Bring Me to Life

Sitting in SilenceResurrection.  What a difficult concept to grasp.  It’s as confusing as can be and we can never really be sure if it is literal or metaphorical in Jesus’s case.  Peter, John, and Mary saw the empty tomb, but they didn’t understand.  It says that John saw and believed, but it doesn’t say what he believed.  We assume that it meant he believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, but in the very next clause it says that neither John nor Peter yet understood.  Mary finds angels sitting in the tomb and turns around to see Jesus himself, but she thinks he’s the gardener.  She finally figures out that this stranger was Jesus, but it still doesn’t tell us that she understood what it all meant.  It’s no different for us.  Somehow, though, we see resurrection as a positive thing for us somewhere down the road, but we’re not completely sure what.

The writer and scholar Peter Rollins, in his book Orthodox Heretic, wrote of a people who were present at the crucifixion and feeling hopeless and dejected left Jerusalem and headed out to the desert.  They were not there when the talk of resurrection began.  About 100 years later, two missionaries showed up and told the people about the Good News of Jesus’s resurrection and the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that was available as a result.  As everyone was celebrating that night, the leader of the group was nowhere to be found.  Finally, one of the missionaries found the old leader in his tent weeping silently.  The missionary asked him how he could be sad having heard such wonderful news.  The old man replied, “Yes, it may indeed be good news, but my people have had compassion for one another and showed genuine love because it is the right thing to do.  Now I am afraid that my children and my children’s children will believe and do good, not simply because they are humane, but selfishly because they await the eternal life that is promised them.”

What did Jesus’s resurrection mean then and what does it mean for us now?  So what if God raised Jesus from the dead?  What’s different?  Is the world any better for it?  We’re told that Jesus’s resurrection defeated sin and death, but Newtown still happened.  Columbine still happened.  Tohoku still happened.  So is all of this talk about resurrection just a bunch of hopeful nonsense?  I don’t think so.  I think it is something so real, in fact, that it happens every day.

I sometimes work as a chaplain at a hospital near me and on one particular shift about a year ago things were going pretty smoothly as I met with my last patients for the day – until I got to the last patient.  The patient, whom I’ll call Diane, was charted as being there for substance abuse.  Little did I know going in to the room that this little phrase meant that she had tried to take her life with pills three times.  I had no idea what I was in for, but started to get the idea when the orderly in the room would not leave.  It didn’t take her long to tell me that she didn’t want to live because her son, Joey, had taken his own life the year before.  He had only been 33 when he hanged himself and for whatever reason she had a voice mail of his last dying gasps.  She told me how she was tormented by dreams about Joey tipping off of the ladder as she reached for it but could only get within a hair’s breadth of touching it.  I asked her if she had other family and she said that she had a husband and four other children.  “What about them?” I asked.  Didn’t she think that they would suffer the same way that she did if she were to take her own life?  She said that they had their own lives and would get over it.  The same way that she had gotten over Joey’s death?  She nodded.  She seemed to get it.

Every time she thought about Joey, Diane would say how it just made no sense and how parents weren’t supposed to bury their kids.  She kept saying how she just wanted him to come back or else she didn’t want to be here.  It was around Easter when this all took place and as somewhat of a surprise to even myself, I said, “What do you think about resurrection?”  She looked up at me and after a moment said something like, “Well, it’s when Jesus came back.”  “How?” I asked her.  “Was it like a physical resuscitation or what was it?”  She said she didn’t think so.  She said she thought it was a type of spiritual presence.

I wasn’t sure that I should be pushing her in her condition, but I did it anyway and it paid off in the end.  I asked her if I might give her another picture of resurrection.  I asked her if she didn’t think that it was cruel if Jesus came back from the dead to defeat sin and evil and death, but just left again for some later date before it actually takes and we are just left to suffer in the meantime.  She said she had no doubt that it was cruel.  I asked her if Joey had any causes that he felt passionately about or if there was some sort of legacy that could be carried on.  I challenged her to imagine if, after she was healthy, she were to volunteer in support groups for parents who had lost their kids or even for those who felt like committing suicide.  Wouldn’t Joey be resurrected then, in a sense?  After all, nobody could know the suffering both of losing a child and of wanting so badly to die like she could.  I could only have sympathy for her and try to imagine what she and others like her were going through, but I could never fully comprehend like she could.  We talked for a little more and then after praying with her I left the room to do my charting.

In his gospel, John writes something that we often easily overlook.  We see resurrection as happening in the sunlight when everything is ok and the clouds have given away to the comforting light of day.  But this isn’t what John writes.  He says that “while it was still dark” Mary came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away.  Mary panicked.  So did the two disciples when they came to the tomb.  The resurrection had already happened, but it was still night and everything was not alright.  At least not for them, it wasn’t, because they couldn’t understand in the darkness that which the light of day would reveal.

Life is difficult.  That’s not news to any of us.  The amazing thing though, is that we have a lot more power than we realize to bring about resurrection – our own resurrection and that of those around us.  When we become aware of this power, we realize that resurrection is about doing.  I can just imagine how the disciples felt when their very hope was nailed to a cross and died.  I get excited, though, when I think of what it must have been like in that upper room when the disciples first realized that Jesus had been preparing them all along to do something themselves to live out his legacy and make the world around them a better place.  In that moment Jesus was resurrected through them.  I don’t want to blow it for Pentecost, so I’ll leave that alone for now.

Sometimes, like Diane, we look up for some ray of hope but all we can see is darkness.  Little do we know, though, that even in the darkest moments, God is already working toward restoration.  After all, when we are surrounded by nothing but the dark of night, it is hard for us to see that the tomb is empty and that maybe even just a little bit, everything is going to be alright.  Oh yeah, and speaking of Diane.  I saw her recently.  She searched me out at the hospital to tell me Happy Easter and to let me know that it was in fact a happy Easter.  She came to tell me that I was right.  I don’t hear this too often, so it was kind of nice.  She said that Joey had been resurrected, because every time she saw the light of hope begin to shine in the eyes of someone she touched through her support group, she felt Joey right there with her.  See?  We do not have to wait with our heads turned to the sky waiting for some glimmer of hope, because the beginning stirrings of hope and resurrection begin within our very hearts and become a reality with our own two hands.

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