Ever since my wife and I set our sights on moving to Nashville several months ago, I couldn’t wait to get here. Expectations of new friendships and opportunities brought hope after a frustrating and lonely year of wading through vocational changes wondering where the next steps would lead us. I knew a change in location was not a cure-all, but still, I couldn’t wait. I was ready to go.
Yet after several weeks in Nashville, life is beginning to become routine. We’re finding a new rhythm. We love our new house, our new life, our new schedule, but we also find a lot of it is familiar. We’re still the same people with the same habits, the same pressures, the same likes and dislikes. The new scenery is lovely, but the sheen on our new environment is beginning to fade. The experience was really about the expectation more than the lived-out reality.
I’m convinced that we live more through our expectations than we do through our actual lives. It’s the expectation of what is to come that gives us hope in the current moment, and it’s the dashed expectation that ruins long stretches of our existence. Think about this for a second.
How many days do we spend simply holding out for the upcoming vacation? How many weeks are spent working for the weekend? How many months are simply the precursor to the birth, to the wedding, to the holidays? I find this happening all the time in my own life, whether it’s an upcoming concert, a reunion with friends, an opportunity to travel abroad, or even the chance to get back inside a really compelling book. We lose the current moment in anticipation of moments to come.
Then think of the flip side, the moment when those built up expectations are thwarted by the chaos we call “reality.” You hear it in the pain of the phrases we express. “I thought we’d be together forever.” “I never thought it would end this way.” The expectation of what we hoped would occur is positioned inside the statement of loss. The unspoken thought at the heart of a phrase like “he died so young” is that everyone expected him to live a long, healthy, vibrant life.
This is the way we were created—to be people of anticipation. It marks our physical, spiritual, and emotional lives. It leaves us open to wonder. It also leaves us open to wounding. And when enough of those expectations are left unfulfilled, we slowly begin to hope less, to dream less. Instead of looking upward and forward, we lower our heads so that we are a bit less open than we were before. Phrases like “better safe than sorry” slowly creep into our vocabulary.
Easter is a story of expectation. It’s the central element of a narrative that’s been playing out since the beginning of all things. It’s the story of a Creation subjected to a curse and a Creator who put in place an expectation of redemption. Even more, Easter presents a fulfilled expectation of a Creation restored.
Yet not only is Easter about the ultimate expectation, there are several smaller stories at work within the grander one told in chapter 20 of John’s gospel. They are stories that tell us how Easter changes the expectations we have as we’re living our day-to-day lives.
Expecting death, Finding life
Much of our time is lived in what Richard Rohr calls “liminal space.” It’s the time between anticipated events when much is happening under the surface, and yet we’re frustrated by the lack of movement. It’s the time between death and resurrection, if you will. And it’s often the time when we think our expectations have gone unmet.
Picture Mary in the Easter narrative of John. I love the imagery: “while it was still dark” (vs. 1). That’s not just a descriptor of the physical world, but of the heart and morale of an entire community of people who’d given themselves to something they believed was bigger than they were. Mary was coming to grieve. She was coming to pay respects. She was coming to remember what could have been. She was living in the flood of unmet expectations. She expected death.
What she found instead is celebrated by millions all around the globe each Easter. She found the one thing that was prophesied, the one thing that was whispered to her to hold onto, and yet it was the one thing she never expected to find. Even the rolled-away stone only meant that someone had come and taken the body.
Expecting death, Mary found life. In her attempts to cope with the worst of circumstances, she stumbled into unexpected joy. Among the ruins of unmet expectation, she found that the dark soil was fertile, giving rise to new life.
Easter is not merely a historic moment to be remembered with an annual celebration. More than that, the Easter event delivers a daily reminder that our unmet expectations aren’t always what they seem. Easter allows us to continue to believe when all we see around us are reminders of the letdown.
Easter is the promise that God is always at work transforming death to life, darkness to light, despair to hope, and oppression to freedom. Always.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.