Resurrection Stories 2: Presence


As my Lenten discipline this year, I’m working on a project. As part of that project, I’m thinking about resurrection. Yes, about Christ’s, but more about ours. Yours, and mine.

So, while I think about my own resurrection stories, I’m also asking for yours. I made some posters and shared them at my church, at the dance studio, and on the web, thinking this was a straightforward way to ask for what I want:

Think about your experience. How has Christ come alive in you? How have you gotten up out of the grave? What was it like inside there? What does resurrection look, taste, feel, smell, and sound like for you?
Decide how to represent your story on paper: written narrative, illustration, symbol, quote from Scripture, literature, song, etc.
Use the paper I’ve provided. Put your story on it. Or you can e-mail me your story at

For the first week, silence was the only response I got. That’s a good answer, actually. What is it like inside the grave? Silent. How do I feel inside there? Unheard. Ignored.

But, last Thursday I got my first story! I was at the dance studio. Normally when my last class finishes at 9pm, I race home. But this time, I felt like taking it slow. I stretched, I changed my clothes. I passed through the lobby, where Marjorie, mother of an advanced student and a fixture in the lobby, and two students sat quietly. Marjorie glanced up at me with her bright, open face, then looked back down. I peeked into the studios, looking for a fellow teacher to chat with, but everyone seemed engaged. Back in the lobby, I milled around a minute, then I checked the box I’d set up for people to submit their resurrection stories. Empty. I could feel Marjorie’s eyes following me. I gathered my things and decided to go.

Marjorie stopped me at the door. She asked me about the project. She had read the poster but wondered why I was asking for stories? How did I come up with the idea?

I was caught off guard! I was supposed to be the one asking the questions, looking for answers, and here was a famous gold medalist in endurance elocution asking me to speak, and pausing long enough for me to do so! Since I was caught off guard, I didn’t go into my prepared explanation, tripping into unrehearsed honesty instead.

I told her of a sermon I heard, about a year ago, and how I felt challenged by it. The sermon dealt with the gospel account of Thomas encountering the risen Christ (John 20:24-29). So often when I read that gospel passage, I identify with Thomas. I focus on my doubts and disbelief. I lock myself in, I shut others out. I make demands and set unattainable expectations. But the speaker in the sermon suggests a reversal: try on the role of Christ. How have I bled and died and risen again? What does resurrection mean? Not hypothetically or theologically. But tangibly, physically.

I want to spend some time answering the question, and I want to engage others in the process. I want to connect with people through storytelling. I want to share stories and share in stories.

Marjorie listened intently, enthusiastically, her eyes as bright and open as ever. She did not disappoint, instantly launching into a story.

She lost her mother when she was 11 years old. The doctors said her mother would have 6 months to live, but she only made it 6 weeks. As a child, Marjorie made sense of it this way:

If my mom was still here, she would be in unbearable pain. She wouldn’t be the mom I knew and loved. She’d be suffering. Death was just a part of God’s plan for her, and I was glad to have enough time with her, to experience Christ’s love through her while she was alive. I missed her, particularly for the big life milestones. It was hard for me to make sense of it as time went on. But it’s not my job to understand. It’s for me to have faith. I believe that she is with God, and so if God was with me when I graduated, for example, then my mother was, too. She was with me all the time.

When she was a kid, she tried explaining these thoughts to a woman at her church. The woman criticized her for making peace with her mother’s death this way, by reasoning that her mother was better off, free from pain. This woman equated that line of thinking with wishing her mother were dead. I imagine an 11-yr-old Marjorie, standing there in a church, holding out her wounded hands and lifting her arm to show her pierced side to this woman: a real-life Thomas, not able or willing to see resurrection when it’s right in front of her.

In the sermon (click that link and listen to it, already!), the speaker elaborates on the fact that Jesus appeared with Thomas and the disciples without having to open the barred doors, suggesting the primary characteristic of resurrection is that its presence “doesn’t swing on the hinge of a door.”

I imagine, for young Marjorie, the grave felt isolated, alone, abandoned. Motherless. It feels that way for me, too, and maybe for most of us. My granny lost her father when she was two. My dad lost his father at age three. The priest giving the sermon lost her mother at the same age. And other friends, like myself, had parents who, though alive, enforced physical and emotional distances.

We know our parents as absent. We know ourselves as lacking. We lock ourselves in and bar the doors, daring anyone to break through, to prove us wrong. “Unless I see, unless I touch, I will never believe.” If we test and trap others long enough, we can justify our giving up. It’s just not worth the effort, we finally say. Everyone abandons me, sooner or later. Everyone rejects me, given enough time.

How easy it is to sit back in the tomb, shrouding ourselves in isolation and abandonment. And how wonderful and marvelous it is, by contrast, for little 11-yr-old Marjorie to take off the shroud, and to walk out of the tomb into freedom, openness, and presence. Leaving the tomb didn’t erase her wounds, didn’t negate her loss or change the fact that she needed her mother to be physically present at times. She still bears the wounds of her loss, she still misses her mother to this day. But she chooses to live under the belief that love and presence transcend physical absence. She chooses to live again, milestone after milestone, moment after moment, day after day.

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

– e. e. cummings


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