Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
April 17, 2022
Growing up my dad kept a little book in the glove compartment of every car he owned. And he pulled that book out every time we stopped to fill up for gas.
He would record that day’s date.
The mileage on the car at the time of the fill-up.
The number of gallons purchased that day.
The price per gallon that he paid that day.
And slowly but surely these gas books would fill up with line after line of dates, mileage, gallons, price.
“Dad, why do you write that down every time we get gas?”
I actually don’t recall ever getting a straight answer from my dad, but eventually, it did dawn on me that all of us have so many varieties of ways that we track the fact that we have been here and done this and come this far and it has cost this much.
Journals or scrapbooks. Graduation certificates.
Tax records or health records or housing documents or passports or social security cards… How good, how helpful, how needful a thing it is in our society to have clear documentation. Proof that we have been here, done this, how come this far, and it has cost this much.
Does it unsettle us at any level that the very foundation of our entire faith lacks proof? The very best documentation that we have – the Bible – tells not a confident story of Jesus raised from the dead at precisely this time and this way and here’s how it worked and here are the fingerprints.
Our best documentation has at its most critical moment where people are finding out something has happened, the point at which we proclaim Christ is Risen…our best documentation tells a story where confusion predominates.
We hear of women going to honor Jesus’ body in accordance with the custom of the day. And of course, they expect to find his body where it was lain…and the stone is rolled away and there is nobody and “they were perplexed.” Also translated as “confused.” “Bewildered.”
His body is not there. But what does it mean?
If we could just have some video footage or other documentation that made clear just what happened… except, at this point in history, perhaps we know better.
We live in an age with so much more information available to us than we could ever know what to do with…and the painful irony is that more documentation, verification, recorded video, data and all the rest has not made us a society where we all see more clearly what is true, what is right…but actually, we seem to disagree all-the-more.
I’m not so sure it would really make a difference if we had a few more pieces of data from this day captured in Luke 24.
What if instead, it is a gift that the story unfolds with confusion at the center?
Because honestly, we’re confused a lot of the time.
The thing of this world that is unfolding, things of our family dynamics, our work situation, our faith… let alone what to make of a dying friend or family member or all those who are dying amid an inexplicable war right now…and why is it happening and where do they go and what can be done? What should be done?
There is much in our day that leaves us confused. Perplexed. Puzzled.
And again, what if that is actually a gift?
I remember sitting with the doctor as he explained to my family and me about my mom’s brain cancer and the surgery they had just done and the options before us, and I remember thinking,
“This is 2019 and what without all our medical advances and all the research and talent and energy around fighting cancer…how is it multiple doctors are still saying, “Well, you have a few options and we can’t be sure on how many of them will go and there are variables and we don’t know a whole lot about this particular option and….?
How do we have all of this information and so little definitive clarity about what we should do and not do?”
How I wanted just a little more information and that would make everything better as we weighed the options.
Amid that confusing space, I was reading the book When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi who was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 35 and died at the age of 37, writing this particular book in that timeframe between diagnosis and death.
And it was the subtitle to his book that caught me in that unsettled place of confusion, “What makes life worth living in the face of death?”
In the unsettled place of confusion before the empty tomb, a question arrives at these women by way of two messengers of God: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
And you wonder what the women are thinking…
“But we were not looking for the living. Jesus is dead….why do you suppose we are looking for the living? Does your question suggest he lives? Does your question suggest we might find him somewhere else? That he is on the move right now?”
It’s but one question slipped edgewise into the opening created by confusion…but it begins to beg so many other good and unexpected questions that open so many other implications…
And though it’s two heavenly messengers of God asking the questions here, I cannot help but think how often Jesus himself taught by way of questions.
And so it would not be surprising at all for Jesus to make his Risen, Living Self known in our confusion this day by way of a question or two that gets right to the heart of the matter.
- Amid all the confusion and uncertainties of medical decisions and family decisions and next steps decisions and anxieties about all of it…What makes life worth living?
- Amid all our searching and seeking and moving and trying and attaining… For whom are you looking?
- Amid a perplexing dead-end or hitting the wall or a rejection… What if a kernel of wheat must fall to the ground and die and then produce many seeds?
- Amid grief-filled confusion that can occur amid burial plans and logistics and before the starkness of death itself…Why are you looking for the living among the dead?
Holy Confusion is what you get when the inevitable confusions of life open just enough space for us to hear God speak a fresh, living word – often a question.
The angels in our passage go on after asking the question to say, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
“Remember…he told you. Remember, look back…can’t you see the answer now?”
When I heard that question, “What makes life worth living?” almost immediately my family and I began recalling my mom’s love for sewing and singing and grandchildren – which is to say, her heart for creating and loving. These were things right there before us all along but now it was somehow it was lucidly clear for the first time.
Which is to say, the question prompted a remembrance.
And while we still had to make hard, imperfect decisions about her care with imperfect data and all the rest…it was such a gift to navigate the sacred space of life and death with insights gleaned not from more information but a really good question breaking into the confusion and opening an entirely new horizon for how we saw and loved mom – and our own lives as well.
The question from these heavenly messengers draws the women not unto new information but opens them to a fresh remembrance of Jesus’ words. Jesus’ promises.
‘He did say he would die…and rise, didn’t he?’ A promise right there all along but somehow so lucidly clear for the first time.
And apparently, the remembering was enough for the women to race back to the other disciples to tell them what they saw – or did not see – and perhaps begin to sense what the implication may be for others who have his Spirit upon them.
If he lives, and his Spirit is given to us…and if we face hardship and pain and betrayal and violence and even death itself…
if this world faces all of that and he said he so loved this world…if he rises do we rise?
Didn’t he also say that those who trust in me though they die, they will live?
I wonder if the church today is not unlike these women running to the others. For all the records we keep and the documentation we have and have studied…we don’t nearly have it all figured out.
What we have is actually better.
We have been met in the confusion and pain and brokenness by Jesus. His Risen presence. His questions. His love is stronger than death.
We have an encounter.
And time and again that encounter has moved us…
Amid pain, unto song
Amid uncertainty, unto prayer
Amid hurt, unto forgiveness
Amid need, unto sacrifice
Amid anxiety, unto generosity
Amid weeping, unto joy
Before the very face of death itself, unto hope
And when people live in a way that makes clear they believe the tomb is empty and sin and death do not have the final say despite all the compelling documentation to the contrary… that surely confuses people.
And to such a degree that some perhaps write it off as an ‘idle tale’ like some of these disciples before the woman. “I can’t believe it.”
But then some, some see the animated way we move or sing or give…some are like Peter in our passage.
They are confused enough to see for themselves and so they go check out the tomb. We read that Peter is “amazed” upon seeing the empty tomb. Also translated, “puzzled.” He’s confused.
And maybe that’s a good thing.
May you, may your neighbors, may your enemies, may this world on this Easter know the gift of Holy Confusion – where amid all that de-centers us and de-stabilizes us, Jesus meet us…Perhaps meets us by way of a life-opening question or two… that we might see for the first time or the 100th time that yes, yes indeed – he lives.
And because he lives, we live. The deepest of darknesses has not the final say.
Thanks be to God. Amen.