I read a book while we were away…well, when I say “read a book” it was more a case of having a book in my hand and trying to get through a sentence whilst juggling the demands of a potty training two year old, a very creative(!?!) four year old and an emotional seven year old at the same time as ensuring the rest of the family were fed and watered when they did reappear back at the camper!
The book in question was called “Practising Resurrection”…the title intrigued me because I’ve thought more about the death thing than resurrection, not necessarily actual physical death, more the metaphorical kind of death like the death of plans, or hopes, or dreams; the death of relationships or friendships or the nagging feeling that life, energy or meaning are draining away and you’re not sure what comes next…that kind of death!
I guess to some extent that’s why I find the church concept so intriguing…’death’ is all around us and it manifests itself in many ways. I want to believe that church has something to offer. The Jesus story is one where death is defeated and resurrection reigns. Jesus is about resurrection, the bible is full of stories about restoration and redemption. I guess the question is so what!? What difference does the resurrection make? What do restoration, redemption and resurrection look like in our world now? What does the church have to say into all of this?! There are so many questions…
Does the resurrection make a difference to the tired and tearful mum who has totally lost sight of who she is among the demands of her growing family? Does the resurrection make a difference to the guy whose wife of fifty years died a week ago and he’s not sure what he’s going to do now? Does the resurrection make a difference to the woman whose husband walked out and now she’s left with a future that looks very different to the one she’d imagined they’d have? Does the resurrection make a difference to the boy whose exam results weren’t quite what everyone expected and now he’s not sure the options he’s being given are anything he really wants to do? Does the resurrection make a difference to the guy who has just been made redundant because the role he’s trained to do just isn’t needed in the same way anymore? Does the resurrection make a difference to the mum and dad who have just had their thirty eight year old sons life support machine turned off?
There’s death in all of those stories. Endings that no one saw coming, or even if they did, it turned out they weren’t as prepared for it as they thought. A finality that hurts, that breaks us in ways we didn’t think we were capable of being broken. A wake up call to our own vulnerability, fragility and mortality. Death is painful, whatever form it takes.
The Jesus story speaks into our encounters with death, it reminds us that death is real. It shows us how death can be respected, honoured, or at the very least acknowledged. There’s something about naming it, about mourning, about letting the tears fall and the pain be felt that helps us to connect with that moment and allow it to simply be…for a while unresolved, unfixed, just what it is.
Jesus surrenders to it, he allows death to do its thing. Maybe there’s a wisdom to the surrender, a wisdom to allowing death to ‘be’ because we know that death does not have the last word. It might have a lot to say, it might linger for longer than we would like it to but the Jesus story, and many of our own ‘death’ stories show us that it is not the end.
As we follow the Jesus story we see that death does not hold Jesus, the tomb is empty. We read of his friends, some who accept their encounter with death and almost immediately see the new possibilities, running to share the news. We read of other friends who remain for longer in the death moment, still wondering what it might mean, uncertain how or even who they’re going to be now everything’s changed. We see others who can’t move forward, paralysed by fear or doubt or pain, needing to know the gentle encouragement of someone they trust before they can tentatively take another step.
In each case however there is hope, there are glimmers of something new emerging and a faint whisper of hope murmuring within.
For me, hope is what the Jesus story offers, it’s what the church should offer; the idea of ‘Practicing Resurrection’ as Cris Rogers describes:
“The very way Jesus would be able to reveal his resurrection to the (Roman) empire and to the world was through his church. This church was a group of people who had experienced the resurrection and now were calling others into it.” Practicing Resurrection; page 104
As church we call others into the hope of resurrection life. As church we practice finding those glimmers of new life. So for the mum who feels she’s not coping there’s the realisation that there are gradually more good moments than there are bad ones as she shares life with a friend who just listens; or for the boy with the exam results a new idea offered, one that had never even been considered; for those who hoped to be living out their days with that person they’re no longer with, for whatever reason, a new story begins to take shape and new relationships emerge or old relationships find a new expression; for the couple who’ve said goodbye to their son, they find a way of remembering and celebrating what was as they create a new way of being in the world, as they delicately tread a path they’d hoped they’d never have to walk…resurrection isn’t always realised immediately!
The resurrection offers hope into our own stories of death. Somehow, as we live through the myriad of metaphorical death experiences and share the stories of the new life emerging, the stories of restoration, of renewal, of relationships restored and life rekindled; we find resurrection to be a reality. As we embrace the knowledge that we can be refreshed, renewed and re-envisioned we begin to believe that resurrection is true. Resurrection becomes the reality that we see faithfully played out in our everyday, a practice so intertwined in how we live that when we face our final day we know that death is not the end, it’s the beginning of something new.