Between Death & Resurrection – a personal reflection
We tend to rush past the Saturday. Good Friday has happened. Jesus is crucified, forsaken, it is finished. Death has taken place. And then we’re onto Resurrection Sunday. The grave is empty. He’s alive. We celebrate. But what happened to Saturday. Our more ancient liturgies honour it, but we are more inclined to ignore it today. But that in between time is important.
I was there in 2001. Such a significant personal tragedy rocked everything including my faith. I fell out with God. Not an easy place to be when you’re employed by the Church. But there I was, holding God responsible for the deep hurt I was feeling and I needed to say goodbye, death had happened. But emotionally I saw no way forward. Resurrection seemed a long way away. That in between place. Learning how to live between death and resurrection is an important discipline. And we are often there.
I was last there in 2016. A combination of over work and team difficulties left me completely burnt out. And eventually after exploring how it could be better moving forward it was clear it couldn’t be, so I resigned from a post I had given my all to. Something had died. But no sign of a resurrection. That in between place.
I have no doubt that I’ll be there again at some point. And no doubt that you’ve been there too. Something important to us dies, a relationship, a job, an individual. Death has happened. Feelings of hurt, pain, loss fight for prominence, dominating our every thought. Something died, there is no hope of resurrection yet. That in between place.
There are no shortcuts, no superficial fixes, we have to walk an emotional journey from death to resurrection. And it is rare for us to get there in a day. It can take weeks, months, sometimes years. But we can get there. We’ve all been there, and unfortunately I have no doubt that there will be a time when we have to go there again. But allow me for the briefest time to share with you some thoughts on how we can best walk that path.
- We Buy ourselves time
In my situation of personal loss, I requested a substantial period of time off work. In my more recent situation, I negotiated that I hand in my resignation in return for 12 months of salary and the gift of being able to stay in the accommodation for the same period of time. We need time just to be.
And that phrase, just to be, is so important. If you are anything like me, the first thing you will do is try and construct your own resurrection. Or at least look for revenge on those who caused the death! But as RT Kendall wrote, ““You can have revenge or revival, you can’t have both.” So, it is the move to a certain way of being. Bréne Brown puts it like this:
This is the moment. Don’t do anything. Just breathe and find your way through it. Don’t hide out. Don’t suck up. Don’t fight back. Don’t talk, type or make contact with anyone until you are back on your feet. You’ll be ok.
And Thomas Merton put it like this:
Don’t be worried about what is happening or not happening,
about what seems to be going on on the surface.
Hand that over to God, and believe that below the surface
your mind and will and heart are being drawn
into a place where God is at work.
Only pray that he will use the time in His own way.
God is the source of your prayer.
2. We remind ourselves of who we are in Christ
Henri Nouwen wrote the words, “You are loved. To believe anything else is to believe a lie.” Worth reminding ourselves of this every day, but even more so between death and resurrection. And those wonderful words from Bréne Brown:
This hurt, was disappointing and at times devastating. But apparent success and the need for recognition and approval are not the things that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous.
And so we walk. Slowly and carefully. With no guarantee that we’re going in the right direction. But we walk. Thomas Merton again:
God don’t know where I am going, or if I am on the right path, but I want to be, and I know you will bless that attitude.”
Remembering the promise, Romans 6:10-11, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.” And maybe surprisingly (possibly accidentally) given the circumstances, the disciples present us with a good example. What did they do when they were between death and resurrection? They fished! They went back to the familiar. The place where they felt safe and comfortable. In the midst of it all I went on a preaching tour in Australia and then later a similar tour in New Zealand. It may seem counter intuitive, but it was the place I felt safe and secure and affirmed. And the fact that I was 12,000 miles away helped too!
3. We involve others in our journey
We have to swallow pride and acknowledge that we can’t do this on our own. It is important to be part of a loving Christian Community. But sometimes the nature of these things means that even that is lost to us. Fortunately, I had a strong supportive family and a good spiritual director who had stood with me for many years already. But I also found myself a good Christian counsellor, a lot had happened. I was still carrying questions from 2001 and I needed to ask serious questions about what within me had caused me to work to that point beyond exhaustion. My relationship with church hierarchy had been seriously undermined and I was carrying intense feelings of betrayal. It all needed to be talked through, brought into the light and properly looked at. I was going to walk this path and I needed help to do it. I also spent a little more time than usual with the Northumbria Community who have stitched me back together quite a few times over the decades. We need others.
4. And then suddenly, resurrection comes
And then we step forward and one day the miracle has happened and our spirit is revived. Except of course this particular suddenly may have taken many months or many years, but eventually we experience again the promise of 1 Peter 5:10,
No quick results, no instant fixes, it takes a while. But don’t miss the miracle. Something incredibly special has happened. Those of us who keep journals can see it most easily, and you’ll see it if you track the detail of the gospel narrative. After the resurrection it was still clearly Jesus. He talked and walked and ate with his disciples. But he was also different. Changed. Resurrected.
And there’s the wonderful truth of it. You and I at the end of the process are of course the same people, but we are changed. Maybe in subtle ways, maybe more profound. But God has used the entire process to work everything to the good. To intermingle everything and make you a better you than before.
I’m hoping one day to be like Thomas Merton’s serene disciple. But that’s a long journey and undoubtedly will have more deaths and resurrections. But what is clear, being a follower of Jesus and journeying through death and resurrection means, as Merton states, “to be ordinary is not a choice.”
I hope this Easter reflection proves useful and allow me to leave you with the words of Thomas Merton from that rather special poem:
When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.
What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.
- Bréne Brown quotes from Daring Greatly (Penguin Random House, 2015)
- RT Kendall Quote from Total Forgiveness (Hodder, 2018)
- Thomas Merton Quotes from:
- Asian Journals (New Directions, 1973)
- Spiritual Direction and Meditation (Liturgical Press, 1960)
- Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions, 1980)
Main Photo: Pentre Ifan, Pembrokshire