A wag once said that it's always darkest just before the lights go out. We may chuckle at this cynical modification of a common aphorism, but I'd suggest that in some ways it's truer to life than the original. I think we've all experienced--I know I have--that moment when belief falters, hope dies, and we cry out from our cross: my God, my God, why have you forgotten me? And sometimes--again, I speak from my own experience--the darkness seems not to yield. The lights don't come back on.
Today, however, millions of people around the world are celebrating a moment when the lights did come back on. Or rather, that moment when the women found the tomb was empty. In Mark's gospel--the original version--that's where the Easter story ends. That's a version of the story truer to my own life than the glorious post-resurrection appearances tacked on later, or related in other gospels. "He is not here." In other words, it's up to you to find him.
Now, I identify as a Christian, or better, a Christ-centered Friend, but I have a hard time believing in the empty tomb. There's a sense in which I really haven't yet experienced it in my own life, or perhaps haven't recognized it when I've seen it. I've struggled with this for a long time, but it was only a few days ago that I was given a clue to how to live with this struggle, when a Friend quoted Flannery O'Connor:
"Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not."
I've reflected on this for several days, and what comes up for me is that knowing isn't something I have any choice about. Knowing is like looking at a word printed on a page--I can't help reading it. I look at the empty tomb, and I can't help seeing it, can't help knowing that it's true. Belief, however, is something I have to choose, and I guess I'm not ready for that yet. Maybe I never will be. Maybe I shouldn't ever be, because it seems to me that knowledge doesn't leave room for fear, while belief feels like something I do to build a wall against fear.
But that doesn't matter today. Today I celebrate my knowledge of the empty tomb. Belief will have to wait for another day.
(Adapted from my First Day ministry this morning.)