When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death” – John 11: 4a
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people! – Ezekiel 37:12-13
A few summers ago I was at a cookout with a group of friends I know well, with whom I have spent many hours in lawn chairs and on picnic blankets, enjoying holidays and making excuses to party. We were at the point at which the likelihood of having Deep Conversations increases just as surely as the wisdom of having them decreases. I broke off into a side conversation with a particular friend. He had never shown much interest in the religious side of my work or life, so I was surprised when out of the blue he asked me “Why do you believe in the Resurrection?”
And I was just as surprised when I answered without thinking – perhaps without ever having thought of it before – “Because I have seen the Resurrection play out in my own life”. I’m sure I went on to blather and overshare and probably cry a little bit, but that revelation has stuck with me, and I’ve given a lot of thought to whether or not it is true.
Today’s Gospel is one of my favorites. It has strong female characters, high drama, johannine style, and a shout-out to the much maligned apostle Thomas. All that and a happy ending. But why do we tell this story? Why believe any of it? Life’s a b**** and then you die, right? And once you die, you’re dead. To stay.
So let’s start smaller than yanking Lazarus from the tomb after four days. Where else do we rise? I can improve, be happier, be more grace-filled, day after day. I survive when the bottom falls out, and the people around me do too. We don’t survive as dry bones but as living, loving companions, who now know more than we did before. This is unlikely. This is resurrection.
We were made for life. We know this because we cling to it, embrace it, explore it and love it. We were made for life. This is resurrection.
We were made for love. When we grieve our hearts turn inside out, searching for the object of a love so intense that it distracts us and drives us to tears. Our spirits rebel against death, because everything in our nature cries for the continuity of love. Throughout our lives we experience passion and devotion so burning that we know they must be eternal. When love is absent we know that we are incomplete. Love is all that can complete us, and we are dragged toward it all our lives, whether we are brave enough to go toward it or not. Love is what we were made for. This is resurrection.
None of this makes any sense in our fatalistic world. Everything is horrible, we’re told. We are bound for destruction. But resurrection lives in us if only because we fortify ourselves against despair. When the horrid happens it is incomprehensible, because it thwarts the life-bound trajectory of the human heart.
Faith for me is not a matter of certainty, and I’m not going to make claims about an intellectual conviction that I neither seek nor possess. Survival, grace, love: all of these things are evidence to me that death is not the end. How far a leap is it to believe that God endured to die and proved to us that what we think is the end is not the end? God confounds us every day. Should we be surprised when the world flips on its head again and we discover life conquers death?
Seeing, in April, hostas unfurl like arias,
and tulips, white cups inscribed with licks of flame,
gaze feverish, grown almost to my waist,
and the oak raise new leaves for benediction,
I mourn for what does not come back: the movie theater—
reels spinning out vampire bats, last trains,
the arc of Chaplin’s cane, the hidden doorways—
struck down for a fast-food store; your rangy stride;
my shawl of hair; my mother’s grand piano.
How to make it new,
how to find the gain in it? Ask the sea
at sunrise how a million sparks can fly
over dead bones.
– Grace Schulman