Shrouded in Mystery

Easter 2011

“Shrouded in Mystery”

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to happen.

I like to understand my friends; I like to know what they are thinking and feeling.

When a puzzle arises in my life, I want to be able to figure out exactly what I need to do to solve it.

That’s why I enjoy reading a good detective story. These books are fun because they are ultimately predictable. While there are plenty of perplexing clues to keep the reader guessing as to who the murderer is, by the final page you know who committed the crime and why. All the loose ends are tied up. The mystery is solved.

Now when we hear the Bible accounts of the events of Easter morning, we may feel like we are reading an ancient mystery story. When Peter goes to the tomb of Jesus, he is surprised to see the stone moved from in front of the tomb and then to see the linen wrappings that had been around the body of Jesus and the cloth that had been on his head. The shrouds lying there seemed to be evidence that something had happened to the body of Jesus.

When Jesus himself appears to Mary, for some reason, she doesn’t recognize him; she thinks that he is the gardener. Then, when she does see who he is, Jesus warns her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

Lots of loose ends. Who rolled away the stone from the entrance to the tomb? Why are the burial cloths described in such detail? Why doesn’t Mary recognize Jesus when she first sees him?

It’s tempting to take these clues and try to solve the mystery of what happened to Jesus. We might deduce that the open door and the burial cloths are evidence that Christ was suddenly brought to life by supernatural power.

And the problems the disciples had in recognizing Jesus may have resulted because when Jesus was raised from the dead, he was given a kind of spiritual body. This new form made him look different than he did before the resurrection.

Christ’s spiritual form may have been why Mary was not allowed to touch him.

Yet even though we can explain some of the events of Easter, we can’t explain exactly what happened, for the Resurrection of Jesus was unlike any other event in human history.

Jesus was brought back to life by a unique act of God and for the first time, human beings were given a glimpse of the spiritual dimension beyond death.

That may be why Christ’s appearances to his disciples were at first perplexing–and even frightening. Only over time did the disciples learn how this amazing transformation of Jesus also had power to change them.

Christ’s new life could bring them new life. The followers of Jesus couldn’t explain it any more than they could explain what happened on Easter Day. But their view of the world changed.

For instance, they learned the lesson that God’s actions are unpredictable. Christ’s followers discovered that they came to feel just as close to Jesus as they did before he was crucified. And against all expectations, Christ’s apparently failed religious movement revived and flourished throughout the known world.

Thus, the early followers of Jesus learned not to fear mystery—but to embrace it. And that’s a practical lesson for us, too.

To me it means that I should stop telling myself that I don’t like surprises! I should recognize that God will do what he wants, and not necessarily according to the plan I think God should follow. I should remind myself again and again that, as the Prophet Isaiah said, God’s ways are not our ways.

At the same time, though, I can remind myself that God is on my side. God who raised Jesus from the dead also wants to offer me new life.

That means that I don’t have to fear the things I don’t understand. Even the dark mysteries can bring me new life. I may find that the deepest joy sometimes only emerges after a time of confusion and pain.

Jesus lives. His new life cut through the shrouds of death. And that means that it’s up to us to let his new life come into our lives. We don’t need to figure out the works of the Spirit of God—the Lord of the Universe doesn’t owe us an explanation of his ways.

The important thing is that Jesus lives. God will help us with the mysteries if we stop, and take a deep breath, and then welcome the Risen Christ so that he can share his life with us.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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