The Promise of the Resurrection - Maybe It's Not What You Think
Anyone who has ever heard me talk about theology will likely know that I love the resurrection. Like, really love it. Like, it's central to the way that I think about life and faith and just about everything else. When we're interviewing ministry candidates on the floor of Presbytery, one of my favorite questions to ask is: what does the resurrection mean to you and how does it intersect with your life?
It's theology that I use a lot in pastoral care, too - though rarely without also talking about the tomb as well. It's too easy to jump to Easter without paying attention to Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
To be clear, these pastoral conversations are almost never about literal, physical death. I'm almost never meeting with someone on their death bed. These conversations are about the figurative deaths that we experience all the time in our lives as humans: the death of a relationship, the death of a career, the death of a hope or an expectation, the death of our mental or physical health, the death of the church as we know it....the list could go on, and on, and on.
The thing is, people usually find it really easy to talk about the death part. It's easy for them to identify what feels like a death in their lives or in the world. They'll talk about things they've lost or grief that they're feeling or the fear that overwhelms them or the politics that anger them - really, this is the part where they could go on and on. But when it comes to talking about the resurrection...well, that's when it gets difficult.
For some reason, where death is easy to conceptualize in ways other than the literal, physical kind, resurrection is not. I find that it's much harder for people to translate the events of Easter morning into their own experience of life. And even when we get to the place where someone can articulate what resurrection might look like after a "death" of one kind or another, many people feel like that should be it. A resurrection experience should mean that death never happens again. In any form. At any time.
Which, in my experience, isn't true.
In my experience, death happens all the time. Which means that resurrection can happen all the time too - if we just know what we're looking for.
For me, one of the most profound experiences of resurrection happened during the 30 days that I spent at an inpatient facility being treated for my eating disorder. Up until that time, I could not remember what it felt like not to live with depression. Everyday I woke up and wished that I hadn't. Every evening I prayed that I would die in my sleep. The depth of the despair that I felt threatened to swallow me. While inpatient, I got the support and treatment that I never even knew that I needed. As the weeks wore on, I started to feel these weird glimmers of joy. There were things that I enjoyed, and there was a sense that my life could be full. I left feeling like a new person.
It was a resurrection experience. It didn't last. That is to say, my depression and eating disorder weren't cured. I still had bad days - really bad days. Even now, ten years later, I still wrestle with bouts of depression. But that experience did give me new life - which persists to this day as well. It wasn't the joy, necessarily, or the sense of purpose (though I'd say those were part of it) - it was the new understanding of my own worth, the new skills that I learned to manage my illness, the new understanding of my illness and myself. Even though I still live with depression and an eating disorder, and even though it's still incredibly difficult to cope with them, it isn't the same. I am a different person in the midst of them than I was.
And this is what I often think we're missing when we talk about resurrection in our day-to-day lives. We're looking for these moments that change our lives so that they'll be perfect forever. Well, no. What if, instead, we looked for those moments that change us forever? What if we look for those moments when we did experience new life or new joy or new purpose and while some of that might where off, and we might find ourselves in the tomb again, some of that resurrection light goes with us into the next death and the next and the next? What if some of that resurrection light makes us into slightly new creations each time we encounter it? It seems to me that then we would notice a lot more resurrection experiences in our everyday lives.
Of course, you may push back and say, "But doesn't that cheapen the resurrection? Doesn't that make it less special?"
Not from where I'm sitting.
For me, the power of the resurrection is a pervasive force that is continually at work in creation - the Spirit continually working to make all things new. Every evidence of that power taking hold is a miracle; every evidence of that power taking hold is worthy of a celebration like Easter because it brings us one step closer to the Kingdom of God - and that is special indeed. That is, indeed, huge.
Recognizing the resurrection in our lives does nothing less than proclaim that God is at work, that Christ is moving, and that the Spirit is transforming. Recognizing the resurrection in our lives does nothing less than give us hope during the times we spend in the tomb. Recognizing the resurrection does nothing less than open our eyes to the incredible power of God, forming us into people who not only bear witness to the good news, but participate in its transformation of the world.