The opening out and out,
body yielding body:
through which the new
above its shadow
on the piling up
darkened broken old
husks of itself:
bud opening to flower
opening to fruit opening
to the sweet marrow
of the seed –
from what was, from
what could have been.
What is left
is what is.
“The Broken Ground,” Wendell Berry
Holy Week came this year in the midst of so much unholiness.
Last weekend, only hours after I’d spoken to her, one of my closest friends intentionally overdosed on her medication. She changed her mind in time to put herself on a bus to the hospital, where she woke up a day later. She spent this Holy Week recovering in an isolated psychiatric facility two hours from her home while her dearest friends – unable to contact her – spent the week in tension, waiting, and prayer.
Eventually, she was sent home with a new diagnosis, a new support team of therapists, and a new medication.
But for the rest of us who loved her, we couldn’t escape the obvious question: what if death had the final word in this story?
– – –
Holy Week is a week of story. It is a week where we walk – liturgically, spiritually, communally, personally – through the last days of Jesus.
And it’s intense! I’m struck every year by the sheer power of the narrative, its ups and downs, its shadow and light. It is full of contrast and color and character – from the triumphal palm-laid path into Jerusalem, to the moon-lit agony of Gethsemane, to the sharp betrayal of close friends, to the poignant washing of feet, to the dramatic arrest and execution of a beloved teacher and leader.
The story needs no embellishment, no interpretation, it brings its own drama. Even before you get to the resurrection, the story has been enough to make the stuff of legends.
And then!, an empty tomb and a divine reversal of death. Son of Man is Son of God, and his friends, who have spent the week in tension, waiting, and prayer must still have been reeling with that deep question: what if death had the final word in this story?
– – –
How long does it take for the truth of resurrection to sink in? How long does it take to breathe out the anxiety and fear of waiting and breathe in the hope and promise of new life? How long did it take the followers and friends of Jesus (Like Thomas, who couldn’t exhale his doubt until he could put his own hands on the wounds of Jesus)? How long will it take my friends do uncoil from the near-loss of our friend?
I think of Wendell Berry’s powerful exhortation that we must “practice resurrection.”
Resurrection is not something passive; it will not come into our lives unbidden. It is not something that happens once and is over. It is something that must be woven into the daily life of our communities – into our rituals and liturgies, into our families and vocations, into our conflicts and our celebrations.
Resurrection is something we must practice, lest we lose our nerve and fail to believe that it is, in truth, life that has the final word in this story.
– – –
Jesus is raised some time in the deep mystery of night. No one is there to see it. By the time the women arrive at the tomb Sunday morning, he’s already long gone. “He has gone ahead of you to Galilee,” the angel tells them.
What? Already? The guy couldn’t even wait until morning?
See, Jesus knows that resurrection isn’t something passive. It isn’t something done and over with; it’s something to be lived. The resurrected Jesus is busy; he gets right to work. This resurrection wasn’t for show, it was for purpose.
So, go get everybody else, and get going, the angel tells the women. What you seek is not here. You’ve got to get out there in the world.
But the women, still breathing in fear and doubt, still unpracticed in resurrection, are afraid to speak of this. Even when they do get around to telling the men, the men aren’t quite ready to practice resurrection yet either. They don’t believe them!
But we, my friends, already know the rest of the story. Or, at least, the rest of the story up until this very moment. We are offered the same call as were the friends of Jesus so many years ago: believe. Believe this impossible moment, even before you understand. Breathe in the promise of life, even while the shadow of death lingers. Practice resurrection, even in the moments when you feel conquered.
This is Easter. Let your voice, your heart, your life, sing Alleluia! God be praised. God be praised.