Bp. Mariann: “Poised for Resurrection”
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
If, in some part of your life right now, you feel as if you’re being asked to do what you cannot do, or to become more than you are; if you feel as if you need to grow into the demands of what lies beyond you;1
If you feel as if parts of your life have been stripped away, or if you yourself have walked away from what was a once part of your identity and you wonder what comes next;
If your heart has been broken and you wonder if you’ll ever love again; if you feel the weight of a burden or a habit that no longer suits you but to which you’ve grown accustomed;
If you have internalized messages born of bigotry or intolerance that have led you to believe that you are less than a beloved child of God but feel yourself chafing against that lie, or if you have watched long enough to the ways the dominant culture perpetuates injustice and inequality even if you are in a place of privilege;
if you feel drawn either by vocation or temperament to where there is great suffering, because of suffering you have known
it could be that you are poised for resurrection.
Poised for resurrection has a positive ring to it, especially on Easter morning. And it is a
good thing, arguably the best that can happen to us. But initially the goodness is hard to fathom.
For to be poised for resurrection means that a part of you has died. Before your physical death to be poised for resurrection means that you’ve lived through the death of something else, be it a dream, a way of life, someone or something you love. You are acquainted with grief and the weight of disappointment. You’ve let go of any illusion that life as you once knew it or hoped for is possible.
But that doesn’t mean you’ve let go just yet of the life you knew and loved or longed for because everything about you is still patterned toward it. Muscle memory, if nothing else, leads you back to what is no more. Think of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest friends, approaching his tomb in the darkness of early morning. There was no doubt in her mind that he was dead. She had watched him die. But where else could she possibly go that morning except to where his body lay?
So the first thing to know about being poised for resurrection is that the seeds of new life will not be apparent to you at first, and the first inkling that something has changed, is changing, or could change will occur to you as you are still circling around the life that is gone. In other words, you, like Mary, are walking toward resurrection while it’s still dark.
Life that comes to us after death begins tentatively, as it should. For it to be otherwise—big and brassy—would make light of what we’ve lost, as if the life before didn’t matter or was simply prelude to something else, and we know that’s not true. I suppose the farther removed we are from the memory death, the more likely we are to forget the impact of it, but when the experience is fresh, we can’t minimize it or say, that somehow resurrection is worth the cost of what has been lost.
Our first response to life rising out of the ashes is typically hesitant and confused. Again, think of Mary and the others at the empty tomb. We speak of joy on the first Easter morning and there was joy, but not exuberance. Joy after death is like the sun breaking on the horizons of a long dark night, and it’s all mixed up, at first, with disorientation and fear. We don’t move toward it right away, because we’re still holding on to what we’ve lost. What does Jesus say to Mary? “Don’t hold on to me.” Poised for resurrection, we have to let something precious go. But it feels so strange. When the feeling of being alive returns we aren’t sure if it’s alright to experience joy again.
Thus while new life begins without our awareness or consent, eventually it is something we must choose. The educator and author Parker Palmer writes with excruciating honesty of his descent into clinical depression, which lasted over a year. When, at last, he could begin to feel and imagine embracing life again, he realized that a part of him didn’t want to. “One the most painful discoveries I made in the midst of the dark woods was that a part of me wanted to stay depressed. As long as I clung to this living death, life was easier; little was expected of me, certainly not serving other people.” 2 He had to choose to live again.
I find for myself that habits play as much a part in my reluctance to choose resurrection as anything else. Habits—patterns of thinking and being in the world that I’m accustomed to and don’t have to think much about, but are, in the end, no longer necessary and certainly not life giving. This Holy Week I heard as clearly as I’ve heard anything, “Aren’t you tired of this? Why don’t you lay your habits down and consider new possibilities?” I felt poised for resurrection.
In the name of God, I say to one and all poised for resurrection: Why don’t we decide, right now, to take the plunge and let joy in? This joy doesn’t deny or minimize what we’ve gone through or all that we once loved and hoped for and is no more. This is resurrected joy, which takes our losses and transforms them, allowing us to sing a new song with resonance to all that was and is and could be.
There is such a deficiency of joy all around us, and so much pain. There is tremendous need for the healing graces that come from those who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and have, by grace, come out on the other side, only to return to the valley in order to show others the way. You could be that person. We all could. Imagine the possibilities.
We know what resurrected life looks like.
We see it in the woman who, after twenty–five years, chooses to forgive the man who murdered her sister and brother–in–law when he was a teenager. Prompted by her
Christian faith, says his name in prayer for the first time and then visits him in prison, allowing him to express the remorse he could not feel at the time of the killing.3
We see it in the man who, at the pinnacle of his career, was diagnosed with ALS and who learned to forgive his body and chose to live well while dying. He invited others into his vulnerability through writing and conversations, thereby allowing them the space to accept their own. While confined to a wheelchair and able to breathe only aided by a machine, he spoke of the beauty in his life. We Know How This Ends he would say. And its still possible to live well.4
We see resurrected life in the ones who choose to walk toward the fire rather than away from it; who refuse to serve injustice through complacency, who offer help while others complain; who persist in peacemaking and works of compassion and forgiveness.
We see resurrected life, first and foremost in Jesus. He faced his death with such dignity and grace, refusing to meet violence with violence, rejecting the role of victim, forgiving those who crucified him and ensuring from the cross that the relationships that mattered most to him would continue. Mother, behold your son. Son behold your mother. Everything about the way Jesus died brought into clearer focus all that he stood for while he lived.5
After his death, God raised him–words that as I say them I’m not entirely sure what they mean, except as evidenced by the grace and power his resurrected presence gave his followers. His resurrected presence enabled them to rise from their grief and shame. In his name, they went on to change the world.
That presence and power and love—his presence—is here for us, too. If you are poised
for resurrection, he knows. And he knows what you’ve been through to reach this place. He wants you to know that he’s here for you, to walk before you toward a new life. And he’s inviting you to join him in changing the world for those who long for peace, forgiveness, and justice as much as you do. And through you it will be possible for them. Imagine the possibilities We can do this, by the grace and power of God. Imagine if we all did this.
Are you ready? Are we ready? If we’re poised for resurrection, what’s keeping us from
deciding right now to trust him and take the resurrection plunge? What’s keeping us from following him and changing the world?
1 Question Educator Bruce Kramer asked himself in learning to live with ALS (quoted on the radio show On
Being with Krista Tippett, March 29, 2015)
2 Parker Palmer, Let Your LIfe Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: JosseyBass,
3 Jeanne Bishop, Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 2015)
4 Bruce Kramer (with Kathy Werzer), We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2015)
5 James Carroll, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age (New York: Viking Press, 2014)