By Maria Sermersheim
I opened Word to write this article and was promptly distracted by the beautiful, giant pileated woodpecker out my window.
I craned my neck to see it as best I could and gaped. I had just finished a prayer asking God to give me the words … and he gave me the woodpecker. I could see it clearly on the tree closest to my window. What a magnificent bird! It worked its way around the tree, out of sight … until I saw its wings stretch majestically, and the bird took off to settle on a tree farther away. I was entranced. Then, I realized that in watching the woodpecker take flight, perhaps crossing a distance of no more than 10 yards, I had gasped three times.
I wonder how often the apostles gasped.
I wonder how loudly they gasped when they first saw the Risen Christ.
They have seen his “mighty deeds, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22). Indeed, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Here I was, in awe of witnessing a pretty bird flying. How much more must they have been in awe of the Resurrected Lord in their midst?
Eventually, they had to stop gasping and start acting. The Holy Spirit emboldened the apostles to speak passionately and share the good news. In this Easter season, I want to exhort you (and myself): let’s stop gasping and start acting! Let’s share with our friends, family and strangers the astonishing new reality that is ours because of the incredible work of Christ. Because of Jesus, “Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. … there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it” (Introduction to Christianity 301). Truly, “the Christian message is basically nothing else than … that love has managed to break through death here and thus has transformed fundamentally the situation of all of us” (Intro 307)!
This is the Easter message, and blest are we! Truly, the gates of hell will not prevail; and we live in Christ, over whom death holds no power. Let us sing and dance, and never stop sharing this astonishing truth; let us be so giddy and joyful that the Holy Spirit active in us is contagious. Hell is hell no longer, death has no sting, and we are free!
But I wonder if we need to take a step back.
The pity of it is, do we even gasp at the thought of the Resurrection anymore? Do we catch our breath when at the vigil, the bells ring and the lights are raised, even if only on our computer screens, because we are celebrating our salvation?
Because gasping – recognizing the inexplicable reality before us – that’s step one.
GOD ALMIGHTY, the Creator of heaven and earth and time and space and all that there ever was, is and will be, decided to descend into the depths of your misery and torment, all the way to and through death – because he loves you. He loves you particularly and intimately. And death cannot hold him.
Have you gasped yet? Because that’s just a tad more significant than a woodpecker taking flight.