by Ryan Cagle
Can I come out and say it? Sometimes resurrection takes too damn long.
In my current season of life, I can not help but identify with Martha, the sister of Lazarus. You know the one who ran to meet Jesus when he decided it would be a good idea to show up four days after the death of his friend? The Martha who confronts Jesus on the outskirts of the city to ask him “where the hell have you been?” and to remind him (on the off chance he may have forgotten) he was the Messiah. Lazarus would still be alive if he had come when they sent for him. Her brother would still be alive if he had come when they sent for him.
Easter is long gone and Lent even further in the past. We are weeks past Golgotha, the cross, and the death of God. We have passed from there to the empty tomb, to the resurrection, to the hope of new life on the other side of Good Friday. But If I am being honest, It feels like I keep showing up to an occupied tomb.
The stone still in place.
The guards still keeping their post.
No angelic messengers waiting to speak the good news of the risen Christ.
During the first week of Lent, I received the news the church that employed me wanted to part ways. This news came as a massive blow to me and my family. This was more than our livelihood. This was a place I took a chance on after years of not being able to sit through a church service without having an anxiety attack. This was the fresh start, this was to be resurrection but it turned out to be another Good Friday.
Two years ago I was hanging by a thread. Depressed, broken, grieving the loss of three loved ones in less than a years time, and coming up short at what felt like every turn.
I longed to find a faith community I could dig my roots down into: one where I could use my gifts, one where I could wrestle with God, laugh, doubt, cry, and flourish. Overworked, sleep deprived and living on antidepressants, I had spent the last several years doing my best to dress my wounds and find healing after years of church ministry and relationships crumbled to pieces before my eyes. After finally feeling like the sun was coming up and I had healed enough I decided to step back into vocational ministry.
I found myself discovering life where I once lost it.
Finding breath for my lungs in the same place that had once stolen it.
Finding healing in the same place that had once left me so wounded.
But with the arrival of Lent came news that left me gasping for air. I do not think if I tried, I could have ever found myself more in the heart of the Lenten season than I am today. Flannery O'Connor once said, “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket when of course, it is the cross.” and as much as I wish she was wrong I can not help but think Lent comes to remind us of this truth;
Death comes to every one of our doors whether we like it or not and there is no other way but through.
It is the cycle of life, after all. Things must die, so others can live. Things must come to an end, so others can begin. This is not easy and unfortunately, The Spirit seems to have no intention of handing out electric blankets along the way to Golgotha's summit. A hard pill to swallow, I am convinced that resurrection requires one thing: death.
Jesus tells us if a grain of wheat does not fall to the earth it will remain alone.
Sometimes, in the dark of night, it seems like the morning never comes. Others, it seems like as soon as Easter sun breaks the horizon, we find ourselves right back on the hill of skulls. I can not help but think this is what it means to be born again. To find ourselves in this constant cycle of life and death. To follow Jesus into the wilderness. To bear the weight of endings, so we can know true beginnings. To be like those regarded as dying, yet are still, somehow living.
Sometimes, people, we love die. Sometimes, we work our fingers to the bone and still do not get the promotion we thought we deserved. Sometimes, we get bad reports from the doctor. Sometimes, we lose things we thought we could not live without. Sometimes, our lives fall apart. We lose our home, our jobs, the bills keep coming, there are not enough hours in the day. We lose sleep, have anxiety attacks, dread waking up in the morning, and the list goes on and on. We find ourselves wondering how in the world we ended up in this godforsaken place feeling so dead.
We cry, scream, pray, curse, and drink and hope to find some way to distract ourselves, because sometimes, shit happens and sometimes, that shit is too much to deal with.
Unfortunately, death is an inevitable, inexplicable, and a necessary part of life. Our solar system came into being in the wake of the violent death of a star. Everything we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are here because something else before it died to give it life. The whole universe sings this bitter-sweet song of death and resurrection.
Sometimes shit happens; inexplicable, tough, life-altering, ugly face crying, depressing, hurtful shit.
The good news is sometimes so does resurrection.
Keep showing up to the tomb.
Keep hoping to find the stone no longer in place.
Keep hoping for the chance to ask Jesus “Where the hell have you been?”