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Racine, WI 53405

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Resurrection for All

“We had imagined that resurrection is just about Jesus… but… resurrection is about the whole of creation, it is about history, it is about every human who has ever been conceived, sinned, suffered, and died, every animal that has lived and died a tortured death, every element that has changed from solid, to liquid, to ether, over great expanses of time. It is about you and it is about me. It is about everything… Resurrection is contagious, and free for the taking. It is everywhere visible and available for those who have learned how to see, how to rejoice, and how to neither hoard nor limit God’s ubiquitous gift." ~Richard Rohr, "The Universal Christ"

Roberta’s depression started young.

Roberta Bondi, in her book Memories of God, talks about the revivals of her childhood at Pond Fork Baptist Church that she attended every summer with her relatives. It was there that the three-fold conviction was drilled into her that each of us was rotten to the core and that we deserved to die and roast in hell forever, that God was enraged enough at us to kill us, and that in spite of everything, God loved us enough to rescue us by sending his son as a sacrifice to die in our place (oh, and all this was just fine with Jesus).

In addition to this, she was  raised by a strict mother and an overly critical, demanding father. Consequently, as a small child she came to believe that there was something “fatally wrong with her.” When her mother and father eventually divorced, she blamed herself for their failed marriage believing she wasn’t “good enough.”

Constant church sermons about sacrifice, coupled with being a young woman in the 50s and 60s, convinced her that sacrifices were a necessary part of being a wife and mother. She was supposed to be selfless, and this selflessness included bearing the consequences of the sins of her husband and children. Roberta carried a huge amount of guilt as a teenager that because of her sin, Jesus had actually gone through with the crucifixion and died. "How on earth was that supposed to be good news?" she wondered.

Roberta carried this heavy burden and depression through marriage at 18 (to a man who embodied the same oppressive, rigid theology that she had been taught), through college, on to two years in seminary, and then graduate work at Oxford. Through this all she received hints of other ways of understanding the crucifixion, but it didn’t free her from her feelings of failure and unworthiness.

She gave birth to two children, divorced her husband and eventually married a man, named Richard, who treated her with love and care and as an equal. But still her depression continued to worsen until at the age of 47, it was so bad that she said she “might as well have been living in a cave.”

The day before her 10th wedding anniversary to Richard, Roberta hit bottom. Feeling like a failure and wallowing in unmet obligations, the people she had hurt, the suffering she had gone through her dirty refrigerator, her unfinished research, her unanswered correspondence, she hit a new level of despair. She sat down in her red chair that she used to say her prayers, and cried out to God, “I have failed in everything you have given me to do. I have tried so hard to be a good mother. With my whole heart I have wanted to love my children enough to keep them safe and happy. I have suffered with them and for them. I have begged you to help me to love them well and in the right way, but the harder I try the more I worry. There must be something essential about Christianity I am missing, something I can’t see. I give up. If there is something you want me to know, you must find me yourself to tell me. I can try no longer, and I can look no longer. I give up. I absolutely give up.”

And she did give up, utterly. There in that chair the light of her life went out. Her head fell on her chest and her breathing slowed. Her heart was torn in half, and out of those halves ran all the unmet and conflicting expectations, good intentions, and desires to please she had ever had. Emptied, at last, of everything, she finally felt nothing. She simply sank like a dead body into darkness.

How long she sat there, she had no idea, but suddenly, without any warning, she woke up. She heard her own voice repeating words from the Roman Catholic Eucharistic prayers for Easter, “The joy of the Resurrection renews the whole world.” Every cell of her body heard them and for the first time I knew that these words were absolutely true, and that they were true for her.

Her heart filled up with a fierce joy and she laughed out loud… of course there was something she’d missed about Christianity. The most fundamental Christian reality is not the suffering of the cross.  The most fundamental Christian reality is resurrection, renewal, new life!

And then she felt the Divine speak without words: “How could you have thought your goodness, your very right to existence depends upon your pleasing even so important a person as your own child? Do you not remember that I love you without limit and I will never withhold it from you? And how could you ever have thought that you deserved to suffer, that you should pay for your existence with your suffering or that you could buy off other people’s suffering with your own? When you were a child and you made the anger of your parents your own and you turned it against yourself, did it bring you life? When you sank into your mother’s grief and bitterness as though it was your own, did it rescue her or help you? When you took upon yourself your daughter’s despair, did it lift her?

Suddenly she saw her life clearly and by this new light and understanding a 45 year old depression was gone. No, the years that followed weren’t always easy, and there were still struggles, but, she said, “Even Jesus was resurrected with his wounds.”

The joy of the resurrection renews the whole world.

At the end of the Day of Tears, we found ourselves sitting shiva, holding space for grief and loss and lament, for everyone, including ourselves, who has experienced crucifixion in the form of hatred, violence, pain, betrayal, humiliation, shame, exclusion, bullying, persecution, oppression and more.

On Easter morning we proclaim the seemingly impossible – crucifixion was not the end for Jesus. Resurrection – however you want to understand that – happens. But as Richard Rohr said, resurrection doesn’t just happen for Jesus. It happens for you and for me and for the world.

No, it doesn’t always happen instantaneously, and it isn’t always easy, but resurrection, renewal, new life does happen. I believe this with my whole heart and soul because I have experienced it.

However, resurrection is not something that happens to us as if we have to just sit back and wait. It is a continuous process that we must engage. We can’t be passive. Even a tenuous hope in new life can keep us going, trying, risking, surrendering, searching for answers.This process usually involves a series of letting go and taking small baby steps forward. We aren’t raise from the tombs of our lives in one day.

A Community of Ressurection

I also firmly believe that we are called to be a community of resurrection – by this I mean that the joy of the resurrection should be obvious not just on Easter, but every day, and that we can assist the process of resurrection. Let me share a story (I have no idea anymore where it came from)…

Mary and her husband Jim had a dog named Lucky. Lucky was a real character. Whenever Mary and Jim had company come for a weekend visit they would warn their friends to not leave their luggage open because Lucky would help himself to whatever struck his fancy. Inevitably, someone would forget and something would come up missing.

Mary or Jim would go to Lucky's toy box in the basement and there the treasure would be, amid all of Lucky's other favorite toys Lucky always stashed his finds in his toy box and he was very particular that his toys stay in the box.

It happened that Mary found out she had breast cancer. Something told her she was going to die of this fact; she was just sure it was fatal.

She scheduled the double mastectomy, fear riding her shoulders. The night before she was to go to the hospital she cuddled with Lucky. A thought struck her...what would happen to Lucky? Although the three-year-old dog liked Jim, he was Mary's dog through and through. If I die, Lucky will be abandoned, Mary thought. He won't understand that I didn't want to leave him! The thought made her sadder than thinking of her own death.

The double mastectomy was harder on Mary than her doctors had anticipated and Mary was hospitalized for over two weeks. Jim took Lucky for his evening walk faithfully, but the little dog just drooped, whining and miserable.

Finally the day came for Mary to leave the hospital. When she arrived home, Mary was so exhausted she couldn't even make it up the steps to her bedroom.  Jim made his wife comfortable on the couch and left her to nap.

Lucky stood watching Mary but he didn't come to her when she called.  It made Mary sad but sleep soon overcame her and she dozed.

When Mary woke for a second she couldn't understand what was wrong.  She couldn't move her head and her body felt heavy and hot. But panic soon gave way to laughter when Mary realized the problem. She was covered, literally blanketed, with every treasure Lucky owned!  While she had slept, the sorrowing dog had made trip after trip to the basement bringing his beloved mistress all his favorite things in life. He had covered her with his love.

Mary forgot about dying.  Instead she and Lucky began living again, walking further and further together every day. Twelve years later Mary was still cancer-free and Lucky was still stealing and stashing treasures.

We assist with resurrection by being present in another’s dying and mourning, by holding faith when someone has lost their own, and by sharing our treasures –hope, compassion, caring, food, money, time, home, smiles, hugs, rides, love, and simple presence.

The joy of the resurrection is not just about Jesus, it’s about you and me, and the animals, and the earth. Resurrection is possible everywhere and can renew the whole world.

Easter blessings!