Surprise in Death's Valley (Luke 24:1-12)

This past March, as Juli and I traveled to California to visit family there, we experienced something I had never seen before. The ordinarily brown hues of the hills and mountains around the San Joaquin Valley this time were awash in vivid color. For one thing, we were on the cusp of spring…and so the normally (for me, at least) brown-hued Tehachapi Mountains were white with snow on top, purple/blue in the middle, and green on the bottom. Yet something unexpected (even for California, in recent years) was underway. Some parts of the state have gotten more rainfall in the previous winter and early spring months than they have seen in the last two decades. By mid-March, the entire state of California was declared drought-free for the first time since 2011! And though we didn’t see it up close, a spectacular wildflower bloom—referred to by some as a “super bloom”—was taking place while we were there that brought fields of yellow and orange wildflowers to normally dry and arid places. The photograph accompanying this post was taken of a similar 2016 super bloom in Death Valley, CA (by Jeff Sullivan on Flickr, licensed by CC0). People like Park Ranger Alan Van Valkenburg, who had lived in Death Valley for the last 25 years during the last super bloom said, "I'm not really sure where the term "super bloom" originated, but when I first came to work here in the early 1990s I kept hearing the old timers talk about super blooms as a near mythical thing—the ultimate possibility of what a desert wildflower bloom could be. I saw several impressive displays of wildflowers over the years and always wondered how anything could beat them, until I saw my first super bloom in 1998. Then I understood. I never imagined that so much life could exist here in such staggering abundance and intense beauty” (cited from https://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/news/wildlowers-2016.htm).

The surprise of the first Easter Sunday for a small group of women arriving at Jesus’ tomb might have been a tiny bit like that…once the shock of what occurred started to sink in: So much life exploding into what could have only been a dead desert of dashed dreams, following Good Friday. The four gospels give us four different “takes” on the resurrection event. No matter which gospel account and the initial emotions displayed at Jesus’ tomb you may consider (Matthew: fear and great joy; Mark: trembling and astonishment, Luke: perplexity and seeking to remember Jesus’ words; John: weeping turned to joy), surprise is an ingredient in all four. We are conditioned to expect what we usually see and hear and smell and feel in Death’s Valley. How could things be any different? Death is natural. Death is, after all, a part of life. The trouble begins when we begin to accommodate ourselves to it and stop expecting that, with Jesus, a super bloom is coming. In the wildernesses of inadequate faith, broken promises, and lost relationships, resurrection is the most un-natural and most unexpected thing that could ever happen! But in the end, resurrection isn’t all about us. It is about our God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17). With Jesus, there will always be surprises in the midst of Death’s Valley. With Jesus, the best surprise of all is yet to come.

If you’re looking for a place to experience the intrusion of a super bloom into the dead desert of merely “natural” expectations, I invite you to join us this Easter Sunday at Trinity. Spoiler alert: Once again we will say, and hear together: “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”

It never ceases to surprise me.