Signs of Resurrection
I’m seeking signs of resurrection, on the theory that looking might help me to see. The women who sought after Jesus’ body on that first Easter morning did not expect to see an empty tomb, but they would have missed it entirely if they had not gone looking. The trouble is, there is no empty tomb in my backyard, so I have to look for other signs. What does resurrection look like, anyhow?
Jesus refers to resurrection (the hour when he is glorified) as a grain of wheat that dies, but then it bears much fruit (John 12:24–25). Similarly, the apostle Paul compares resurrection to a perishable seed that is sown in the earth and raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42–44).
I recall these promises of transformation every year in the waning days of fall. In our part of the country we plant spring flowering bulbs at about the same time that our summer garden is dying.
As we pull up the spent tomato and pepper plants, lamenting the end of our tasty harvest, we bury crocus, tulip, and daffodil bulbs deep into the earth. Covered in mulch and looking more like dirt clods than potential blossoms, the bulbs hide within them our hopes for future garden glory.
When the first crocus petals emerge in early spring, we dare to believe that winter might not last forever, even if snow still covers the ground. By the time daffodils emerge, daylight lengthens, and the promise becomes a reality. The garden lives!
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain,” Jesus says, “but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Resurrection promises transformation still to come. (back to top)
Every year at Easter my former congregation strung rows of paper butterflies across the ceiling of the sanctuary as a symbol of new life in Jesus Christ. The butter- flies were beautiful. Well, at least some were beautiful, those that were decorated by congregational members who possessed artistic ability or a keen eye for design. In fact most of the butterflies were rather ordinary, a soaring testimony to those of us with no sense for colors or for the dangers of excess glitter.
To be honest, I always preferred those ordinary butterflies flying in the paper canopy overhead. Resurrection in Christ is not a reward for earthly beauty, or for brains, or dollar bills. And not even for quilts sewn, nor prayer shawls knitted, no matter for what good cause. Instead, the resurrection was and is God’s amazing gift for ordinary, sinful, caterpillarish people like me. And like you.
In resurrection God says to all of us, “You are beautiful. You are loved. You are mine.”
I recall another Easter, this one nearly 40 years ago. My father, a field veterinarian for his state’s Department of Agriculture, had been exposed to rabies while perform- ing a necropsy (similar to a human autopsy, to discover the cause of death) on a dead cow. It was a massive exposure, and tests indicated that standard treatments had not halted the virus in my father’s body. Dad received emergency approval for an experimental treatment, but due to the holiday weekend, the serum could not be delivered until the Monday following Easter.
In those days, death from rabies was virtually certain once symptoms emerged, beginning with head- ache, anxiety, and thirst. Every time my father fetched a glass of water during that long weekend of waiting, we assumed the worst. I was thankful for the people who sang at church that Easter Sunday, as my fear at losing my dad overpowered my ability to confess that Jesus was raised from the dead. I needed their alleluias when I could not sing my own. I gained new empathy for the first disciples, who had no idea what awaited them as they huddled in their grief during the first Holy Saturday between the crucifixion and the empty tomb.
Monday morning came, and with it delivery of the serum. The life-saving treatment transformed our perceptions. Requests for water no longer signaled imminent death, but rather a thirst for life. Anxiety and headache now appeared to us as relatively harmless signals that my father needed a break, not as a time for us to plan a funeral. My father survived and went on to practice veterinary medicine for another 30 years until his age and failing health caught up with him.
His story reminds me of Lazarus, whom Jesus raises from the dead as a visible sign of the new life that is ours through the Word made flesh (John 11). When Lazarus emerges from the tomb, the grave clothes cling to his body--a reminder, perhaps, that biological death remains a part of his resurrection story, just as it does for my father and for the rest of us. We live in that time between the times, heirs of Christ’s resurrection, and yet still awaiting the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).
Nevertheless, resurrection life abounds, giving courage to overcome our fear. Whenever a community stands in solidarity with those who grieve; whenever a parent discerns when to hold tight and when to let go; whenever we trust in God more than we trust in our own ability to control outcomes . . . these are signs that the resurrection power of God in Christ is active in this world. (back to top)
My favorite resurrection story begins with a toy nativity—Holy Family, two shepherds, three kings, assorted animals, and a single angel—a gift from beloved grand- parents to a couple of unchurched children named Frances and Georgie. “Aunt Audrey,” the twins beg, “Tell us the story that goes with these people.”
At one end of the coffee table we place the stable full of animals: a cow, a donkey, and a plastic dinosaur contributed at the last moment by one of the children. Mary and Joseph stand at the other end of the table as we place the pair of shepherds and a sheep “out in the fields” on the sofa. The three kings and their camel wait on the piano across the room. An angel lounges on the floor. For now, baby Jesus, looking so much like an acorn in a white cocoon, remains safe and warm in Frances’ pocket.
“The Gospel of Luke tells about a young woman named Mary and a man named Joseph,” I begin. “One day an angel shows up and announces that God is going to give them a baby.”
“What’s an angel?” Georgie wants to know.
“Angel is a Greek word that means messenger,” I respond, ever the seminary professor. “An angel is a messenger from God.” Frances rescues the toy angel from her place on the floor and dances her in front of Mary and Joseph. “Then what happens?” she asks.
“Everybody has to return to their hometown to be counted, so Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem and look for a place to stay.” Georgie moves the toy figurines along the length of the coffee table as I continue the story. “They can’t find a room anywhere, so when the baby is born they put him in a manger, which is the animals’ food trough.”
I tell how angels announce the good news to the shepherds, who are watching their sheep over there on the sofa—I mean, out in the fields!—and how the shepherds are so happy at seeing the baby that they sing. Then I add details from the Gospel of Matthew about gifts brought by wise men from the piano, er, from the East, and how a cruel king forces the family to run away to Egypt when he orders all the babies to be killed. Georgie and Frances move the figurines to act out the details of the nativity story. “Before long,” I conclude, “the baby grows up, does lots of wonderful things, and shows people how much God loves them.” By now, I assume, my tech-savvy niece and nephew are probably ready to put Bible stories aside and play a computer game. But they have other ideas.
“Then what happens?” Frances asks. (back to top)
Then I continue with episodes from the gospels. When Jesus (represented by one of the wise men) calls people to follow him, the miniature versions of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds stand in for disciples. They are with him on the boat (a shoe- box) when Jesus stills the wind and the waves. The angel acts as the Good Samaritan in that parable and one of the shepherds gets lowered through the roof by his friends so that Jesus can make him well. For good measure, I throw in a couple of episodes from the Gospel of John, including the time at Cana when Jesus keeps a party going by turning water into wine.
I tell about Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem, and how I’ve touched the huge stones in the wall of the Temple that he visited. “You’ve actually been there?” Georgie exclaims. “Then it’s true!” I continue through the story of Jesus’ final days: confrontations with people who are in charge, betrayal, arrest, and trial. Peter’s denial. And, finally, crucifixion.
These children already know something about death and dying, having buried a favorite pet and loving their grandfather through his long end-of-life journey. Still, wanting to avoid painful details, I say only that crucifixion means death on a cross. “What’s a cross?” they ask. Gulp.
We collect a couple of small sticks from the yard, and I show them what a cross looks like. I place a toy figurine on top. They ask more questions, so I tell about the spikes holding Jesus to the wood.
Frances presses herself against me. “Why do they do that?” she asks, nearly crying. “He didn’t do anything wrong!” Her brother’s eyes barely peek out from behind the sofa, where he has hidden since I explained about the cross. His voice starts to quiver. “. . .then what happens?”
I tell how Jesus’ friends bury him and roll a big rock across the opening to the tomb, and how the women go later and discover that the tomb is empty. I tell about an angel in the garden who gives a message to tell the disciples.
At this news Georgie’s head rises up from behind the sofa. His whisper contains the faintest breath of hope. “Then what happens?”
“Well” I say. “God has something really great in store—an amazing and wonderful surprise. God loves the whole world so much that God doesn’t let Jesus stay dead!”
Frances stares at me, her mouth wide open. Georgie jumps up from behind the sofa, astounded at this incredible turn of events. “You mean . . . he’s alive?!?”
Together, they shout. “Then what happens?!!!” The answer to their question remains unwritten, even as it has been recorded for all time. Transformation, beauty, life and story: glimpses of resurrection abound when we know what to look for. What signs of resurrection do you see?
Audrey West is the author of Gather’s 2012–13 Bible study, “Gathered by God.” Her husband, Frank Crouch, is a Moravian pastor. Audrey is a good friend of current Bible study author and Moravian Bishop Kay Ward.To read more Gather articles, subscribe now. As a subscriber, you can also view Gather online, as an app on your iPad, on your Android device and on your Kindle Fire. To request a free copy of the magazine, contact us.