Have you ever planned something out to the very last detail and then the plan changed, but the change was better than the plan? I once planned a scuba diving excursion to Cozumel. I spent money I didn’t really have in grad school to book time under the crystal-clear waters. But when I arrived, the harbor master had shut down all small crafts (including our dive boat) due to a winter storm. Left with nothing to do, I walked up the harbor street to a little dive bar that opened out onto the water. While I was dejected that I couldn’t scuba, sitting for several hours with nothing to do except throw back a few Dos Equis and look at the waves was the singularly calmest moment of my life—before or since.
I could never have planned such a perfectly peaceful holiday, and it was only when my plans fell apart that I could embrace the tranquility and joy of that experience. On this Resurrection Day we embrace plans falling apart so that something even more wonderful can happen.
The first set of ruined plans was that of the temple guards. They had been stationed at the tomb by a collaboration of Pilate and members of the Sanhedrin who had denounced Jesus. (Remember, though, the Sanhedrin was divided on Jesus and would remain so. See John 9:16 and Acts 23:9.) They sought to ensure that the disciples wouldn’t steal Jesus’ body and fraudulently claim that he had risen from the dead. Well, at least the guards succeeded in their mission—no one stole the body, after all!
Instead, the guards witnessed the Angel of the Lord descend from heaven with earth-shaking power and lightening-like appearance to roll away the stone covering Jesus’ empty tomb. But the guards weren’t permanently struck down, and they reported to the chief priests (there were two at the time) after they recovered. The guards were given large sums of money to lie and say that they had failed in their mission. Yet at least one or two of their number probably joined the disciples and told of their experiences because of what they had witnessed.
Jesus brings life to where there was only death and joy to where there was only tortuous pain.
The second set of ruined plans and better outcomes was that of the two Marys who went to finish the job of preparing Jesus’ body for death and decomposition. The text says they came “to look in the tomb” and see what they could do for their lord and friend who had been tortured to death days earlier. Yet they were unable to complete their mission because the angel told them that Jesus had risen. The two women were to announce to Jesus’ disciples that he had risen from the dead and that they should all go to meet him in Galilee—making Mary and Mary the first apostles to be sent to announce the good news. The Marys went at once with fear and great joy, but apparently no longer carrying an ounce of sadness.
The third set of ruined plans and better outcomes is that of the Angel of the Lord. This angel was explicit that the Marys should tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they would all see the risen Jesus. The women made plans to tell the disciples, who would then have made plans to travel the 70-some miles up to Galilee. But Jesus couldn’t wait to encounter his friends. Instead, he appeared to the women before they even had the chance to tell his disciples the good news of his resurrection. In this Gospel (my favorite), Mary and Mary embrace Jesus by his feet. They don’t have to wait to touch his resurrected body.
This Resurrection Day, we get just a foretaste of the joy when God will make “everything sad untrue” (in the words of author Daniel Nayeri). Have our plans been ruined? Yes—and all too often, especially over the last several years. Nothing negates the hurt and frustration of having hopes smashed or undone. But that isn’t the final word. Jesus brings life to where there was only death and joy to where there was only tortuous pain. Whatever our plans, even if we plan to encounter Jesus just a little bit later, God ultimately has profoundly better in store. On this celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, let us enjoy a foretaste of the surprises to come.