I came to church as a pagan this Easter, though wearing a Christian skirt and white blouse, and sat in a the balcony and ran the power point slides that project all our hymns and confessions on big screens, and there I was, a skeptic in the hen house, thinking weaselish thoughts.
This often happens around Easter. God, in His humorous way, sometimes schedules high holy days for a time when your faith is at low tide, a mud flat strewn with newspapers and children's beach toys, and while everyone else is all joyful and shiny among the lilies and praising up a storm, there you are, snarfling and grumbling. Which happened to me this year.
God knows all about it so I may as well tell you. Holy Week is a good time to face up to the question: Do we really believe in that story or do we just like to hang out with nice people and listen to organ music? There are advantages, after all, to being in the neighborhood of people who love their neighbors. If your car won't start on a cold morning, you've got friends.
I don't think it will come as a shock to anyone who has read the Christan Gospels that clearly, no one knows what really happened that first Easter Sunday. Anyone who can count may wonder how we fit three days between a death on Friday night and a resurrection on Sunday morning. Did God not mean three literal twenty four hour time periods? The Jews got stone tablets and the Mormons arranged for an angel to bring them their holy text, but ours was hammered out through a long contentious political process, sort of like the tax code, and that's something you don't care to know more about.
This Saturday I gathered in a circle of old friends to reflect on Easter. Turns out, they don't believe that a physical resurrection took place. There is so much power in the symbol, isn't that enough? So many stories in the bible are symbolic, why does this one have to be real? If the story wasn't meant to be literal, 2,000 years of believers have gotten something fundamentally wrong. Something deep inside me says there are some very logical people trying to have everything both ways. He was either God incarnate or he wasn't. He was either physically raised from the dead or he just died. What happens to the story when you chop off the fairy tale ending?
There is comfort for the doubter in the Passion story. You are not alone. Jesus's cry from the cross was a cry of incredulity. The apostle denied even knowing Jesus three times. The guy spent years with Jesus, saw the miracles up close, the raising of Lazarus, the demons cast out, the sick healed, the water-walking trick, all of the special effects, but when the cards were down, he said, "Who? Me? No way." He repented. I would too, but not quite yet. Skepticism is a stimulant, not to be repressed. It is an antidote to smugness and the great glow of satisfaction one gains from being right.
You know the self-righteous — I've been one myself — the little extra topspin they put on the truth, their ostentatious modesty, the pleasure they take in being beautifully studied and cool and correct when others are falling apart. Jesus was rougher on those people than He was on the adulterers and prostitutes. So I will sit in the doubter's chair for a while and see what is to be learned back here.