Every year I am still surprised, as I read the various Easter accounts, that the news of the resurrection is not met with joy and happiness. At first there is only confusion and fear. The women go to the tomb to anoint the body and the tomb is empty. Their first reaction is not to assume that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that God has acted to forgive the horrible deeds which led to the crucifixion. What they see at first is just more horror. The many questions they have after their leader has been killed get more complicated with the empty tomb. What has happened? What else has gone wrong? Has someone stolen the body to further disgrace Jesus? Was this all a bad dream? The women are stunned. The men are too, when they are told of the empty tomb. Even after others have seen the risen Jesus, those who have not had that personal experience do not trust the news. The empty tomb turns out to be a step toward transformation but, in and of itself, it is just empty and dark and confusing.
Confusion is not a pleasant place to be but it sure occurs frequently. It’s something that comes along regularly and invites us to pause before we leap to conclusions. It’s like a sensory overload that jams our systems of thinking and feeling, decision making and planning. We don’t know what is happening. We don’t know how things are going to turn out. We don’t know what to do. That’s confusion.
Over the years I’ve noticed that when people really don’t know what to say we typically say the wrong thing. Rather than waiting for clarity, we just let ridiculous and hurtful words come out of our mouths. We want to be helpful. We want to say something that will make everything better for others and us. So we blurt out things without really thinking about them. When someone suffers a traumatic loss, inevitably their friends will swarm in with trite little sayings which are expressed with compassion but just aren’t very helpful. Sometimes we’re so busy trying to make someone feel better that we ignore the signs to just let things be hard for a while. Rather than processing our discomfort with being out of control, we react and try to force some control. Not knowing what to say could be a reminder to not say anything for a while but we tend to miss the signs.
Confusion, similarly, could be an invitation to stop and wait. When the way forward is not clear it makes a lot of sense to stop where we are and wait for clearer signs. Typically, however, we are so uncomfortable with confusion that we just jump into some kind of action. Confusion, while it can be an invitation to be still and practice patience, often leads to actions which cause even more harm. Decisions made in confusion rarely lead to peace or clarity. Decisions made when peace and clarity emerge are always better decisions.
The women at the empty tomb are terrified and they don’t know what to do. But they do listen. A mysterious figure dressed in a white robe – an angel perhaps or an inner voice – gives them some simple instructions. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). So they went out, as they were invited to. They didn’t react to the confusion and fear. They listened and they did the next right thing. They went to the disciples and began to describe what had happened. But first, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). The women were afraid and so they said nothing. They wisely listened to the angel, the guiding voice, and they waited for the atmosphere to clear. They returned to the community of faith and there things fell into place a little bit at a time.
Our community of faith boldly proclaims the good news of the resurrection. One important and powerful way we do that is to listen in times of confusion and practice patience. When we are feeling out of control, it is an invitation to wait for things to clear up before we thrash around. When we can admit to ourselves just how out of control we are in a given situation, soon we can find God holding things together. Our confusion can be an invitation to be present with God as God brings all things to goodness. When confusion reigns, stop and listen. The guiding voice of God will emerge.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.