Easter Sunday, yet again. It comes around every year without fail.
Today, we clap each other on the back and merrily exclaim, "He is risen!" Then, we wait expectantly for the echo, "He is risen, indeed!" Today we think about sunrises, lilies, and birdsong. We ponder redemption, resurrection, and renewal.
At the risk of sounding jaded and fatigued, I will be candid. I am tired of not "getting it."
It seems as though every year, I'm placed in the same quandary. I listen to the recitation of the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. I sing the lyrics which declare the ultimate victory of all time. I read the story on my own time. I try so hard to understand. To figure it all out. And yet, there have been very few times where I've felt like I've truly "got it."
I know the story backwards and forwards. I was blessed to have the story of Jesus taught to me since birth. I've been steeped in the teaching of the Good News. But I have to be up front. It's head knowledge. Sometimes it descends to my heart - sometimes it jolts me awake and brings me to my knees - but it doesn't stay like that. I've had moments of revelation and instances of understanding, where the weight of Christ's sacrifice seems to slap me in the face and I am stunned to silence... But again, it doesn't stay.
While one Easter I may feel profoundly blown away, reduced to tears as I praise God for His gift of salvation, other Easters, I forget what I'm celebrating. I attend the services out of habit and have to fight to keep my mind from drifting as I hear the Scripture read. I hear the people shout, "Jesus is alive!" "Christ is risen!" "Death is defeated!" "Sin is broken!" And I think to myself, Yeah, I know. But what does that mean for me? Today? Right now?
I'm tired of not "getting it." I want the realization of God's Love to fall afresh on me! I want to be swept up in wonder, overwhelmed by gratitude, moved by the significance. Not only that, but I want the understanding to stay. I want those moments of impact to last. Once I experience those flashes of comprehension, I don't want to ever go back to apathy, detachment, and passivity. I want to just continue onward - no backtracking. I want it to "hit me," once and for all. I want it to shake me so that I remain shaken.
But it never works like that. I still go back. No matter how many times I experience those moments of revelation, I always seem to return to unawareness. A lack of comprehension. Complacency. It's a perpetual oscillation between clarity and fog, recognition and ignorance.
We beat ourselves up for those days when the reality of the cross just doesn't take our breath away like it once did. We feel "fake" if we aren't daily inspired to worship in wonder. We are self-conscious about our complacency and indifference. We may mask it by our words and our conduct at church, but underneath the facade, we know we aren't really grasping it. We see those around us lost in adoration and praise, joyfully singing, reverently praying, clearly "getting it," and we feel always two steps behind. We've gotten the point before, but we seem to have lost it, yet again. It was there for a split-second, but now it's gone. Our moments of realization are only that: moments. Fleeting, passing, disappearing moments.
But I wonder if that's exactly how it's meant to be.
As I read through the Old and New Testaments, I've been noticing more and more how often the people are told to remember. The Israelites are told again and again to remember how God rescued them from Egypt and delivered them from the hands of their enemies. (Deuteronomy 8:10-18) They have to be constantly reminded of God's goodness, because they forget so quickly. Moses's cry in Deuteronomy says it all:
Deuteronomy 4:9 - "But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren."
But what I find most interesting is that God sees the human mind. He recognizes its fallibility and short-term memory. In fact, many of the Laws given to Israel were specifically for the purpose of remembering the Lord. The people were to wear clothes with tassels attached to the hems, so that whenever they saw the tassels, they would remember and obey God's commands. (Numbers 15:37-41) The Lord establishes festivals and ceremonies for the purpose of commemorating the exodus from Egypt. (Leviticus 23) The most explicit call to remembrance is found in Deuteronomy 6:
Deuteronomy 6:6-9, 12 - "You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.... be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt."
God knew the people would forget. He knew that the human mind is fragile and inadequate, fallen and weak. So He encouraged the children of Israel to meditate. To reflect. To ponder. To think. Even in his recognition of their absentminded forgetfulness, He gave them hope.
And it's the same thing with the Gospel of Christ.
Paul encourages Timothy to always remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. (2 Timothy 2:8) Paul urges the church in Thessalonica to "stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching" that had been passed on to them- the teaching of the Gospel. (2 Thessalonians 2:15) Not to mention, Jesus Himself gave the Church a tradition precisely so that they would practice the art of meditating on His gift of Grace. We call it Communion. When He gave His disciples the bread, his body, and the cup, his blood, He told them: "Do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19)
This side of eternity, it's never going to stick, because we simply can't understand it all! Our fragments of realization and our instances of understanding are just drops of the true meaning of it all. We can pretend like we get it, we can strive to figure it out, but we just won't until we meet our Saviour, face to face. And while that may make us frustrated and angry, and we may feel tired and weary of our lack of comprehension, it doesn't have to be a burden. In fact, I think it can actually be a source for wonderful, marvelous joy!
Why else would the Christian walk need to be a lifelong journey? The process of being constantly confronted by our own finitude will repeat itself until we cross over into the afterlife. And why can't that be something beautiful? We have the privilege of constantly learning and re-learning. Constantly growing and maturing, but never losing our sense of wonder at the profound mystery of it all. We can never cease to be amazed, because we will never solve the riddle! The best description I've ever read of the perpetual process of "re-remembering" is one written by the 4th century theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, in his metaphor for the infinite incomprehensibility of God:
"It is just as if you could see that spring which Scripture tells us rose from the earth at the beginning in such quantities that it watered the entire face of the earth. As you came near the spring you would marvel, seeing that the water was endless, as it constantly gushed up and poured forth. Yet you could never say that you had seen all the water. No matter how long you might stay at the spring, you would always be beginning to see the water. For the water never stops flowing, and it is always beginning to bubble up again.
It is the same with one who fixes his gaze on the infinite beauty of God. It is constantly being discovered anew, and it is always seen as something new and strange in comparison with what the mind has already understood.
And as God continues to reveal Himself,
Man continues to wonder.
And he never exhausts his desire to see more, since what he is waiting for is always more magnificent, more divine, than all that he has already seen."
Every Christian wants to fully comprehend the weight of God's glory, but we don't yet have the proper scale. Every believer desires to wholly know the sacrifice of Christ, but none of us stood at the cross. None of us have grasped the magnitude of the sin of the world, because we still live in it. Every disciple yearns to entirely appreciate the significance of God's Love poured out through Jesus' death, but none of us have seen the Father. None of us have been to Heaven. None of our finite minds have even the faintest capability to grasp the mind of Yahweh.
All we have is a taste. And that's all we get until we reach the place He has prepared for us. It's a good taste, but it's just an inkling. The Apostle Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 13:12 - Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely.
It's only human to wonder. To desire knowledge. To seek education. To want to know. We won't "get it" now, but we will in Heaven. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "Our natural desire to know everything... will be satisfied when we see God."
There's a simple acceptance of mystery that is a requirement for the Christian. There's a humble recognition of our own ignorance that is fundamental for the believer. It's the same wide-eyed wonder and mystified magic that enraptures the mind of a child. The world calls it foolishness; the Bible calls it faith.
The more I think about it all, the less I know. But the less I know, the more I am able to see the beauty in not knowing. Martin Luther puts it succinctly: "To progress is always to begin, always to begin again." Think about that. The closer we think we're getting to understanding, the further we progress in knowledge, that's when we're brought right back to Step One. We think we're climbing the ladder. We think we are grasping truth. And as soon as we think we are gaining some semblance of comprehension, we're flung right back to the basics.
I guess you could say that the only way to truly move toward the finish line is to constantly go back to the starting line. In the case of the Christian walk, that starting line is at the foot of the cross. Where pride is crucified and sin is defeated. I type those words in faith, still not fully knowing what they mean. I write about Christ's death and resurrection, still no expert on what it entails.
I want to be brought back to the foot of the cross. Down on my knees, head bowed in worship, heart filled with gratitude. But I also need to realize that on this side of the grave, I'm going to have to be brought back to the foot of the cross again, and again, and again, and again.
It's the art of dying to ourselves daily. (Luke 9:23) It's the art of rendering ourselves foolish and lost without Christ. It's the art of FAITH seeking understanding, the art of trusting God to continue His work in us. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) It's the art of forgetting and remembering, forgetting and remembering, forgetting and remembering.
It's the art of not knowing.
And the art of being okay with it.