by Pastor Sarah Stadler
You may know that I have been trying to bike more and drive less.
Because my biking is primarily for the purpose of transportation, I have slowly been figuring out the best routes to get to the places I normally go. One of those places is my sister’s house which is a bit east of the Biltmore area. The first time that I attempted to ride over to my sister’s house, I remember researching my route which was going to include biking on Oak—just north of McDowell—which has a bike lane. Well, I’m pedaling and pedaling along Oak, and suddenly, the road disappears. Suddenly, I can’t go any further; it’s just a dead end. All I can see is the wall built to dampen the road noise for those who live near highway 51. I stop my bike and look around perplexed. I know that my bike lane continues on the map, but there is no road! What the heck?! I do a little investigation. I bike over to the frontage road and, quite dangerously, I don’t recommend this, find myself caught in the tangle of on ramps and off ramps right there at the 51 and Oak which is close to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I find myself trapped under the overpass in my zealous hunt for the bike lane. I finally just get off my bike, run across the streets dodging vehicles going 50 miles per hour, and walk my bike for a little ways while I recover from my near-misses. Even as I ride away, I wonder: how did I miss the bike lane? Later, I debrief my experience with a friend who bikes everywhere, and he says: There’s a pedestrian bridge on Oak. Didn’t you see it? And I assure him that there is not a pedestrian bridge. I looked. I looked everywhere and did not see a bridge. Hand to God.
Well, turns out, my friend was right. There is a pedestrian bridge on Oak that goes over the 51. But I didn’t see it—because it wasn’t what I was looking for. I knew the bike lane continued, and my eyes work perfectly fine. But because it didn’t match what I thought it should in my mind, I couldn’t see it.
So it is with Mary, Peter, and John on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
Mary Magdalene is the first to go to the tomb on Easter morning. When she sees the stone rolled away from the tomb, she runs to find the disciples. Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, likely John, run to the tomb. John goes in first and then Peter. But when they come out, they simply go home. Meanwhile, Mary sits outside the tomb weeping. When she glances into the tomb and sees two angels sitting there who ask her why she’s weeping, she says: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Turning around, Mary sees Jesus, but she doesn’t know it’s him. She takes him for the gardener, so she asks him: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus says: “Mary.” And that is all Mary needs to recognize the man before her as her risen Lord. The story ends well, of course, with Mary proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, but the first 15 verses are startling. Even though Jesus makes clear in the gospel of John that he is the resurrection and the life, neither Mary nor Peter and John remember or believe or trust that Jesus will be raised from the dead. They just don’t see it as an option. Mary is convinced that someone has moved Jesus’ body to a different location, and when Peter and John discover the empty tomb, instead of being overjoyed by what looks to us like evidence of the resurrection, apparently they can’t make heads or tails of it since they just return home.
Sure, Jesus’ death looks like a dead end. Sure, Jesus’ death and resurrection is like standing at Oak and the 51 staring down at the road instead of looking up and seeing that, indeed, there is a pedestrian bridge right there in front of your eyes.
The good news of Easter is that, even when we seem to be facing a dead end, new life is right in front of us. Isn’t it true that, sometimes, the hardest thing to see is the thing right in front of us? I regularly open up the cupboard to find something, and just before I give up looking, I say to myself: Look right in front of you. Nine times out of ten, the thing I’m looking for is right in front of me, just like Mary, looking for Jesus, couldn’t see Jesus standing right in front of her. New life is disguised by our expectations of what it looks like or where we’ll find it.
When I think about what new life has looked like in my own life, it hasn’t always been shining and pretty. New life hasn’t always been carefree and easy. The new life I have found in getting divorced, for instance, has included fear and uncertainty. It has included being uncomfortable and wrestling with convictions about divorce and God’s call in my life. Whatever it is that is put to death prior to new life springing up is usually something comfortable and known, usually something we have done or trusted in for many years, whether that be a relationship or a substance or a job or a way of life. New life will likely seem startling, different, odd—at least for a little while since new life is new.
Since it is perhaps our expectations that plague us this Easter, maybe this story compels us to put aside our expectations, to let go of our assumptions, to be open to the possibility that God will work in our lives in ways that we can’t imagine. How very uncomfortable that will be—looking for a new thing, not the thing we expect. I imagine some of you, like me, would rather brave the traffic of on ramps and off ramps on a bike looking for the path that you expect instead of being open to something new. That’s okay. I’m right there with you. But now I know: a pedestrian bridge will take me across highway 51, and even if I expect a man who was crucified to still be dead, Christ is risen.