Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thin Places: Finding Words for the Mystery of Easter

Luke 24:1-12

It was such a tender time for us then --- still, even after a couple of years since his dying.

Oh, the surprise of it had worn off some, this is true. And the grief was not so raw. Even so, with every joy and every struggle we could not help but wonder if it would have been different in some way if he still was.

And yet, it is also so that life went on. Indeed, our grief was somewhat eased with the new life which came with my nephew, Michael, who burst into our world less than two months after we stood together in a frigid January cemetery and commended my dad into God's eternal care. And yes, we couldn't help ourselves as we peered into his tiny face, and watched as he grew into a fearless toddler --- wondering if somewhere in the genetic makeup passed along we might get some glimmer of my dad. We thought we did, of course. It was, quite simply, our oh so very human attempt to grasp at eternity in the natural ways of this world. In much the same way we look for Resurrection every spring as well. Or at least we do in these parts of the world where we know the new life that comes with winter letting go.  And yet, the Promise of Easter is different somehow. It is more difficult to grasp, it seems to me, and so very hard to understand. For this New Life, this Resurrected Life, is outside and beyond most anything we have ever experienced in this world now. By its very nature, it flies in the face of all that can be explained.

And yet, on one occasion, it was young Michael himself who found words to speak of that which first and finally gives us hope. Indeed, he could not have been more than three years old when he sat at a table with his mother and older brother, Andrew. In those years, Sarah was doing all she could to keep the memory of our dad alive --- for Andrew, at least, who would have been but two on the day of his funeral. Perhaps Michael was feeling left out. Or maybe it truly was something more when he announced that he had met Grandpa, too.

"You did?!?" Sarah said, wondering at what he would say next. And Michael went on, "Yep," he replied. "I was coming down when he was going up."

In his childlike telling, it was as though they had crossed paths in some heavenly holding place in-between -- some wondrous place known only to God and long since forgotten by the rest of us for the time being. My earth bound mind pictures it as some sort of celestial escalator --- with a landing half way. And yet is difficult to say exactly what Michael spoke of then. Now a young man, he has no memory of that sharing and his certainty that day. But oh, we wonder still if he was on to something as he announced his experience of a place which sounds forth this truth: in our living and dying and all that comes before and after? God's beloved are held in the very heart of God.

The Gaelic say, of course, that there are 'thin places' between heaven and earth. Perhaps it is so that the very young and the very old or the very ill among us recognize these best of all. For instance, it is so that you and I who walk alongside those who are dying have watched and listened as visions are experienced and conversations are held with others who have long since died as though they were gathering right there themselves. Those of us who are still so very bound to this earth cannot see or hear them, but we find ourselves convinced that there is something more in the room than what we can possibly comprehend. And yes, there are other times and places, too, when we sense the 'holy' in extraordinary ways on any other given day. These are beautifully described here in this article in the The New York Times.

And oh, could there have been a place more 'thin,' than that first Easter Day when the women made their way to the tomb to find it empty? Although, they could hardly believe it and no doubt struggled to find comprehensible words for it, mustn't they have known that they were standing in a 'thin place' when they were reminded that it was foolish to look for the living among the dead? Oh, it is no surprise, of course, that Peter and the other apostles could not take in what the women hurried back to share, even as we shook our heads so long ago to hear the youngest among us point to something so wondrous. And yet, one has to believe that they knew there was something more afoot as in Luke's account, Peter ran to the tomb himself and left somehow changed --- amazed at what he had seen.

And so I wonder now how on this Easter Day as we gather in song and praise surrounded by the fragrance of spring and the sound of trumpets. I wonder how it is that we will experience these places, our places now, as 'thin.' I wonder how and where heaven will meet earth this year.

It is all mystery, of course. The sort of mystery that words perhaps cannot quite capture. And yet we seek to speak them still. Like young Michael. Like the women at the tomb to so long ago, we, too, have been captured by this mystery and though our words may stumble, how can we not speak of it? And in the speaking? By God's own doing, perhaps others will find themselves in a 'thin place' as well. Oh yes, maybe through our words, heaven will be brought just a little bit closer to earth. Indeed, maybe in the telling, others will sense the presence of the Risen Christ as well.

  • When and where have you experienced 'thin places?' When have you sensed the truth of God's Promises? When have you known the Presence of the Risen Christ?
  • Sometimes we are those who have received this good news and sometimes we are those who are called to share it. In those times, how has your faith in God's Promises been shaped or changed?
  • It is so that birth and death, living and dying is fraught with mystery. And how much more mysterious is that which we are called to proclaim on Easter! For you, what words, what stories best capture and convey this mystery?


  1. Thank you, Janet. Good words for me...for us all. I was delighted to see Luke's gospel as the text--as I also am choosing it for Easter Sunday and find mostly references to the (of course, glorious) empty tomb story in John's Gospel. Blessings, with my deepest thanks!

    1. Blessings to you as well, Jan. May the coming days be 'thin places' for you!