Floyd Collins, a legendary spelunker from Kentucky, crawled into a dark, wet, cavern known as Sand Cave on a cold January morning in 1925. As the entrepreneur who had put the Mammoth Cave system on the tourist map, he was after his next commercial conquest.
Equipped with nothing more than a kerosene lamp and a canteen of black coffee, Collins slithered deep into the earth until a single stone, no bigger than a football, dislodged from the wall and wedged against Collins’ foot. He was trapped. Floyd Collins, “America’s Greatest Cave Explorer,” was caught, literally, between a rock and a hard place.
A massive rescue effort began, capturing the nation’s attention in a genuine media frenzy. Fifty-thousand spectators arrived at the scene, some to assist, most to observe, and others only because the food and drink were flowing. There were carnivals, medicine men, jugglers, street preachers, and news reporters – all capitalizing on the situation.
The circus continued for nearly three weeks, so eclectic and electrifying, that down below, poor Floyd was largely forgotten. The very reason for all the commotion – the very one who started the party – quickly became a footnote in history. When I read Collin’s story I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ resurrection.
On Easter the annual party begins once again, and many of us, dressed to the nines, will go out to watch the show on the great cathedral stage. It will be the best music of the year; the performers will have worked hard on their soliloquies; there will be pageantry, ceremony, and spectacle; even a few medicine men capitalizing on the situation.
We will enjoy ourselves. We will be entertained, maybe even moved. We will quickly follow the show with a good meal, a few mimosas or glasses of sweet wine, and then watch the kids hunt for decorated eggs in the back yard. And on Monday, we will return to our routines largely forgetting why this party was first organized.
As Christians we do not believe that Jesus is trapped in the ground. No, we believe the words of the Creed: He was “crucified, died, and was buried; on the third day he rose again.” And we believe his resurrection is the deposit paid on our own eventual rebirth. Because he lives, we will live as well.
This is ample reason for one magnificent party. So yes, let’s get gussied up, tune our instruments and memorize our lines. Hide the eggs, raise a glass, shout “Hallelujah!” and let the pomp and circumstance that is the Easter celebration of resurrection begin. But please, let’s not ignore why this party began in the first place. Come Monday, let’s not forget why we gathered in our houses of worship bright and early on the Lord’s Day.
For while this celebration may involve everything from bonnets and big tops to whirling dervishes and baked ham, it is truly about the One who crawled into a hole called death, to defeat it. And defeat it he did.