Sunday, April 20, 2014

When curses break

In the movies or books when someone comes out of a barren and lonely wilderness experience it's, to my recollection, often portrayed as straight triumph. Squeals, giggles, and jumping around in circles (or roars, fist bumps, and chest thumping if you're the sterner sex) seem like the natural accompaniment to engagement rings, entrance letters, positive pregnancy tests, and last minute touchdowns. In many cases they are. Today though, I thought about a time when deliverance and triumph brought confusion and weeping - namely, at the empty tomb of Christ. We, living several centuries later, jump straight into the glory and victory of Christ's resurrection. We sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!" with bursting throats and glowing faces, and we revel in all that the atonement has bought us. We look forward to being with Christ and being reunited with our loved ones in Heaven. We rest in the thought that our future in secure in the one who defeated death and made it possible for us to live in friendship with God. However, as our pastor pointed out, Mary stood weeping and wondering where Jesus' body was. Simon Peter and John didn't have any answers either. The very symbol of our joy was initially a time of sad bewilderment to those who first saw it.

Why is this important to me? One of the dangers of denigrating or downplaying literature is that people stop learning to understand narratives. They don't study how actions and characters play out in a variety of circumstances. This plays out in real life as well. Who's the bad guy? Where's the unreliable narrator? Who's the quiet force for good whose life is overlooked by those who seek power to change in obvious places? What, you may ask, does this have to do with answering my question? The Bible is at it's heart a book of stories. It's a narrative of redemption. In it we find people in a myriad of circumstances encountering the God of creation - from a faithful young Jewish girl to a bed hopping Samaritan woman to old prophetess. It doesn't matter if you're weeping or laughing or tapping your toe with a stern look in your eyes - there is a story that touches your life somewhere. This really hit me when I was listening to our pastor recount the Easter story because for a while I thought I had a story that didn't fit anywhere until suddenly I saw it writ large in the confusion of Easter Sunday.

When I found out I was expecting our son I didn't have a picture worthy hallmark reaction. I didn't blush or cry or giggle or anything like that. I swore. I'd been waiting for years to see that positive test, and when it showed up I swore because I though surely this was a cruel hoax. After all these years (and after what my doctor last said about starting fertility treatments) I was sure this couldn't actually be what it obviously was. When I walked down the hall to tell Allen it was very much in the same way Mary might have approached the disciples - "You won't believe this - something must be wrong.
For weeks and months later I was uncomfortable with this part of my story. I thought there was something wrong that I reacted with disbelief and confusion, but listening to the Easter story at church today I finally saw my story in their story. I saw the wondering and the weeping and the questioning. I saw people who doubted what was in front of them. I saw a great curse defeated and heralded not with shouts or parades but with people running around trying to find where they'd left their sorrow and defeat. In some strange way I found it comforting to know that I was reacting the way other good and faithful people have reacted in assuming that this great blessing was only a new and varied sorrow. All that afternoon while I waited to hear from the nurse and tried not to think too hard, I was by the tomb of Christ not quite realizing that He had broken the curse and was bringing new life to me. (And I will add here that I have been deliberately and literally cursed in my life by someone who should have know better. Someone tried to speak words of death and condemnation over my life, but by the grace of God His grace and His power have prevailed.) Then I called the nurse and heard the good news and rejoiced. I saw as I had never seen before how curses fade away before the goodness of God, and I rejoiced.

Sitting there in the church where our son was recently baptized listening to our pastor describe Mary waiting beside the tomb it seemed as if I saw where my own quiet longings and desires had been buried in my at the time lifeless womb. Like Mary there were times when I would sneak away to weep beside this grave, and like Mary I was astonished one day to see that the stone had been rolled away. But to what purpose? Was this only another trial and disappointment to bear? No, it is life as perhaps Mary and I hardly dared dream. It is the story of resurrection, and it is the story of how we found out were expecting our little buddy. Roughly. The Bible doesn't report any swearing in the Easter story, but now that I think of it I'd be surprised if at least a couple of the disciples weren't muttering imprecations under their breath.

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