The priest stood up during the Easter homily and said, “God invites you to a change of perspective.”
When he said it, I looked up at the screen where the priest stood, broadcast from inside the cathedral we faced. We were in Charleston for the weekend attending a historic Episcopal church on Easter Sunday—the first Easter in my life without a church home.
Overflow seating spread to the courtyard with a belltower and landscaped flowerbeds. My wife and I found chairs on the end of a row, trying to remain inconspicuous—something we had grown accustomed to over several different Sundays as we visited different churches around our city. Sitting in this courtyard forced me to contemplate why we were there in the first place.
My wife and I had grown weary of soundbite answers and narrow reasons offered by evangelical churches, while our friends wrestled with questions and doubts that their childhood faith traditions had failed to prepare them for. With complex emotions and a series of stinging letdowns, we needed a change.
I sat in the courtyard of that Charleston church, remembering where we were last Easter: situated comfortably enough in our life as two non-Southerners in South Carolina. Things were not perfect, nor did we expect them to be, but there was a familiar rhythm of work, play, responsibilities, and commitment to the church we called home.
But that rhythm changed over the past year. We grew closer to some friends at the same time as we said goodbye to others—to dear friends moving elsewhere in their journey, to those who went silent when we were no longer at that church, and to those who were involved or casually observed as things there turned sour.
A spring breeze swept through the courtyard during the reading of the Gospel of John, when Mary visited Jesus’ tomb but found it empty.
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
I imagine the morose oddity of that moment, with Mary wondering if the angelic messengers were crazy strangers or if her hazy, early morning mind concocted this bizarre turn of events.
“Whom are you looking for?”
These questions are still true for us today. Why are we troubled? What are we searching for?
Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, but he was in the garden. The garden was where we all started, according to the ancient Hebrew origin story of humanity. Lent starts with the somber lament, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Now we’ve returned to a garden, after the spiritual pilgrimage through dark Lenten days, emerging into the gradual brightness of spring and blooming plants and the world coming alive. But sometimes we arrive on Sunday mornings with a limp in our step, sore muscles from carrying loads larger than we signed up for, and we can breathe again only when the load rips open, more pre-packaged statements of faith tumbling out.
You are invited to a change of perspective.
When Jesus’ friends first realized his body wasn’t in the tomb where it was supposed to be, they had a choice: would they resign themselves to hopelessness after their friend’s gory death, would they frantically detach themselves from reality, or would they grasp for a new way of seeing reality as it was?
For some, it was a breakthrough moment. Yet even when faced with signs of a resurrected Christ, some of them still needed convincing. Thomas, a patron saint for the cynical skeptics among us, remained unconvinced, unwilling to make the illogical leap. And who can blame him? How many of us, for far more manageable miracles, still doubt that something literally happened or unfolded in the neat and timely fashion our modern readings of scripture so often (unnecessarily) demand?
Thomas holds a place in history as he who doubted, but he can hardly be faulted. His Savior and King had died the death of a criminal only days earlier. How can one simultaneously cope with mixed feelings of loss, a desire for revenge, and all around confusion? As far as the disciples knew, no glorious rise to power against the Roman Empire materialized like they had hoped. Brutal death was the end of the story—that’s all their perspective offered.
But right in the middle of questions and reservations and doubts, Jesus invited them into a change of perspective. And he offers us the same invitation.
It’s demanding, uncomfortable, and even painful—but it’s also freeing, enlightening, and energizing. To the degree we accept the invitation to a new way of seeing, we’ll change, we’ll grow, and we’ll come to love God, people, and ourselves in more complex yet beautiful ways than we previously knew. That kind of seeing is believing.
Cover image by Alexander Watts.