When Words Are Not Enough

Lilies on open Bible
Lilies on open Bible

Sometimes, words seem woefully inadequate. Take Easter, for example. Sunday morning thousands of pastors, priests, and country preachers will stand before their congregations and say, "Christ is risen."

Some of us will speak for about 10 minutes. Others among us will talk for well over an hour. In both cases, mere words fall short.

Maybe that helps us to understand the Bible's relative reticence on the resurrection. Now, the significance of God raising Jesus from the grave is the pivotal proclamation of the New Testament, and for Christians it is the event that defines human history.

But if you are hungry for details and data, if you want to consider the size of the stone that covered the empty tomb or the precise hour that Jesus' lived anew, well, then you are out of luck.

The theologian,Tom Long, has described a wonderful legend that has been circulating around Princeton for years. A young man wrote to Albert Einstein during World War II, and asked the brilliant physicist to explain the theory of relativity. Einstein reflected upon the request for a moment, and then replied, "I don't think I can explain it, but if you call me in Princeton, I'll play it for you on the violin."

Words cannot capture the beauty of the sun rising up out of the ocean at dawn. Words cannot convey the awe mothers and fathers experience when they hold their newborn in their arms. Words cannot express our elation when we hear the doctor say, "The surgery went well. The tumor has been removed, and the margins are clear."

And, words alone cannot describe the power, the hope, and the promise of the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

So, on Easter morning, as we liturgical leaders stammer and stutter, our choirs and congregations will break forth into song. From "Thine is the Glory" to the "Hallelujah Chorus," from "Up from the Grave He Arose" to "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!" we will celebrate ineffable joy, the joy of the resurrection.

Many years ago, I worked as a chaplain in a large trauma hospital. One evening, I was called to visit the family of a young man. Charles had fallen out of the back of a truck and suffered a severe head injury.

His family and I sat together as the doctor explained that they had done all they could to save his life, but, sadly, Charles had died.

His mother and aunts wanted to see Charles, to kiss his forehead, to say goodbye. I led them into the room where he lay, and just as soon as his mother saw his body, she fainted.

I was twenty-three years old and completely bewildered. An orderly must have seen the confusion on my face. He stopped what he was doing and immediately walked towards us. He knelt down on the ground, clasped the mother's hand in his hands and said...very little...very, very little. "It's going to be OK. It's alright."

In that cemetery, the voices of death and darkness howled with all their might. But when that orderly picked up his violin, warmth and hope and compassion filled the room.