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Living in Faith

A time of terror and amazement

By Keith Howard

The stone has been rolled away and the good news of Easter proclaimed. Now what? Personally, I have always appreciated the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. The women hear the good news from the young man at the tomb and flee in “terror and amazement.” There’s something appropriate in this response.

We like to sanitize both the resurrection and the prospect of new life. No trauma, no dislocation, no confusion, no soul-wringing angst or urge to run away. Yet all are part of the Easter and beyond story.
Sometimes, new life arrives according to the recipe laid out in many self-help books: clarify desired outcomes, connect to deep emotional motivation, plan carefully and undertake sustained, supported action. From a leadership and management perspective, I like the recipe.

But it is also true that transformed life arrives as a surprise. Looking in the rear-view mirror, we may judge a divorce, job loss, illness or other catastrophe to be the start of a new life but, at the time, we are terrified and amazed.

A few weeks ago, we welcomed a gift of new life with the birth of our granddaughter Zoe. She arrived five weeks before expected. There were complications. An ultrasound revealed a growth in her abdomen. Three hours of surgery were required to remove a cyst and an ovary.

We were amazed by the technology and surgical skill that could operate on our five-pound girl, amazed at her spirit and fight, amazed at the strength of her mother and at the unshakable support of family and friends.
And terrified. Each day begins with wondering, how is baby Zoe today? The gift seems so fragile.

The birth and surgery occurred during Lent. Chocolate Easter bunnies lined the shelves. They were uniformly cute, comforting and, above all, safe. No match for the fire of our life and a far cry from the Easter stories we carry as Christians.

Our stories contain words like fear, trembling, death and immense joy. People are so afraid at times that they cannot function, their grief so strong they will not be comforted and their world so shaken they cannot see straight. New worlds emerge in places when everyone knows there can be no chance of life.
The weight of fear, the buoyancy of joy — the mixture marks our Easter stories and describes the lives of Zoe’s grandmother and me.
The post-surgical period felt like living in a parallel universe. So many of the trappings and demands of normal life remained and yet without their usual draw and compulsion. We became attuned to different signals.

The nurse fed her today; was she able to digest it? A negative response knocks us to the mat and our knees. When, 10 days after the surgery, our daughter phones to say Zoe has just finished nursing, the sun breaks through, outshone only by our hope and joy.
During such times, we learn to see again, to attend to different rhythms, to be reformed by new priorities. Life continues but it is not really the same.

As Christians we — often much too blandly — proclaim that the power that created the universe, rolled the stone away and resurrected Jesus continues to be active in our lives and in the life of the planet. The Easter story says that the risen Christ came to the women and said, “Hurry up! You’ll see some amazing things ahead, in Galilee; yes, in the places least expected.”

Zoe’s grandmother and I have already begun to play the speculation game. What will that spirit she showed in the first 10 days of her life look like when she gains strength? Will she be a terror or simply a handful? Whatever the details, our lives now are tinged with new curiosity, some terror and a large dose of amazement. Clearly , we live in a post-Easter time.

I wonder if we shall be able to sustain the awareness. Not that I covet a daily dose of fear in the pit of the stomach,  but there is something right, something sacred, in being drawn away from calendars, schedules and responsibilities.

The Easter proclamation is profoundly life-shattering and life-resurrecting. Yet how easily the amazing promise and vision become dull under the grime of the immediate and pressing. As Christians we say that because of Easter,  the world is no longer what we might think. Lives can be transformed. Gifts and opportunities claimed. Forgiveness accepted. Hope restored. And that is just the beginning.

Hymn: 179 (Voices United) Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Give Thanks
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Author's photo
Rev. Keith Howard is a Victoria writer and executive director of the United Church Emerging Spirit campaign.
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