This is a true story from the magazine, The Christian Century:
“Years ago, the brilliant but cantankerous Baptist preacher Carlyle Marney was speaking to some students at a Christian college. At one point a student asked, “Dr. Marney, would you say a word or two about the resurrection of the dead?” Marney replied, ‘I will not discuss the resurrection with people like you: I don’t discuss such things with anyone under 30. Look at you all: in the prime of your life. Never have you known honest-to-God failure, heartburn, physical problems, solid defeat, brick walls or mortality. You’re extremely apt and handsome—white kids who have never in all your lives been 30 miles from home, or 20 minutes into the New Testament, or more than a mile and a half from a Baptist or Methodist church, or within a thousand miles of any issue that mattered to a kingdom that matters. So, what can you know of a world that makes sense only if Christ is raised?'”
My point? Without suffering, can we make sense of the Resurrection?
What compels the Maccabean mother to watch her seven sons die slowly at the hands of torturers? They refuse to eat pork and violate the covenant of God. In turn, one by one, they lose their limbs, their tongues, their skin and their very lives for the sake of the Mosaic covenant. In their torture, it is their mother who encourages them to persevere. Her bravery is honored in a stain-glass window of the renovated cathedral of Christ the King in Superior, WI. She stands tall and triumphant with an arm around a palm branch and her hands holding a shield named fortitude. How did she know about the strength of the Resurrection two hundred years before the time of Christ?
If we know defeat, then maybe we can make sense of the Resurrection.
But, there are some questions that remain. What compels my sister-in-law to continue living after her husband of thirty years dies on the bathroom floor at the age of fifty-seven? What compels many of us to come back here Sunday after Sunday amid our own pain and struggles? Because like me, we-look-for-hope.
When people do not believe in the Resurrection, when people do know Redemption, they tend to make up nonsense. Look at the Sadducees, the priests in the time of Christ. They invent a story to trap Jesus. Of course, in their male perspective, they use the example of a woman whom they pass down from husband to husband after the death of every brother. Such nonsense, Jesus tells them. This stuff does not exist in the kingdom to come.
So, are we in need of some hope? Am I need of some resurrection?
Remember the opening story about Carlyle Marney? Before he died in 1978, he preached at First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, about death, resurrection and the church. On the way back to the hotel, one of Marney’s friends said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you believed in the resurrection.” Marney quickly responded, “Well, I do . . . when I’m around the right people.”
The right people are those who know defeat, pain and suffering. How we embrace these events life throws at us is the fine line between redemption and resentment. When we are around the right people, we receive encouragement. It means “strength of heart.” Since it can be difficult to believe in the Resurrection every day, you and I need to surround ourselves with the right people to give us “strength of heart.” To paraphrase St. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians: We are here today because of the love and encouragement of Christ Jesus. It is the Spirit that directs us. Even when we walk face first into that brick wall, we can stand up, brush ourselves off, and start over because people of the Resurrection support us.
The Mother of the Maccabees encouraged her sons. St. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians. After Holy Communion, the Lord Jesus encourages us to be people of Redemption.
Fr. Becket Franks, O.S.B.