A stretch of prairie that opens up
so that you can see a rolling thunderhead
many leagues away across the grass
and wonder if the storm will come to threaten you.
A subterranean cave that only yields its secrets
when the hopelessly small beacon on your hard hat
shines across a cavernous room.
That last stretch of marsh behind a barrier island
through which you paddle silently
while breakers roar just above the spartina
and great blue herons take to wing
like ancient beasts of the prehistoric skies.
I do love empty spaces.
when I was in college
always suspected that I would end up in a cabin
in some mountain hollow
where I could spend my evenings in a rocker on the front porch
occasionally pulling Yoo Hoo sodas out of a rusty frig beside me.
They thought I’d shuffle off to some out-of-the-way place
where the horizon is not a fanciful thing to imagine
but something you see every day.
Guess I showed them.
But it takes good eyes to see the beauty of the empty.
Which is why,
when Matthew shares with us his gospel tale of Easter,
he’s really giving us a test.
though it is for everybody,
is only seen by some bodies.
Peter shared the news with Cornelius and his household,
his report of impossible doings on the third day,
and what he said was that God raised him up
God lifted Jesus from the dead
on the third day he brought him up out of that tomb
and allowed him to be seen
but then he adds
“allowed him to be seen,
not by everybody
but by us.”
So here’s the test:
There will be marvels
There will be wonders
There will be intrigue, fear, and death
to rival any thing you’d see at the Multiplex.
In a world
where everything is falling apart
one man comes to redeem God’s people
can you see him?
It was early on a Sunday morning
dawn, they say
on the first day of the week, they say
A flock of soldiers sits idly by the tomb
Not often they are asked to guard the dead
“What a pointless task!” they must be saying.
“Hasn’t Jesus caused enough trouble?
even three days dead
he’s got us assigned to the graveyard shift!”
But they were taking no chances
The reports were thick that Jesus had claimed
an after-death surprise
A stolen body might be more trouble
than a living prophet
Best to seal the deal
and seal the stone
Post a guard and let him rot.
Two women come to take a look
Mary and Mary
to take a look
to observe the tomb
No more to the plan than that
Might as well watch paint dry
as expect a show from that rock
So what will kill the tedium of a Sunday by the graves?
What will get this place shaking?
Who will liven things up?
Right on cue, there is the trembling of a tremor
a thrill runs through the garden
the crowd goes wild
From up above an angel comes
with face like lightning
and robe like snow
And rolls that rock away from Jesus’ grave
as if it weren’t nothing but a thing
And saucily he sits
on top that stone
It’s too much for the rent-a-cops
hired to watch for grave robbers
and certainly not for lightning-faced angels
They shake and flail and fall and faint
dying, it seems, of fright
So now the only guards of the dead
have fallen dead themselves
“Don’t be afraid,” the angel says from his perch
It’s how you know that angels are legit -
they tell you not to be fear.
I know the reason why you’re here.
To look at the tomb - ha!
You came to see Jesus.
You came because even though his promises didn’t make a lick of sense
and you suspected that he was kind of off his rocker
with his resurrection talk
It’s the reason people will go to church for centuries more
They’ll put on bonnets and ties and pastel blouses
and make the trek they made with Grandma
for O! so many years
And they’ll not expect to be converted by the choir
or moved by the fantastical story
Because what modern person could believe?
And yet -
just maybe -
I may be adding a little bit to what the angel said.
But it’s surely what he meant.
Now we have the test.
Have you noticed?
Have you seen?
It’s all well and good to have the fireworks
but where’s the substance of the show?
At what point do we get to see the broken body restored?
At what point does the music swell?
When will it be that a figure appears
in the shadows of the tomb's entrance
the darkness just barely concealing his face
but we know who it is
we know what it’s about
this is the extra special special effect
the climax of the whole crazy pageant
Did you get distracted?
Did you fail to see what couldn’t be seen?
It wasn’t the rock that kept Jesus in the ground
it certainly wasn’t the guard grumbling by the grave
When that stone rolled back
what was done was already done
“Take a gander,” the saucy angel says.
“He’s long gone.
What’s left here now is empty space.”
We missed it!
So what was the point of all that sound and fury
if it signifieth nothing?
And just when I was beginning to hope
that earthquakes and angels
might actually put the fear of God back in the world!
But now all that grave is
is empty space
And the one in whom we placed our hopes
has slipped away
So let me call upon the wind
the breath that Ezekiel preached to
to conjure life in dry, dry bones
Let me call upon the wind that blows
in prairies and back bays
The poet Kimberly Johnson asks:
And what is wind
but a dialect of longing? —: the high
pressure rushing to fill the low, the sky
trying to slake its heats against the earth’s
asymptotic cool, its somersaulting cools
against the earth’s radiance. All weather
springs from currents of failed desire. No wonder
the wind, when it says anything at all,
Let me call on the winds, the breath, the Spirit
that hovered over waters
which parted to reveal the empty space
in which God worked before ever having a witness
Let me call on the wind because it echoes my deep desire
that springs from the empty space
I feel so often in my deepest heart
the space that longs and howls from failed desire
Or maybe the space is not empty at all
Is it only a lack that the angel points to?
Is the only thing to say about the tomb is that a body has gone missing?
Or is it not empty
Openness is not an absence
but a presence of the possible
If the tomb is open we have a choice
Will it really make much nevermind if we simply let it be?
The world will keep on turning
with its brokenness and pain
The wind will keep on blowing from there to who knows where
But come into this open space
and what could happen then?
Just like at the dawning of creation
God has opened up space
In the very place where the world marks death
God opens up space
in which our lives can be redefined and reoriented
and angels can tell us to go where have never been before.
The tomb in Jerusalem,
wherever it really lies,
hardly gives you space to change your mind
Pilgrims wait for hours to duck into the dark
and feel the stone
and imagine themselves as Mary or Peter or John
and to offer up prayers for that that they can see
The miracle is not that that small cell
contains a universe of possibility and hope
The miracle now
is that we do.
I do love open spaces.
(it must be so)
*"[ ]." Kimberly Johnson, a metaphorical god, [Persea Books: New York, 2008], p. 58.