Wineskins Archive

December 20, 2013

Resurrecting God (Mar 1993)

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by Gary Selby
March, 1993

10It is 4:00 in the morning. A rooster crows somewhere in the city. In a small, sparsely-furnished room a woman is sleeping. At the shrill call of the rooster, she opens her eyes. She has slept fitfully for three, maybe four hours. Sitting up on her bed, she forgets for a moment the reason why sleep has been so elusive. There is something shadowy and surreal about tragedy that makes us ask, “Did it really happen?” She sits on the edge of her bed, half-awake, and asks herself, “Have I been dreaming?”

And then, like a landslide, it all comes rushing back and she replays the scenes in her mind as if seeing them for the first time. The angry mob shouting “Crucify!” … a governor washing his hands … soldiers beating him senseless … spit running down his face … being marched, half dragged out of the city … the nails … the thorns … his cry, “My God!” … the spear. It all comes rushing back to her – the unthinkable. he is dead.

Strangely, she doesn’t cry this time as she replays the scenes. She has wept so much in the past three days that there are no tears left. Instead, she looks across the room in the dim light and sees the spices and strips of cloth lying on the table where she left them two days ago. She stands up and mechanically straightens the blankets on her bed. Then she puts on her clothes and drapes her cloak around her as a shield against the chill of the morning air. She gathers up the materials for preparing the body and leaves the room, winding her way through the narrow streets of the city toward the house of a friend who has agreed to come with her to the tomb.

As the two of them walk along in silence, she tries to remember his face, what he looked like, and at first, she feels panic because the only picture she can conjure up is of a face covered in dirt and sweat, distorted by pain. That picture is so burned in her memory that it is all she can see. But then her mind drifts back to their first meeting. At their first meeting she had been delivered from the prison of demon-possession by the very man whose body she is now going to embalm. In the face of every other person she’d ever met she had seen only fear and disgust and condemnation. But not his face. There had been something kind and sad and understanding in his gaze, and when he commanded the demons to leave her, something stern and powerful. From that time on she had been his devoted follower.

But that is all over now. He is gone. The words keep echoing in her mind,” He is gone.” The emptiness that she feels at this moment is so deep, so total, that she could not begin to put it into words. She knows only the dizzying numbness, the tightening in her stomach. But if she were able to describe it, the word she would use is “hopeless.”

We have all known what she feels. We have all, in one way or another, peered into that black pit.

Even as little children we experience it. For my eighth birthday, the gift I wanted more than anything else was a pocket watch. I was so proud of that watch that I carried it with me every day, wherever I went. One evening at the end of a day of hard playing, I emptied my pockets as I always did, intending to set my pocket watch in its special, safe place on my dresser. When I pulled it out, I found that the crystal had broke and the hands were bent, and I could see dirt down inside the face. I was crushed. I remember like it was yesterday lying in bed that night crying over my broken watch. I remember the terrible knowledge that it would never work again. The overwhelming finality of it all. The crushing, helpless sense of loss.

Your puppy gets run over. Your boyfriend breaks up with you. You fail a test. You declare bankruptcy. A person you thought was your friend betrays you. You wake up one day to realize that you hate your job and you’re stuck. Your little girl has cancer. Your wife has died and you’re all alone. Your dad has Alzheimer’s and is slowly going out of hs mind. You suffer a divorce – your own, your parents’, your child’s, someone else you love. You get caught deep in sin.

All of us have known the bitter taste of “no hope.” We have all walked alongside Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, making our way to the tomb where our dreams and hopes lie cold as a corpse. Some of us were there a year ago, two years ago, ten years ago. Some of us are on our way to the tomb right now. All of us will be there, if not now, then at some time in the future, asking ourselves what we thought we would never have to: “How do I go on?”

But then something happens. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrive at the tomb. There has been an earthquake. The stone has been rolled away. The women look up to see an angel perched up on the boulder ablaze in clothes so white that it hurts their eyes to look at him! “Do not be afraid,” he says. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said he would.” They stand dumbfounded, their mouths gaping, too shocked even to take his offer to look for themselves. “Run, tell his disciples.” The women toss the spices and graveclothes and rush back to town – afraid yet filled with joy. “He has risen from the dead.”

Can it be? The Bible is full of stories that, from any perspective other than faith, are just plain whoppers. A baby born to a hundred-year-old man and a ninety-year-old woman. A sea cut in half to allow a nation of perhaps two million to walk through without so much as stepping in a puddle. An army of three hundred routing a coalition of armies camped in a valley as thick as locusts. A prophet told to go marry a whore and to try, desperately, to win her love and faithfulness – in order to act out the love of the Lord of Hosts for his wayward people. A teacher who multiplied loaves and fishes and healed the sick and taught “the rich are the poor,” “the happy are the grief-stricken,” “the blind are those who think they see” while “those who admit their blindness are the ones with 20-20 vision,” “the greatest of all is the servant of all.” But of all the crazy things the Bible tells us, this is the craziest. From any other perspective than that of faith, the whopper of whoppers.

But to us who believe …

To us who know a resurrecting God the empty tomb shouts, “There is hope!” in all of our hopeless experiences. To us who serve the God “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were,” there is meaning in the events of our lives that bring us to face our own need for hope. Not that they are good, for they certainly are not. God’s intention was never that we suffer loss and death. But because a man had incurable leprosy, he went looking for Jesus. And because a woman had spent all she had on doctors to cure her hemorrhage and had only gotten worse, she went looking for Jesus. And because Jairus’ precious little girl lay on the verge of death this man – who under any other circumstances would have given Jesus the time of day – fell on his knees before the Lord. Often it’s not until we face hopelessness, until all our solutions fail, that we are ready to come to the one who is Hope.

May we never minimize the pain of a fellow human being. God forbid that we ever presume to offer simple answers. Pain and dread and hurt are not simple problems. May we ever affirm to each other that, as members of a community of grace, we have the right and the freedom to be in the body and to hurt, to cry out in our pain.

May we also affirm, as a community of resurrection, that because Jesus came out of the tomb, “There is hope!” And when it finally comes down to it, isn’t that all we have? Not gimmicks or quick solutions or promises of no pain and disappointment, but this one ringing affirmation: “There is hope!” It’s all we have. But it is so much. To know that the story doesn’t end in a grave. Mary Magdalene’s, mine, yours. Because he arose, because he lives, there is hope.Wineskins Magazine

Gary Selby

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