I was on a hike in a Florida nature preserve when my friend pointed out trees whose limbs were wrapped with brown, shriveled, lifeless leaves.
“These are Pleopeltis polypodioides, commonly called resurrection ferns. They can survive up to 100 years without water, and revive after a single exposure to moisture,” he explained.
We celebrate Resurrection Sunday: the day when mirabile dictu Jesus walked out of the tomb and changed the world forever. The day when the one unchanging certainty of this world (well, two if you count taxes), ceased to have the final word.
Resurrection Sunday marks Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and is a foretelling of our own. Jesus was resurrected and we will be, too. These are the distinctives of the Christian faith, declarations that transform Jesus from good, moral teacher into Lord and Savior. Or as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
Those resurrection ferns tell a story all their own, a sequel to Resurrection Sunday. They tell of the other 364 days of the year when resurrection happens for us in ways that are not always as earth-shattering as the first Resurrection was or as triumphant as the last will be.
The Promise of Resurrection
They tell us that resurrection happens in unlikely places, where there appears to be no hope of life. One hundred years without water, really? They bear witness to the reality of periods of barrenness that still carry within them the seeds of new life. The slightest drop of moisture and they are restored! They point us to the promise of resurrection now, even as we await final glory.
Of course, wherever there is resurrection—whether past, present or future—there must first be death. In Jesus’ Resurrection and our own at the last, there is actual, physical death—the end of this earthly, bodily life. Live long enough, and you will know the singular pain of losing someone to this Great Thief that divides our lives into Before and After, forever depriving us of possibilities of any forward motion—of healing, of continued love, of forgiveness in the relationship now severed. Yes, we know death when we see it and we “do not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because we have been assured of the resurrection.
But there are other deaths and other resurrections. Not the loss of life exactly, but loss just the same. Loss of love, or loss of security, loss of identity. There is death when someone you love betrays you or when year after year passes and your most fervent prayers have not been answered. There is death in watching others receive recognition while you are overlooked. These can be dark places, cold and airless as any tomb, places where nothing less than the power of Jesus’ Resurrection can bring rescue.
A Life of Deaths
My life has been full of such deaths—and resurrections.
There was the day when I was faced with a crisis in an important relationship, and I felt the earth shift beneath my feet. Like Job, I sat on the ash heap, struggling to make sense of it, stripped of certainty and surrounded by loss. I could not imagine it would ever end, that there would ever be healing. But one drop of moisture at a time, God restored life where there was no life. Resurrection.
There was the time when I was overwhelmed with grief and confusion. It was during the worst of the pandemic, when fear and grief threatened to overwhelm us all. A friend’s toddler was diagnosed with cancer, and pain at watching this unfold was excruciating. Then, in the space of 6 months, two of our cats died. One was old, and although I grieved, I gave thanks for the many years we had. Then the new cat we adopted became gravely ill just 2 months later, and I watched him die slowly.
I do not mean to imply that these things are of equal weight, only to give you an idea of the accretion of pain and death that washed over me. Most troubling was that I became unsure of what to pray for, or even if there was a point to praying at all. I was sinking in a quicksand of futility, of powerlessness, and doubt. I feared my faith was dying. Then one day I brought all this to the Lord in prayer. And in my spirit, I heard God say, “You’ve been asking lots of questions. ‘ What? How? When? Why?’ But the question you’ve forgotten is ‘Who?’ I am here. Let me just hold you.” Resurrection.
What Lies Ahead
Which brings me to today. I am in a weird limbo, a purgatory of purpose, between my last vocation and my next. My job of the last five years has ended, and it is not at all clear what’s next. There is a death in leaving behind what has defined you, having no answer when some well-meaning person at a cocktail party asks, “What do you do?”
In darker moments, I wonder if there is anything next for me, if perhaps my days of using whatever gifts I have are over. I fear being relegated to the sidelines, watching others do what I used to do; what I want to do. I wonder if I’m entering one of those long stretches of barrenness that will find me parched, brown, and lifeless, awaiting resurrection.
Jesus was resurrected. On the last day, I will be too. In the meantime, I will experience death in a thousand ways. And in just as many ways, Jesus will stand outside the tomb, just as he did for Lazarus, and shout, “Laura, come forth.” And like Lazarus, I will come out, still covered with grave clothes, the evidence of this latest death. And Jesus will say, as he said then, “Take off the grave clothes and let her go.”
Photo credit: University of Florida