and fear – we too suffer from resurrection doubt.
But if we are to get to the part where we are, as Thurman said, “people who have come alive,” we must first be carried into the tomb.
Whether the tomb stands for a move to a wholly new place and experience as it did for Emily and I, or the tomb is a letting go of control, or the tomb is a turning with a new sense of surrender to Jesus, we must, like Jesus, be carried into the tomb.
If we allow ourselves to pass through the cross and enter the tomb with Jesus we too will find ourselves on the other side of hope and freedom. We will find that in Christ all things are possible.
I can’t imagine what our life would be like had we not set out on the journey 10 years ago. I know we would be vastly different people. I know I would not know any of you and that my life would not be as alive as it is now. I know that through it all Christ has walked with us.
This Easter – Let resurrection break in on you in a new way.