The Easter Season extends from Easter Day until the day of Pentecost, this year June 8. For the next few weeks, we will explore what it means to be an Easter people.
by Marjorie George
I was convinced the little possum was dead, although Maggie, our eight-month-old, 40-pound Golden Retriever puppy, continued to poke and paw and bark at it. Maggie had found it in the backyard during her last “out” time for the night. A new visitor, a new toy, and look, Mom, it moves.
It was just a baby possum itself, measuring maybe eight inches from nose to rump. “Where is your mother?” I asked it. But it was busy hissing at Maggie, bravely baring its teeth at her. Finally Maggie cornered the possum by the fountain, and the little guy flopped over on his side, apparently dead.
So this is “playing possum,” I thought.
From the website of the Opossum Society of the United States, I learned that this “I’m dead; leave me alone” stance is actually physiological. The involuntary, comatose-like state is induced by extreme fear. Since predators find that chasing and killing their prey is the appeal of the meal, an inert possum does nothing to excite the appetite, and they will leave it alone. Somehow the possum’s body knows when the danger has passed, and the critter “comes back to life.” Scared nearly to death, we would say.
Later, when Maggie was safely settled into her kennel for the night, I went back to the fountain; sure enough, the little possum was gone.
At Easter we look again into the great yawning emptiness of the tomb, where once Christ’s body lay inert in the blackness of death, and we find the body gone. But his had been a real death – the heart had stopped pumping, the blood had ceased to course through his veins, the lungs were still and silent. He had died. And then he had not. Resurrection – alleluia!
The Christ who arose from the grave was not “playing possum” – it was not just the old Christ brought back. He was resurrected to something entirely and exquisitely new. It was not a refurbished body that Mary encountered at the tomb, but a brand new one. “The resurrection narratives,” says C. S. Lewis, “are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being had arisen in the Universe. Something new had appeared, as new as the first coming of organic life” (from “The Strangest Story of All” in Bread and Wine, pub. Orbis). The death begets new life. In him, in the world, in us.
Die to self we are told; surrender your life. There is a difference, I think, between surrender-dying and giving-up-dying. Giving up says I am just too tired to fight any longer. Giving up often is accomplished out of fear and expresses itself in anger, resentment, and frustration. Surrender is wrapped in the sweet fragrance of hope. Surrender is my finally perceiving that I do not know best about my life, but you do, Lord. Surrender is Christ in the garden – “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Giving up feels like dying; surrender feels like resurrection. It will be the case in our lives that we will know failure, we will taste disappointment, we will watch helplessly as dreams die. Because the world does not yet totally belong to Christ, bad things will happen to good people. But death to self, the death of Easter, takes our failures and disappointments and dead dreams and resurrects them into something new – something far better than we could have imagined because they are of Christ-nature.
Surrender is buoyed by expectancy – that this death will open a way to new life, though we, like Mary at the tomb, may not recognize it at first (John 20:15).
Bishop David Reed points out that in her wisdom the Church gives us 50 days of the Easter season leading up to Pentecost. Easter wasn’t over last Sunday; Easter began last Sunday. We will always be an Easter people, and Eastertide, says Bishop Reed, is a time for practicing resurrection.
The collect for Wednesday of Easter Week, the week following Easter, asks God to “open the eyes of our faith” that we may behold Christ “in all his redeeming work” (The Book of Common Prayer, pg 171).
Easter, and life, have just begun. Throughout the Easter season, may we practice it a little more.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.