During the weeks following Easter, our church invited speakers to share their answers to the question “What does the resurrection mean to you?” This blog post is a written version of my answer last Sunday, May 1.
The Resurrection is a profoundly personal story. While Paul does record a large-scale appearance of Jesus, most are to individuals and small groups. Jesus appears to Mary in the garden. He speaks with Peter and restores him to relationship. A mysterious figure walks with two disciples but reveals himself to be the risen Jesus. Thomas’ doubts are answered when Jesus appears and invites him to believe.
Among the most personal stories of resurrection occurs before Jesus’ death – the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus, who is with his sisters among Jesus’ closest friends, dies. Jesus travels to the scene of his burial and asserts to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus speaks to the dead Lazarus in his tomb and tells him “Lazarus, come forth!”
May 2011 marked the end of the longest, most painful two-years of my life. Another year of challenge lay ahead. The three worst years of my life were in full swing. I felt, as people often do when life is challenging, that I could not take one more thing. One more burden would crush me. One more crisis would be one too many. And then, without warning, it came.
I was driving to the office after my once-a-month Bible study at the local nursing home. My phone had rung several times during the class but I had muted them until I could get to the office. Then one of my best friends and closest colleagues called. Something was not right. When I answered the phone he asked if I was driving – when I responded “yes” he told me to pull over. “Your dad just died.”
There are moments seared into our memories. Moments whose feeling and details come back in exquisite detail when we allow them to re-enter our consciousness. That phone call is one of them.
I can only describe that moment as a moment when I died in a way. My dad was the person who, in addition to my wife and children, had supported and encouraged me in the hell I was living. He was the human rock, the source of wisdom both practical and spiritual, in my life. And he was gone. And part of me with him.
What I thought was unimaginable grief would deepen. He was alone, at home. On the phone with the 9-1-1 operator, my dad died frightened, alone, and gasping for breath. I had imagined things in my life could not get worse… but they could.
In the days that followed I must confess I wanted to die myself at times. I didn’t sleep well. I was dying inside if not outside.
And then I heard it. My soul was heavy, full of death and pain from months of crisis climaxing in an awful moment of death. And still I heard it. Like dead Lazarus lying in his tomb – insensible to this life, to his friends and family, beyond all caring and hope – the voice of Jesus. “Randy, come forth.” The Resurrection and the Life spoke into my time of death and said “Randy live.” And by his grace and his power, by his presence and his invitation, I did.