Our spiritual ancestors were threatened by Pharaoh’s army as they made their way from slavery to freedom. They crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, but the pursuing army was washed away. Their new land was wilderness, where they were threatened by lack of water and food – and not knowing where they were. But God provided: manna came down every day – and when Moses struck rock with his staff, water gushed out.
Forty years later, these same spiritual ancestors were camped on the banks of the Jordan River, waiting to go across to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” But they felt threatened and were reluctant to cross over, because while they had heard reports of abundance and freedom on the other side, the people really didn’t know what abundance and freedom were like. They stayed in their tents, even though Joshua (Moses’ successor) had sent spies to scope out the land – and even though God had once again promised passage through the river on dry ground (Joshua 3:17). But with Joshua’s leadership and God’s guidance, the people overcame their resistance, rallied their courage, drew on their faith – and made the journey across the river, following the Ark of the Covenant, which was the symbol of God’s favor toward them.
The journey to greater freedom and deepening faith can be a threatening one. “They Have Threatened us with Resurrection” is a poem written in 1980 by Julia Esquivel, about how the memory of the many martyrs at the hands of death squads in her native Guatemala mysteriously gives the promise of new life:
They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they are more alive than ever before,
because they transform our agonies
and fertilize our struggle,
because they pick us up when we fall,
because they loom like giants
before the crazed gorillas' fear.
Easter threatens us with Resurrection. Easter threatens to transform whatever degree of agony may have befallen us. The risen Christ is a symbol of God’s favor toward us, but most of us share the tendency – if not the desire, to reduce the power of Easter by domesticating it with bunnies, eggs, flowers and baseball. Now we may indeed rejoice in those signs (I especially rejoice in the baseball part), but they undermine the transforming power – and the threat, of the Resurrection.
Easter takes us into new life – across a river, into a promised existence of hope and freedom. We may not know exactly what that new life looks like, or what it means. We may want to just hold on to what we know, because familiarity can feel better than unknown freedom. We may have doubts, but then so did our spiritual ancestors. The doubts, as Christian writer Frederick Buechner notes, are “the ants in the pants in the life of faith.” The doubts keep us moving – through our resistance, through the threat, across the river – and deeper into the heart of God and the promise of new life.
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