It was a gorgeous spring day at Coyote Hills Golf Course. My friend Darren and I had just reached the tee box for the 13th hole. We had stopped keeping score because we already had the score we liked! The score card said 70, the thermometer said 70. Leaning on our drivers while waiting for some golfers to clear the fairway ahead, we were the picture of contentment.
Our cart was parked nearby next to a large patch of wild bramble—an area of thick shrubs, tall grass and thorny undergrowth, perhaps 50 yards across. It was so dense you could only see a few feet into it. As Darren and I were talking, I glanced over and noticed a large gray squirrel hopping up on our golf cart.
I knew immediately what he was up to. These squirrels get so tame they’ll go into un-manned carts rummaging for food. And I had just opened a package of those nice big chewy Grandmother’s Cookies. I thought: “That lousy squirrel’s after my cookies!” As I charged over to the cart, waving my arms and yelling, the squirrel jumped down with something in his mouth—my cell phone! The belt clip with my phone in it was firmly clamped in his thieving little teeth. As I yelled, the thief turned and slipped into the bramble as safely as Robin Hood into Sherwood Forest.
I pressed about 20 feet into the forest. The area was so big, with so much undergrowth, leaves and sticks and thorny shrubs, that it was impossible! Like finding a needle in a haystack. My $150 phone would never be seen again.
Then there came a flash of memory—25 years earlier, losing a tool on the farm, praying in desperation, a miraculous answer. I know God doesn’t always answer such prayers, but he can! So I prayed. “God, it’s way beyond Darren and me to find this thing, it’ll have to be all you. And if you’ll show it to us, I’ll never call it luck. It’s your miracle, and I’ll let people know.”
And just a moment later—from 50 yards across the bramble—Darren called out, “I can’t believe it—I see your phone!”
You know what it’s like when you’re looking for something, but you just don’t see it? Or you’re trying to understand a concept, or recall some memory or word or name—but you’ve lost it, just can’t come up with it? But then sometimes—when you’re all but ready to give up… it suddenly comes into view! The thing you’re looking for suddenly becomes clear. We have an interesting expression for such an occurrence. We say, “And then it dawned on me!”
I want to tell you something pretty simple, yet profoundly significant: Easter is like that. Beyond the superfluous clutter of Easter, beyond bunnies and chicks, bonnets and dinner—at the center, at the heart of it—Easter is like that! This is when something all of us are naturally blind to, yet quietly aching to see…when that something…when that someone…dawns on us!
Reading through the Scripture accounts following Jesus’ resurrection, we see how various people finally get it. Cleopas, for example, in Luke 24, walks the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with a friend on Easter Sunday afternoon. They discuss the recent happenings in Jerusalem. The risen Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him. (They saw him, but they didn’t see him!)
Cleopas had seen a whole lot of Jesus! He had seen Jesus’ miracles, creative power, teaching, impact… and that morning, he’d heard from the women about the empty tomb and the angel’s claim: “He is not here, he is risen!” But Cleopas had somehow missed the most essential part about Jesus. He tells the Stranger walking with them, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
Jesus calls him foolish and slow, then explains the Old Testament Scriptures regarding himself. As he breaks bread with them after the journey, their eyes are opened. Jesus dawns on Cleopas—who he really is, and what he did on Good Friday and Easter, that he absolutely did redeem, not only Israel, but the whole world!
Then consider Mary, in John 20, at sunrise on Easter morning. She stands outside the tomb crying, sees someone nearby, but assumes it’s the gardener. As with so many of us, Mary’s eyes are clouded by the tears of grief, disappointment and despair. Until Jesus speaks her name, “Mary.” Then she turns toward him and cries out, “Teacher!” Jesus dawns on Mary!
There is also the Easter dawn of faith for Thomas. We’re told in Luke 24 and John 20 that on Easter Sunday evening, when the disciples were huddled in fear in a room, Jesus appeared right in the middle of them, stood and talked to them, and showed them his pierced hands and side. But Thomas was absent. When he hears about it later, he refuses to believe unless “I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side” (John 20:25).
How did Thomas come to be Doubting Thomas? How did he come to be so skeptical, so careful? Perhaps, like many people, he had seen too much, been duped, manipulated, felt foolish. Maybe he blamed institutions (religious institutions?), maybe the problem was people he trusted who had disappointed him. A week later, Jesus graciously gives Thomas the opportunity he demands. Jesus dawns on Thomas!
Just as Jesus knew the key for Cleopas was encountering Jesus in the Word, and for Mary it was the Word of his presence and call, so he knew the key for Thomas was both resurrection evidence and the enablement of faith to let go of his raised shield of doubt.
Finally, consider the high priest Caiaphas in Matthew 26. In one phase of Jesus’ trial, Caiaphas demands that Jesus tell whether he is the Messiah. Jesus replies, “You have said so… From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Jesus is saying that he will dawn on Caiaphas on judgment day—when it’s too late to believe or be saved.
Reading the Easter texts, we realize there are only three kinds of people: Some people, like Mary and Cleopas, see Jesus sooner. Some, like Thomas, see Jesus later. They need time to grapple with their doubts. And some, like Caiaphas, see Jesus too late.
The only question that really, truly matters this Easter is: When will Jesus dawn on you?
Rev. Paul Larson is president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.