This isn't the resurrection I expected.
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
This isn’t the resurrection I expected.
The thought assailed my mind last night, unbidden and dangerous-sounding, fringed as it was with, at best, sulky ingratitude and, at worst, downright sacrilege. This isn’t the resurrection I expected… and, dare I say it? I’m not sure this is the resurrection I’d wanted, nor the one I would’ve designed.
This certainly isn’t the Easter I expected, one devoid of gatherings or embraces or major-key resurrection fist-pumpers. Resurrection seems quieter this year, even as spring pointedly ignores the reality of pandemic, exploding incorrigibly as it always does, blanketing the pastures with soft verdure mottled with pink.
We’re not quite ready this year. We’re not quite in the mood. So if Jesus could possibly wait to rise until a more convenient and felicitous time, a more fitting time, perhaps we think, we’d be much obliged.
Yesterday evening on Good Friday, Steven read Luke 22-24 out loud as the children and I made Easter eggs from construction paper. I listened as the usual players orbited about the Son of Man, condemning themselves in the cavernous expanse of His silence, His brevity: Judas, with his shadowy maneuverings, his treacherous osculation; Pilate, his cool cyncism, his withering regret, his rapidly vanishing humanity as he kowtows to the poisonous principle of Pax Romana yet again; Herod, with his sniveling frivolity, his hunger for the next cheap novelty, the newest shiny thing frustrated as he solicits Jesus for miracles and is met with silence. Herod’s insult is grievous, and his sneering affront quickly breeds violence in the image that always make me cry:
“Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.”
“Mama, why did they dress him in a nice robe? I thought Herod was a villain,” Izzy asked me, sweetly, innocently.
“They were mocking him, babe,” I answered. “They were making fun of him for saying he was a king.”
And just think of it: Herod’s gall at this pauper who claims kingship. Herod had been bred for this; royal blood ran unsoiled through his veins, so he believed. Decadence was his birthright, complicity with and deference to Rome his very minor concession for putative rule over his people. It doesn’t keep him up at nights. But this presumptuous serf, who arrived in his courts already bruised and flayed, dried spit on his face, who refuses to perform parlor tricks for his amusement, yet may.
I awoke this morning, on Holy Saturday, at 3 a.m., as I often do when my period looms, and as I lay in bed on the pretense of falling back asleep my thoughts took on darker and darker shades, lumbering defeatedly down toward the reality that I haven’t been able to get pregnant in the 3 years since my husband’s vasectomy reversal and now likely never will. I could feel PMS mounting – it’s like a dammed river, the fury of my empty womb, once she realizes she’s been stood up yet again, and she invariably demands release in a pressure-cooker paroxysm of tearful rage poured out upon some hapless bystander. Sometimes it’s the faceless customer service guy on the other end of the phone. Sometimes it’s my two precious children or my long-suffering husband. Often, it’s God.
In early March I had surgery to remove an uterine obstruction – a procedure which I’d placed enormous and salvific weight upon, sure it would prove to be the panacea I’d so desperately prayed for, finally sating with pregnancy the grinding, indifferent clockwork of my womb which rolls on month after barren month. Don’t get your hopes up, I told myself, to no avail, as my hopes soared irrepressibly skyward, refusing to be tamped down by the mallet of caution. Hope, it seems - even delusional and misplaced hope - springs eternal.
Yet in the wake of the surgery came dismal blood test results. They seem to indicate while the rest of my body has been cruising down the bunny slope of decay, aging at a perfectly reasonable and steady rate, my ovaries have been giddly shushing down the Black Diamond course, hastening breezily toward their eternal slumber and the end of my “reproductive potential” a good 5-10 years ahead of the rest of us (I use the royal “we” here to refer to myself and the rest of my loyal organs, who have yet to betray me).
I cried. I wept. I felt EXACTLY like Ma Ingalls in that episode of Little House where Doc Baker tells her that the absence of menstruation which she mistook for pregnancy was actually menopause and she staggers down the road, bereft and babbling about what her worth could possibly be if she can’t produce children before collapsing beneath a tree to a maudlin score of low, tense stringed instruments.
In the black of the night, in Gethsemane’s thrall, hope seems a small brittle thing, especially when it’s been placed where it doesn’t belong. I know this. Yet I wrestle with the idea that we are to put our hope in Christ alone. What does this mean, I sometimes wonder? How does it manifest in our lived reality, how does such hope both undergird our very life, shaping and informing our desires, and furnish the holy werewithal, the glimmers of a far greater future glory, to keep up running our race of faith? Does hoping in Christ alone mean never hoping for any specific outcome?
Yes. No. Yes and no. Once a friend told me she’d given up on praying for anything other than discernment in any given situation, which made me desperately sad. It seems a desolate place, asking so little of the living God, not that discernment is to be trivialized, but can we imagine Jesus asking for the bare minimum while drops of blood coagulated in the dust below Him in Gethsemane’s cool hush while His only friends snored untroubledly through His anguish?
Perhaps it is sometimes a means to steel ourselves against disappointment, asking for so little, or avowing through gritted teeth that our hope is in Christ alone in a way that has no connection to our lives here on Earth. But His goodness, His body and His blood, is our very sustenance. “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” David avers in Psalm 27.
I wish, I wish. I wish I could go to church tomorrow. I wish I could hear a sermon delivered by our real live three-dimensional pastor and feel the Holy Spirit surge among us. I wish we could sing the songs in our flawed, off-key voices and mean it and have such imperfect yowlings rise to heaven where they sound like richly jeweled, honeyed harmonies to our Father just because we are His children. I wish I could feel the roughhewn, gnarled hand of Jim the rancher tomorrow as he takes mine warmly in his and be wrapped up in the warm grandmotherly embrace of Miss Kay and just generally frustrate the limits of “greeting time” such as our Pastor starts pointedly strumming his guitar.
I wish the simple gift of holy touch hadn’t been rendered dangerous by an invisible strand of rogue DNA.
I wish my womb were filled with life instead of polyps, that it grew actual babies instead of counterfeit ones.
I wish it were resurrection time on my terms, but it isn’t. It’s not the resurrection I expected. It may not even be the resurrection I thought I wanted, the dream I had held close and coddled and enshrined in my heart as an idol.
No, many of us aren’t getting the resurrection we want this Easter. But a wild hope plays about the edges of disappointment: maybe we’re getting the resurrection we need. It’s not showy, it’s not bombastic, it’s not glittering with abundance and pageantry as Easters past may have. It’s quiet and slow and spacious. It almost seems less a resurrection to things to come than an awakening to the extravagant gifts already here: the brazen magenta of the redbud tree in my front yard. The blessed ability to work with my hands to (attempt to, anyway) make beautiful things that glorify God. And the treasure of Steven, of my marriage, and the two wondrous children we already have.
There may be no more babies, but I’ll probably keep asking, because Jesus told me to. But He also told me to give no thought for the morrow because my Father loves me, and to take up the cross and follow Him, trusting by faith that where He leads is always Love.
Maybe we are learning that hoping in Christ alone is neither giving up on asking for things nor putting all our eggs in the basket of a particular outcome (you’re welcome – thought you could use an Easter pun), but embracing contentment and thus uncovering the treasure of what He has already provided.
As Paul writes in 1 Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” Or, as The Message puts it: “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.”
I’ve been walking with my dear friend Christina many evenings during quarantine (we stay a reasonable distance apart, just in case you wonder). Christina is single and childless after a short-lived abusive marriage in her 20s and is now suffering the maddening back-and-forth of perimenopause. The other night I talked of my confusion over how many years I’ve prayed for another child with no answer. “I just don’t know what God wants me to feel or do or think,” I whined.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she spoke of how she prayed for many years for God to give her another husband and children. Finally, she resigned, and claimed Isaiah 54:5 as her own: “Your husband is your maker.” She wears a glittering diamond on her ring finger and if ever anyone inquires about her husband, she answers “Jesus is my husband,” which elicits plenty of raised eyebrows.
I was cowed, humbled. I have two children, Christina has none. I know women with eight children, I only have two. Yet over each one of us He rejoices with song, and His banner over each of us is always love.
Christina still longs, sometimes. I do, too. Who knows, perhaps the women with eight children do as well. Many of our hungers are human and God-given, not evil. But always we hunger for more. The world would have us believe that gain is gain, that quantity is paramount, that the cruel sting of deprivation endures. Perhaps it does. But so does the love of God, and it endures all things and it endures forever.
It isn’t the resurrection I expected, this. It isn’t the ending I thought I needed. If I had it my way, and I think, too, if the disciples had had it their way, we would have bypassed the darkness of Golgotha entirely. Toward the resurrection itself, the disciples seem to behave with barely suppressed bafflement (let’s be honest, they kinda do that throughout the Gospels).
I can almost hear Peter incredulously interrogating the breathless women, doubled over and heaving from the sprint back from the empty tomb: He what?! He’s where?! It isn’t the resurrection they expected, you see, even though Lord knows He told them over and over again exactly what would happen.
And I think we still look at Easter with some bafflement, wondering all that it might mean, especially an Easter like this. I wish I had more answers than questions. I wish, I wish. But I know this is promised: because He is risen, the best is yet to come. I don’t know all it means but I know it means something monumental, something seen through a mirror darkly but which still dazzles and casts off glittering rays, as a colorful fish beneath babbling water shot with sunlight, as a peripheral glance of the trail of His robes whisking around a corner, seen but not seen.
And I catch hold of it again for a moment, just: not the resurrection I expected or wanted, but the resurrection I need, the promise of future glory beyond anything we can ask for or imagine.