BY FATHER DAVID RANSON
Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with some young friends of mine who have not long been married. Karl and Cindy have been trying to have a family for a little while but without success. Some weeks ago, after extensive testing, they discovered that they had issues with fertility - and that it was unlikely that they were going to be able to have children. Naturally, they were bitterly disappointed.
The future for which they had longed suddenly seemed changed forever, and the future presented as an enormous unresolved question. Questions about themselves as individuals, questions about their relationship, questions about the meaning of their life together inevitably swamped them, and it has been a very difficult period for them both personally and in their partnership.
However, the story took an extraordinary twist when Cindy discovered a few weeks or so ago that she was pregnant. It defied all the medical advice they had been given. Suddenly, what had seemed impossibility was now a possibility, what had been presented as a dead end was filled with the beginning of a whole new possibility.
The story has kept unfolding though. For in the last week Cindy has, sadly, miscarried. From despair, Cindy had moved to hope, only to once again be left with feelings of confusion and loss. A miscarriage is always, of course, an experience of great sadness and loss. However, in this situation, sadness has been filled with the paradox of hope, given that Cindy and Karl had been of the belief that conception would never be a possibility. Though they are still coming to terms with the sadness of Cindy’s recent miscarriage, nonetheless there is now the unmistakable hope that the family for which they long might be a real possibility.
I couldn’t but help think of Karl and Cindy’s story as one that participates in the Easter story that is given us today. The Gospel of John gives us this extraordinary story of an encounter with the Risen Christ. It is extraordinary for a number of aspects. The disciples are locked away in fear. They are entombed within their own insecurities, their own anxiety, their own sense of hopelessness. They are at a dead end. The future presents without promise. All they have is the darkness of their situation.
The life of the Risen Christ comes to them there in that very room. They do not leave that space in which they are enclosed to find him. He finds them there in their fears, their insecurities, their questions. Further, in that room the disciples are not met by a Christ resplendent in glory. Rather they are met by the Risen One who remains the Crucified One. The Gospel of John makes the wounded character of the Risen Christ graphically clear. This is altogether wondrous: the Resurrection had not removed the wounds of the Crucifixion. The woundedness of Jesus has not been eradicated. Rather it has been transformed. The Resurrection has enabled the Christ to bear his woundedness in such a way that those wounds now become a place of life and possibility.
In this lies the great Easter mystery for each of us. Living in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus, living the life of the Resurrection, does not take away our own vulnerability, our own fragility, our own deep seated woundedness. Curiously, as this Resurrection account is seeking to invite us to consider, Resurrected Life helps us enter into and bear our vulnerability, our fragility, in a new kind of way.
What was once simply indicative of failure, of despair, of confusion, of bitterness, of resentment – however the signs of death show themselves in our own context – now, through the life of the Resurrection, have the possibility of being places of new life. To borrow from St. John of the Cross, the 16th century mystic, the task of our life is not to eradicate our wounds, but to keep our wound clean, so that from it might spring forth the waters of new life. Yes, each of us, like Christ hanging on the Cross, is pierced through with a lance – the lance of fear, the lance of anger, the lance of anxiety, the lance of despair. A wound opens up within us.
This wound can become the place of a great infection in us. Or it can become a place where both blood and water flow – as the crucifixion account depicts it. In other words, it can become the place where the spring of new life flows. When life flows from what was first a wound in us, then, as today’s gospel invites us to consider, we are actually being caught up in the life of the Resurrection of Jesus.
The gospel confronts us with the remarkable paradox that there is no other way to experience what Resurrection means unless we are first prepared to be honest about our wounds. We are angry, and our anger turns to a new openness. We are embittered, and our resentment turns to a new receptivity. We are closed off, and we experience a new sense of companionship. As one writer puts it, it is only in the valley of many, very dry bones that the Spirit of God is known. “It is here in what first appears as dead, that hope rises against hopelessness . . . This is the new spirit and new heart that God promised. This is the new creation, the rescuing of life from death, the raising of the dead from their graves in order once again to cultivate the promised land. . . A new body. A new spirit. A new Eden. A new creation altogether . . . The spirit accomplishes its most lavish task of re-creation, it would seem in a grotesque valley of death.”
And how do we know that this Easter transformation is stirring within us. As the gospel today there is only one way of knowing: the experience of peace. Whenever a gospel story repeats something three times there is no mistaking. Three times Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” When we enter into our own wounds, and discover there the unexpected mystery of peace born from stillness, then the miracle of the Resurrection has begun to stir within us.
For my young married friends, Karl and Cindy, a wound in their own life and relationship and the tragedy of a death, bears now a possibility in the stillness of the aftermath of Cindy’s miscarriage. A great disappointment is nonetheless infused with a renewed hope. This is a parable of Easter life. It is the parable that waits to be lived out in each of our lives.