An Empty Tomb and Blossoming Fields
A cold rain passed over our fields yesterday; all was damp, and chilly. It was a good morning to sit by the fire and wonder whether the Spring would ever come. And then the rain stopped. Odysseus, one of our border collies, coaxed us out of the house. He was on to something. What pushed the windy rain across the land was warm air. All at once, it felt as though Spring had arrived. This morning, Easter Sunday, made it official: Another season has passed, and now begins another round of life-giving warmth.
Not a moment too soon, I say. This was a savage Winter. We walked our property surveying the damage. An outbuilding collapsed, another with a roof in precarious shape. Downed trees. Even the wild thickets separating one field from another look beaten down: there was so much snow this Winter it is as though all that will turn to green is hanging back a bit, just in case we have another storm.
Strangely, we saw no rabbits cavorting this morning. There are usually more than we can count on Easter, young bunnies alive with wonder but sensible enough to run when a stranger approaches. Heavy rains have already knocked the blossoms of our star magnolia to the ground. But there are signs of life everywhere. Tiny buds on a copper beech; maple trees almost ready to shudder alive; a mammoth weeping beech on the cusp of bursting into life.
All may be a sodden mess today, and our dogs look like muddy, prehistoric creatures when they come straggling back to the house, but there is hope. We’re bringing in daffodils now, Spring’s vanguard. They brighten our rooms and lighten our hearts.
But it is Easter, and pagan though I am, I cannot help but think of an empty tomb, or at least reports of it. My wife and moved some books from our home to one of my offices this morning. There was very little traffic on the roads, except near the churches on the town green in New Haven. Two thousand years later folks are still gathering to talk about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Millions today offer prayers of thanksgiving over his resurrection; many take it as a fact that he rose from the dead. I marvel at this, much as I marvel over how important this article of faith was to me as a child and adolescent; I miss the reassurance of an ordered and anchored world.
I make my living now in a world governed by rules of evidence about provable facts. Hearsay is not admissible unless otherwise reliable. The ambiguities of a moment sometimes take days of courtroom time to unpack, digest and comprehend. This is a far more comfortable world for me than the philosopher’s lair, where what can be known flutters and then disappears: reason yields a series of vanishing points. We know nothing of human origins or ends; the present is all contingency. Was it Ortega y Gasset who once said: "I am I and my circumstances; if I don’t know save my circumstances, I do not save myself"? My circumstances are fleeting; I long for more.
And so this past year, I’ve read one book after another about the historical Jesus, trying to understand the appeal and pull of the empty tomb. Dominick Crossan yields the vision of a revolutionary; Paula Fredrickson offers an failed apocalyptic visionary; Marcus Borg a peasant with insight; and let’s not forget Ehrman, Charlesworth, Wright and the incomparable scholar, Meier, or the work of the Jesus Seminar. So many words devoted to one man who never wrote a word himself, so far as we know, and, this is the rub that renders me raw, about whom there is not a word reliable enough to serve as evidence of the events we debate endlessly.
Jesus was crucified. This much seems incontestable. But the Gospels were written decades, even lifetimes, after his death. No witness to the crucifixion, no one who beheld the infamously empty tomb, submits their testimony to cross examination. We can know nothing of the life and death of this man – all is theology and Christology. And yet the questions remain, the longing remains.
It is Easter Sunday. The fields are coming to life. A season of dark winds and fury is giving way to nature’s raw reawakening. I am resurrected, I suppose, in this season. The tiny buds on the trees welcome me back to an annual season of hope. The blossoms answer a longing. The longing does not seem all that different from which draws me to wonder over and over again why Jesus matters, and why, despite that lack of what can be known about him, I still seek to know, and approach despair over a quest that will end only in inevitable silence.
But the cycle is enough, the longing suffices. It is time to plant and then to harvest. Time to celebrate to. Why? I really cannot say, but saying it is somehow enough, more than enough.