Easter Sunday, April 16 2017
A blogged article came across my Facebook news feed this week titled: “The Lie of Inspiration.” It came from well-known Christian writer and leader Carey Nieuwhof from whom I’ve seen other good stuff and I found myself intrigued enough that I clicked. The article begins: “So you’ve got that next sermon series to write, a project to push forward, a video to release or that book you’ve wanted to write that you should (finally) begin. If you’re like most people before you start you ask yourself: do I feel like it? Is today the day? Again, if you’re like most people, the answer to that question 99% of the time is “No.” It’s as though we’ve elevated inspiration to a mythical level, and it’s killing us.” Now all the goals he mentions sound rather lofty but his reflections could well apply to much simpler pursuits… that craft project you’ve been meaning to get to; the learning you’ve wanted to pursue; the phone call you think about making; the commitment you have been considering taking up or letting go… heck, even just making breakfast… do I feel like eating yet?!? The idea that we spend too much time waiting for inspiration before getting going on something applies to all kinds of activities in our everyday lives.
In our Easter Gospel story this morning we hear all about getting going. After a crazy and difficult week of seeing Jesus suffer and die, today is a new day, the first day of the week, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary head off to see Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. As they arrive, an angel of the Lord descends from heaven with great fanfare, rolls back the stone sealing the tomb and causes the guards to quake in fear until they become, “like dead men…” whatever that might mean. Finally the angel speaks to the women: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” Whoa! It’s not really a whole lot of words, but it is a mouthful! Dare I say that none of it makes any sense… not the earthquake; not the angel descending from heaven with clothing glowing like snow; not the miraculous moving of the stone… neither do the words make any sense… not the explanation of “he has been raised”; nor the command to go quickly and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.
The only thing about the story that makes any sense at all is the fear… the guards’ fear that causes them to shake and become like dead men; and the women’s fear that causes the angel to begin with “Do not be afraid.” And yet even in their fear, and whatever other ways they might have been experiencing their grief that Easter morning, the women’s reaction to their unbelievable encounter is simply to do as the angel commanded. They leave “the tomb quickly with fear and great joy,” and run to tell the disciples. They don’t stop to work out their conflicting emotions of fear and great joy. They don’t wait for their brains to catch up with whatever might be going on. They don’t pause to try and more fully understand. They don’t ask a question or express a worry. The women simply follow the angel’s command and get going.
We could say that these women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – are just lucky. They got the full meal deal of the miraculous and fantastical… they got an earthquake and an angel who looked like lightening… they got an empty tomb and clear, if slightly crazy, explanation and instructions. They got all the inspiration they needed, more than enough, to be moved to fulfill the action to which they were called: go and tell… it is back home in Galilee where you and the disciples will see Jesus, risen and alive. How easy it would be to tell ourselves that the story isn’t real or that it doesn’t matter for us. We don’t have such inspiration. It’s different for us all these years later. We no longer believe in the miraculous or the fantastical. We need proof… physical evidence. We can’t just go and tell our friends that in the person of Jesus Christ, God brings life out of death and that we can encounter this holy power for life right at home, in our own skin, through our everyday lives. We need to wait for something more, something else… inspiration.
The subtitle of Nieuwhof’s article is “5 Reasons Waiting Almost Never Makes You Better.” The five reasons he lists are: “1. Lack Of Inspiration Is Just Procrastination Wearing A Mask; 2. Your Emotions Are Unreliable; 3. Doing Beats Thinking; 4. Your Best Ideas Usually Come After You Start, Not Before; 5. The Real Enemy Is Probably Fear.” The five reasons flow well from one to the next, beginning with the simple point that waiting for inspiration is just procrastination by another name. It is with the second point, that emotions are unreliable, that he really gets on to something. He notices that like most humans, he rarely wants to do the things he knows he should: “exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, write, follow through on obligations, apologize…” We could all add to the list. There are plenty of things we don’t feel like doing that we nevertheless know are the right thing to do. “The good news,” Nieuwhof writes, “is that once you push past your emotions, there’s a payoff: your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience.” In other words, how we feel often changes based on what we do. We want to feel something before we start and yet we often have to start before we will. The flow of his reasons continue along that line as he notices that along with our feelings catching up to our obedient actions, our best ideas generally come after we start something, not before. If we wait to store up our best ideas before we start, we never will.
The experience of the women in our Gospel story today supports this observation. They leave the tomb quickly, running to do the angel’s bidding, and it doesn’t take long before their obedient action pays off. As quickly as they act, Jesus himself meets and greets them. They recognize him immediately, take hold of his feet and worship him. And finally, Jesus repeats in short form what the angel told them: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The ongoing experience of Easter swirls around how we learn to see Jesus, risen and alive. How do we recognize an encounter with Christ? How do we come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, God Incarnate? The answers to these questions will come to us in various ways over the next several weeks. More than our celebration today, Easter is a whole season of celebrating the surprising new life God brings. We recognize here in the church that while the miracle of resurrection happens in an instant, it takes our hearts and our heads time to catch up. And so there is time for us to explore the questions, to develop our understanding, to reconcile and heal the grief of suffering and death we experienced on Good Friday, and finally to feel the fullness of peace and joy we proclaim today. The way we are called to start that process today, the answer Jesus gives about how we are to learn to see him, risen and alive, is to go home, talk with our friends, and get on with living our everyday lives.
Carey Nieuwhof ended his article this week with the question: “What Do You Need To Start Doing?” I don’t know if he was reflecting on the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection when he wrote it but it certainly makes sense in the context of our Gospel today. What are you waiting for? What is it that you have been waiting to start? What would you do if you let go of your fear? Jesus, the angel and Nieuwhof all identify fear as the feeling that stands in our way of getting on with whatever it is we need to get on with. Are we afraid of not being good enough? of failing? of being criticized, ridiculed or rejected? Whatever it is, the reason we need to be in touch with, and honest about, our feelings is so that we can be free from their control. When we try to ignore how we feel, our emotions actually take over, but when we acknowledge them, we become free to choose and to act with greater courage, greater trust, greater love, greater faith in the God of life.
First the angel, then Jesus, acknowledged the women’s fear and then commanded them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and that he would meet them back home in Galilee. On this Easter Day, let us follow their example, leaving behind the drama of betrayal and pain and death, to go and tell the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. Let us return home with the confidence that in our obedient living, we will see Jesus.
The article referred to is found here: