Photo Courtesy of Richard L. Bryant
Some of the tombs on Ocracoke Island.
There are over eighty cemeteries on this small island of Ocracoke in North Carolina's Outer Banks. On a strip of land fourteen miles long and two miles wide, we are surrounded by the dead. These ever-present reminders of our mortality come into sharper focus in the days leading up to and during Holy Week. Resurrection isn’t just a theory on Ocracoke; it better be the plan. Children run past the graves on their way to school, parents work opposite graveyards, and we live with the dead in our back yards. Sunday morning, (to paraphrase Tony Campolo) in one form or another, can’t arrive fast enough.
I spent part of the morning with a woman from the congregation whose husband died last week. His funeral will be on Good Friday. As I prepared to leave, I looked out from her spacious, screened in back porch to the cemetery in her back garden. There were well over a dozen graves.
“Agnes, I didn’t realize you had that many graves here,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. “There are more tombs behind the weeds than you realize.”
Tombs, she said tombs. An old word, a Jesus word. Hers, not mine. There were tombs I couldn’t see. It was here, among the unseen tombs, she would scatter her husband’s ashes.
A tomb. Jesus was laid in an unknown, unseen, tomb. What was I just saying about resurrection not being a theory but a plan? I’m still hung up on the word tomb. God is at work in the tombs. Sure, the angel says, “he’s not here.” But what if you’re a people who dwell among tombs, like the United Methodists of Ocracoke? Isn’t Jesus here somewhere?
On that morning, I want to go to the right empty tomb. I do not want to encounter someone pretending to be Jesus. As Agnes said, there are more tombs behind the weeds than we realize. In grief, it is easy to get lost. When we grieve the loss of loved ones, a culture, or the way we believe “things ought to be,” we become disorientated and confused. We’ll listen to anyone who says, “this is how it should be,” especially if they appear from the mists of the early church.
However, things aren’t what they seem. Among the tombs, there are people roaming around claiming to be Jesus and hijacking the resurrection. It is important to find the right tomb to find the real Jesus. The wrong tomb will lead to a counterfeit Jesus. How do we tell the difference?
- The real Jesus tells you there is nothing to fear.
- Counterfeit Jesus will try to scare you by any means necessary.
- The real Jesus does not look like the white guy on the wall. He looks like all of us.
- Counterfeit Jesus has a “to do” list written by a group of guys 60-90 years after he died.
- The real Jesus has a “to love” list which includes people you love and all the people you hate.
- Counterfeit Jesus is static, never changing, locked in a past that never existed. He is a myth.
- The Real Jesus is adapting his life to the challenges you face in your life today. Real Jesus is Real.
It may not be the gardener you run into on Easter Sunday morning. You may have just seen “counterfeit Jesus.” I hope I’ve helped you spot him. He’s not the one you want. Real Jesus will be just around the corner.
The Rev. Richard Lowell Bryant serves as pastor of Ocracoke United Methodist Church on Ocracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. He blogs at Richard's Food for Thought, from which this post is republished with the author's permission.