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? It takes an honest-to-God failure to make sense of the Resurrection.
For example, 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. And 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?
It takes solid defeat to 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 many people give up 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. And of course, in their male perspective, they use the example of a woman who gets passed 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? Have you been wondering about the resurrection of the dead? How do we answer these questions?
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.”
Let me tell you about a time when I was around the right person. One day, after mass, Vivian Kilzer stopped to tell me that her son, Mark, died suddenly. And for the first time in my life, I could tell someone that I understood fully what was happening. Vivian even said, “Just like Brian.” I found redemption in the death of my brother, Brian. The Spirit called me to minister out of the depth of my pain.
When we find redemption after bad things happen then then we find hope.
This is what compels us to live amid pain- when we are around the right people. The word encourage 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, may we become people of encouragement and people of Redemption.
Fr. Becket Franks, O.S.B.
32nd Sunday Ordinary Time