My God, my God, this scene is long
Remember Game of Thrones? About 6 years ago Jon Snow got resurrected.
I can’t make sense of the well-blended pastiche of Western Culture that is GOT. But I can tell you John Snow’s resurrection was quite a media event. It was such a common topic SNL made fun of it (in an unfunny skit). The point of the skit is that the scene was incredibly slow.
The resurrection scene was so laborious and long that it was kind of boring, especially since you knew if they started it they were going to finish it. “Just get on with it and let’s do dragons!”
Resurrection is so much the essential Christian event, having it rendered on TV made me queasy. But I think many church people could relate to a laborious drama leading to resurrection: “Lent then Holy Week?!” Most people decided a long time ago that processs is just too much. “Just get on with it and get to the resurrection!”
One of my favorite quotes from Paul Tournier’s book, Creative Suffering, is “All liberating growth takes time.” I think it makes sense that Lent is long. We are not instantly ready for resurrection. It has to grow on us — and in us.
But I can feel it when people say, “It seems like my whole life is Lent and there are only random moments of resurrection!” The whole Christian year, even, feels like that — we have an incarnation day and a resurrection day, then a whole lot of trouble in between. It just does not seem right.
Hearing that kind of complaint in myself and others, I tried to listen to it hard. I came to another question: What if the suffering is not long, it is the resurrection that is slow? What if we just need to reframe the issue? Are we really bored? Or are we just resistant to the creative suffering we need to endure to develop. Like Tournier implies, it takes time. What if our slow resurrection is a good journey after all?
It did take a couple of days for Jesus to get to resurrection himself, after all.
The church doesn’t teach this much any more, but the “harrowing of hell” was an exciting topic for centuries during the early days of the church. The story goes like this. Between his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus used the “keys of death and Hades” he holds (Revelation 1:18) to free righteous people from the past who were waiting for the Messiah. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9) – the lower parts were understood to be the “abode of the dead,” a place Greeks called “Hades.” The Apostle Peter tells us that Jesus “preached to the dead” (1 Peter 4:6) and “to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18). Their “Lent” was long!
On Holy Saturday – the day before Jesus’ resurrection, the scene of Jesus descending into Hades (or Hell) was often vividly described in the old days. Jesus unlocks the door to Hades to announce his victory over death, Satan, and all the powers of Hell. He then releases Adam and Eve and all the “just” who were waiting for their redemption. A number of paintings and icons, especially from the Eastern churches, depict the scene. Christus Victor!
If you feel like your resurrection is taking too long, welcome to humanity. But I hope you can see that Jesus came to find you and walk with you on your long jounrey a long time ago. He is with you in the time between your death by sin and your entrance into the fullness of your resurrection life. He has descended to your level, too.
We’d prefer it to be instant, like everything else.
When I was in the Baptist church as a child, we highly anticipated the song we would sing every Easter: Up From the Grave He Arose, we called it. The tune for that line felt very dramatic and everyone sang it loud, which was exciting.
It is an instant song, “Well then, up from the grave he arose. Just like that!” As if Mary ran and told the disciples, “I was just weeping by the tomb and up from the grave he arose!” It kind of implies we ought to be rising up just like that too. I think some of us have. But for the rest of us, our partner doesn’t look at us and say, “Well, will you look at that, you rose!” We may, in fact, be more resurrected than we were last year, but sometimes it feels like the same damned things keep happening. That’s slow.
We may think, “Why is this scene so slow! Let’s pep this up. Make something happen; I am at the end of my attention span!” At least quit talking and sing a song! Singing Up From the Grave He Arose can still revive my interest. I’m glad Easter comes to keep me engaged in my own process of getting a life.
By the way, my childhood song has a worldwide following. I wish the Indians below did not look like they had been recently colonized, but I still find their sincerity irresistible.
I have to say these regular Americans singing it are much more my wavelength. This is how you should sing the old song, IMO.
Development takes time
All liberating growth takes time. My psychotherapy and spiritual direction clients are experiencing slow resurrection. It is always amazing to watch a loved one dip their toes into their mental and spiritual health and then be drawn into deep currents of love and hope. The writer of Ted Lasso and Shrinking recently had an interview on NPR in which he talked about his own slow resurrection of sorts. It is happening everywhere, right now, and is happening in many of you reading this.
Resurrection is more a relentless growing. Hope is not instantly accrued. I think the Apostle Paul is sharing his own experience when he says:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Hope takes time. Sharing the glory of God develops. But when that grace has taken root and been nurtured, it has a way of sinking in. Resurrection is like the roots of the best kind of weed trees growing through our concrete defenses, finding a path to dirt and water through stones, harrowing parts of us that just need more light and air.
When we think of “harrowing,” we often think of some traumatic experience: “Saw III was harrowing!” But the word comes from a herding practice. Harrowing is removing dead thatch, which lifts vegetation up and levels mole hills. So we’re saying, Saw III really stirred me up and flattened me!” The process allows the turf to breathe and water to penetrate. It reduces disease by exposing fungi and bacteria to sunlight which is essential for the health of the pasture. Like Jesus was stirring up hell, his Spirit is harrowing us and bringing light to our darkness.
In the quote above, Paul is encouraging people in a young church in very uncertain times to stick with it. Turn toward sureness, not certainty. Turn toward being assured — saying, “Sure,” not being right. Be watched over. Stand in the grace and turn into the hope of the fulness of glory that is already here and yet to come. Learn to trust it.
If we go into every day turning toward hope, I think each day can surprise us with resurrection: “Thank you God. Up from the grave I arose. Up from the grave she arose. My God! There is hope for everyone!” I have spent a couple of hard years learning that lesson, again. I keep talking about Mahalia Jackson singing about how God sent the angel and said, “Touch her.” And she sang, “I rose up this morning and I want to thank God!”
Each day may seem like it is long: arguing with a mate, being abused or discriminated against, failing, feeling ashamed or disappointing, fearful. It can all feel SO long! But each morning we rise up! Hope can be reborn and strengthened! Jesus is risen!