by Mike Phay
It was a dark and stormy night. Children in their forgetful playfulness had left the farm gate ajar, unknowingly giving free reign to the wandering, scent-hunting instincts of the old Bassett Hound. Once again following her overactive sniffer, and instigated by thunderous peals, she disappeared into the neighborhood. Discovering her absence, perhaps hours later, we combed the roads and driveways nearby, searching in vain for our poor lost hound. Absent from her favorite haunts – the provocatively scented and often unsavory yards and fields of neighbors – the search widened. Emotions rose. Darkness darkened. Rain soaked. Hope slipped.
“Have you seen our hound?” followed the knocking, answered in the negative by sympathetic women and helpful men, neighbors all. No one had seen poor Lily, wandering or otherwise. The worst fears of parents and children knocked on our minds and hearts: a faithful and beloved pet missing, possibly gone for good. The most obvious explanation crept into our minds, solidifying after days of fruitless searching: wandering off in her aged and weary body, searching out a ditch or a tree – a place to curl up and, in dignity, pass into the hereafter. Thirteen is a mighty compilation of years for a canine, ninety-one in her wizened grandmotherly comportment. Understandable, we thought, to go in peace.
For two more days, we searched. Neighborhood telephone poles displayed the report: missing dog, please call. Animal shelters took our report, joining in the search. More days passed without luck, no word. Lily had gone off to die and would be gone forever.
Mom and Dad sat the kids down to have the serious talk of life and death. Coming and going. Breathing and burying. Life on a farm had not insulated the kids from the births and deaths of dozens, but this was something different: the family dog was no mere chicken or bunny. Tears came, accompanied by questions. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months.
Resurrection tends to surprise those who witness it. One day, nearly two months later, Mom turned the corner onto our street. The traumatic events of that stormy night had receded into memory, not preparing her for the sight of resurrection, witnessed in the flesh: Lily the Hound, back from the dead, called forth from the tomb in which we had placed her – alive again!
Pulling the car to the side of the road, a wealth of emotion rose up in Mom’s heart and gut. It is surprising what the sudden appearance of the dead can cause in the hearts of the living. Shock and awe at a healthy, living, breathing sight of the dog who was once thought deceased, now raised from the dead. Though never dead, she had gone missing from our lives for multiple weeks, only to be found in the care of some kind neighbors. Wires, but not paths, had crossed, and the finders could not find the owners; the owners missing the finders by hours, maybe feet. Lily, living for a time under another name – how about Lazarus? – with a caring family who now had to say goodbye, experiencing grief and loss in a different way, on a different day.
My middle daughter shed tears on that day, too, her body wracked with the uncontrollable convulsions of a healthy sob. I held her, dry shirt sacrificed to receive tears, asking her why these were flowing, even now: “I’m just so happy that she’s alive!” Resurrection is a shock when experienced because resurrection is an unexpected surprise.
Yet we daily, even unwittingly, experience resurrection. The surprising reality of rhythmic resurrection in our lives goes unheeded because it is experienced in the everydayness of a created world in which we have become comfortable.
For example, our days generally find their completion with a self-entombment of sorts: crawling into bed, sealing ourselves under warm covers, settling in between soft sheets. Mimicking the night’s pressing-in darkness, we extinguish our artificial lights and give ourselves over to the fatigued needs of weary muscles and aching bones. We sleep. We imitate death for six or eight hours a night, allowing our bodies rejuvenation and refreshment. With the morning light, we find ourselves rising to a day that maybe should not have come, but by the grace of God. We open our eyes and see that darkness has once again been pushed back by the light, for “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
This daily resurrection rehearsal goes unheeded, because it is so…daily. So mundane. So boring. We are often shocked awake by alarms, and rage at the morning, fighting the too-early coming of the light: desiring more sleep, a longer rest, a bit of insulation from the dawning day and all that it will bring. But perhaps we should rejoice that the light has come, and we did not deserve it. Nothing in us requires the coming of the light – it is simply a gift of God. His daily goodness to us, if we will recognize it, is a Resurrection goodness. Let’s remember to be awed by the sunrise glory of light and life, daily giving praise to the One whose covenant with day and night cannot be broken (Jeremiah 33:19-21). The sun, reminding us of and pointing us to the Son, gives meaning and life to our whole day until the night returns and we are once again pushed into necessary rest, necessary darkness, looking from the vantage of our nightly tomb, with closed eyes and weary hope, to the dawning of tomorrow.
Consider another example of the mundane rhythm of resurrection in your life: the produce placed on your plate, decorating the end of your fork. From whence has it come? It has come through death for the sake of your life: for “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Much fruit born, festooning our tables and bringing life and joy to these energy-hungry bodies. We too often miss the death that brings life – that transforms into life. For in order for us to go on living, something must always die.
But death does not have the last word, just as Jesus’ last words, borne from death (“It is finished!” [John 19:30]), bear in their weight the promise and power of life unknown to the world. What death ultimately bears – because of Christ’s resurrection – is the miraculous birthing of new life. “Resurrection means,” writes Frederick Buechner, “that the worst thing is never the last thing.”
It is shocking that resurrection can shock, but perhaps it should be more shocking that it often bores us. Let us be awed at the daily and regular deaths that result in life, and daily be reminded that whatever death we bear today has its ultimate hope grounded in a deeper truth: that in the death of Christ, death has met its death, and Life is the ultimate Victor. Perhaps, then, the daily spectacular will gain in us a greater weight of awe and gratitude, wonder and hope.