[I have posted this article before. But it seems appropriate to do so again this Easter Week.]

Is there any wonder in your life, any amazement and awe? Do you have room for anything that knocks your socks off and drives you to your knees and makes you bow your head?

What stuns you? What leaves you speechless? What induces mouth-gaping, eye-blinking, blood-draining, stomach-flopping wonder in you? Anything at all?

We live in a world with little room for wonder. We’ve explained, controlled, manipulated, mastered, managed, replicated, and test-tubed all the wonder out of our lives. Instead of watching for moon-rise, we turn on lightbulbs. Instead of enduring sun and snow, we reach for thermostats. Instead of yielding to the eternal rhythms of night and day, we impose Daylight Savings Time.

We’ve bridged rivers and tamed deserts and turned forests into cities. The world is just an airport away. The most distant person can be reached by dialing ten digits. The most exotic fruit, the rarest flower, is a mere mouse-click removed.

We don’t fear disease—we irradicate it, chemotherapy it, laproscopically excise it. We don’t gaze up stupified at the stars—we name and measure and classify and analyze them. We don’t quake in terror at the power of nature—we predict it, track it, issue storm warnings … build buildings that are quake-proof, fire-proof, tornado-proof.

There isn’t much room for wonder in our world anywhere. Except, perhaps, to marvel at ourselves and what we can do. Yes, man is quite often in awe of himself.

Resurrection Anyone?

The disciples shouldn’t have been surprised by Easter morning. While he was among them, Jesus talked about resurrection all the time.

I’m going to call out and the dead will come to life. (Jn 5:25)

I can give new life to anyone I please. (Jn 5:21)

I am the Resurrection and the Life. (Jn 11:25) 

According to the gospels, he exercised power over death during his ministry. There was a girl, the daughter of Jairus, whom he raised to life again. There was a widow who lost her only son … Jesus resurrected him. There was Lazarus—dead and buried—whom Jesus called from the tomb.

In fact, so characteristic was the power of life in the ministry of Jesus that when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus were really the Messiah, Jesus answered with his actions:

Go and report: the blind see … the lame walk … the lepers are cleansed … the deaf hear … and the dead are raised to life again. (Lk 7:22)

When Jesus sent his disciples on a preaching-tour, he even gave them power to raise the dead! (Mt 10:8) Everywhere you turn in the gospels, Jesus was talking about resurrection or causing resurrection. The idea of the dead living again shouldn’t have been a new concept for the disciples.

But it goes even deeper than that. Jesus told his disciples that he would rise from the dead. He told them four times in Matthew—explicitly, without parable or circumlocution —“I will be raised on the third day.” They asked him about this statement.  They wondered what he meant.  They talked about it among themselves.

You’d think they might have figured it out. You’d think they might have cracked the code, solved the riddle, tumbled to the truth. The disciples shouldn’t have been surprised by Easter morning. They should have been camped out in front of that tomb, counting the hours, ready to be amazed rather than preparing to disbelieve.

Where’s the Wonder?

We’ve even managed to take wonder out of worship. Some people who go to church think the cardinal sin in worship is not heretical teaching (we put up with that easily enough) or a watered-down gospel (we kinda like our gospel that way) but change. The unexpected. Anything outside our comfort zones.

Somewhere we’ve gotten the idea that worship ought to be predictable, controllable, comfortable. No surprises here, please—here of all places! Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that threatens to disturb our somnulent sensibilities.

We’ve made of worship something where wonder and discomfort and fear have no place, where, if you can’t say something safe, you shouldn’t say anything at all.

Why, even Easter worship is often stripped of wonder. We’re too busy parsing all the details about rolling stones and grave clothes, Roman soldiers and weeping women to fall down in worship before a risen Lord. We’re running around trying to explain resurrection and prove resurrection. We’re attempting to answer alternative theories and the objections of those who doubt. There’s not much time left over for wonder.

And in the end, we leave Easter worship—even Easter worship—informed or convinced or confirmed. But we feel no sense of awe, no palpatations of fear, no quickening of astonishment, no gasp of wonder. Jesus was raised from the dead. What wonderful music. What a great sermon. Where do you want to eat lunch?

Awe is Next to Godliness

Perhaps it is important to remember that the overwhelming response to that first Easter morning was not to compose a resurrection canticle or publish a resurrection proof or write a sermon on the meaning and significance of the Resurrection. It was shock. Stunned surprise. Knee-shaking fear. Heart-pounding awe. Fall-to-the-ground amazement.

Take the gospel accounts and list the words and phrases used to describe what people experienced when it dawned on them that Jesus was alive again.

They were afraid, alarmed, frightened. They shook, feinted, trembled, fled. They doubted, wondered, cried out. They were bewildered, startled, amazed, overjoyed. They bowed down. They worshipped.

I can understand the guards reacting badly to the Resurrection. (See Mt. 28:2-4.) They had no warning, no preparation. They knew a lot about death.  But they’d never experienced a dead man walking. No wonder they fell to the ground in a feint.

But even those closest to Jesus reacted poorly. The women were scared to death. The disciples were startled and terrified and thought they’d seen a ghost. At first, they didn’t believe…they refused to believe. And when they could no longer deny the evidence of their own eyes, they collapsed into confused, quivering, stammering amazement.

It appears that no amount of forewarning and prediction can adequately prepare you to talk with a man you saw crucified and buried, a man whose death you’d been mourning as if you yourself had died, a man you’d just resigned yourself to live without who stands suddenly beside you and says, “Do not be afraid.” You have no choice in the matter. You will react badly. It’ll scare you to death and awe you to your knees.

Wonder, it seems, is the only possible reaction to the Resurrection story.  To celebrate Easter without an overwhelming sense of wonder is to miss the point.

Why Easter?

Easter is God’s antidote to a wonderless world.

Easter is the day when we are invited to consider the possibility that something wild, wonderful, impossible, incredible, unbelievable, astounding, astonishing, and awesome happened.

Easter is the day when we are asked: what if this world isn’t the cause-effect, explicable, I-can-understand-everything-if-I-just-try-hard-enough place I thought it was? What if there are forces moving behind this world, events taking place in this world, dimensions unfolding inside this world that I do not understand, cannot control, and will never predict? What if all our technological advances and scientific discoveries are no more than distractions to keep us from thinking about the elephant in the room who is stronger than, greater than, other than anything we can imagine? What if there are possibilities in our lives (if only we had the eyes to see them) to which the only reasonable response is awe and stunned, speechless, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping wonder? What if there is a God who can break into this world and shake a dead man awake and destroy the power of death and toss out resurrection life like candy at a parade?

Easter is God pounding on the door of our dead hearts, our shrivelled imaginations, our tiny and wonderless lives, and proclaiming:

I am the God of resurrection power.

I hold in my hands the keys to life & death.

I do not play by your rules.

I am not bound by your laws & limits.

I can break into your world at will.

I am the all-mighty, the omnipotent, the everlasting, the all-knowing, the death-breaking, the life-giving Alpha & Omega.

Now what will you do with me?

I Can’t Make You Wonder

Bonnie Raitt sings a wonderful, plaintive, heart-breaking song called, “I can’t make you love me.” The chorus goes like this:

I can’t make you love me if you don’t.

I can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.

Here in the dark, in these final hours,

I will lay down my heart, and I’ll feel the power

But you won’t. No, you won’t …

As I stand before you this Easter morning, I feel the same frustration, the same impotence. I can’t make you feel wonder if you don’t. I can’t make you uncross your arms and lay aside your doubts about the resurrection story. I can’t force you to consider the possibility that you are not the measure of this world, that your mind and your experience do not set the boundaries of this existence. I can’t make your heart believe in a resurrection God. I can’t make you alive again to awe and astonishment and wonder if your heart won’t feel those things.

All I can do is tell you this is Easter morning. All I can do is testify that on this morning God broke into our world and raised a dead man to life again. All I can do is lay down my heart before you and feel the power myself … the awe … the worship.

Perhaps some of you—on this morning above all others—would like to join me in that.