I had to wait in line recently. In England, they say queuing. In New York City, people say they’ve waited on line. I mention these alternative descriptions to indicate that standing around in lineal order is a common experience. It is not, however, an experience we celebrate. Waiting in line can seem mindless, endless and a squandering of our God-given time.
We stand in line to receive services. It could be a checkout line at the store, or a line for tickets at a movie theater. It’s a cruel fact that, the longer the line, the more desired or necessary the service. But the importance of what you’re waiting for only heightens your anticipation. That anticipation soon becomes frustration. This flames out as deep and bitter discouragement. Then, there issues a shuddering sigh of ennui, and finally, a nose-dive into existential near-nothingness.
At least this is my experience.
Tears don’t help. Stamping your foot only makes you seem moody. Thoughts of harming the people in front of you must be dismissed as a violation of standard moral code. Not only that, such violence could lead to arrest, and a successive wait in yet another line for intake processing at the county jail. You can’t win.
What if our whole lives were like the experience of waiting in line? What if our lives were frustrating and empty? What if our days lacked the contours of joy, surprise and refreshment?
In my faith tradition, we understand that Jesus has promised his followers a kind of life he called abundant life. Further, we believe Jesus was telling us about this abundance when he was raised from the dead after being crucified. The followers of Jesus have lives that are shaped by his resurrection. This is more than the traditional piety of saying, “We’ll get to go to heaven when we die.” To live in a resurrection shape is to claim that these lives we have right now are lived under a blessing uniquely tied to what happened long ago, when devout women went to Jesus’ tomb and found it miraculously unoccupied.
The gospel of Luke tells us that “two men in dazzling apparel” at the tomb asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” I take that as a commentary on the true quality of life. Life is not death, of course. Life is not dullness, meaninglessness and boredom, either. Life is not at all like standing in an interminable line, waiting. Life is spectacular and amazing. The resurrection of Jesus teaches us about the fullness of life. There is no limit to how good it can be. There is more amazement around the corner. Something was unleashed when Jesus left the cold, dark and inanimate tomb behind. Life was unleashed; a kind of life that cannot be held down. Burdened as we are by too much that is ordinary and unimaginative, we struggle to find words to describe this abundant life. Let the angels at Jesus’ vacant tomb give us words. Really: Why do we look for the living among the dead?
Something needs to be said about tragedy. Life with a resurrection shape will still incur sadness and loss. But tragedy, frustration, fear and failure are not the only colors in the rainbow. In fact, we are wise to see that they are not colors at all. The resurrection of Jesus is representative of an alternative. Followers of Jesus learn to look for this shining, surprising, refreshing alternative in every day.
The Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave Christians a gift by remaining faithful and strong during the awful days of racial injustice in South Africa, which was called apartheid. Tutu is black, so the struggle was personal. But Tutu wrote these words: “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours; victory is ours; victory is ours through God who loves us.”
Life is God’s instrument – for the expansion of truth and beauty, trust and hope.
Life’s not a matter of being bored. Living should not be a numbing experience, even if we do sometimes have to wait in line.
Something is up. Things are forever changed.
The women who went to the tomb in sorrow came away as tellers of good news. It is news because it’s new. It’s good because God, the creator and lover of all things, stands behind it.
Don’t you dare step out of line! You’ll lose your place. But, while you’re stuck, don’t forget to imagine freedom. Be of good cheer. Because goodness is stronger than evil.
– Matthew Covington is senior pastor of The Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green.