All we have are a few brief stories.
There’s the one about the empty tomb.
A stranger robed in white, a gardener perhaps?
And always the nagging question.
Just some disconnected stories, scant stories, light on details and yet powerful in their truth. It has been said that, “The shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.” It has also been said that the greatest story ever told is the story of resurrection. Like all really good stories, the story of resurrection has been told over and over again as storytellers attempt to convey its truth. We have heard Easter’s story of resurrection so many times that you would think the truth of resurrection would be obvious to us all.
Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar stories. Some of us have been shaped by these particular stories. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about these stories. Some of us have rejected these stories and filed them away with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from these stories convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear these stories because they take us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with Easter’s stories until they release all the truth that we can find in, with, and between the lines; truths that call us toward a new way of being, a way of being that we long to embrace.
I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with Easter’ familiar stories determined to get from these ancient tales not just truth, but an inkling of the DIVINE ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories. Every year, after the excitement of Easter Sunday, the stories of a community locked away in fear come to us. Every year some element of these stories, touches me in ways that open old wounds and awaken familiar fears.
I remember long ago, when I was an intern trying to learn what it is to be a pastor. I’d never been to a visitation at a funeral home before. I remember putting on the uniform of a pastor. Back then, I wore the collar and the black-shirt not so much as someone wears a uniform, but rather as someone who puts on a suit of armor – hoping against hope that the uniform would give me an air of competence and perhaps even hide the fear that so often wells up in me.
I don’t really remember much about that particular funeral home visitation. I couldn’t tell you who it was who had died. I remember being relieved to see a familiar face in the long line up to greet the widow. I remember sticking close to that familiar face trusting that she would show me what was expected of me.
As we waited for our turn to greet the widow of the dead man, I wondered what on earth I could possibly say to ease her pain. Back then, I believed that this was the job of a pastor, to ease the pain. I hadn’t yet learned to be in the pain, to be with, to share in the wounding. Standing and waiting I kept asking myself, “What can be said when a lover dies?” The magnitude of such loss is immense. I don’t think I was the only one in that crowd of mourners who felt ill at ease.
Then suddenly it happened. I was confused as to why it was happening. It was like we were a sea parting as we made way for a woman who strode into our midst with such purpose. People stepped aside, got out of her way and then we all watched as this woman, this widow opened up her arms to embrace the newly widowed woman. Their wounds were not the same except perhaps in their depth. No words were spoken between these widows and yet the magnitude of their touch was a kind of miraculous healing.
In their embrace we were all comforted, soothed, reminded that the pain of a love lost is unbearable and yet we bear this pain, share this pain as part of what it means to be human. For LOVE dies and the pain of such loss cannot be healed by words; to comfort such a loss requires the touch of one who knows deep in their own being the pain of such a loss. And so, in the face of the death of LOVE we weave our stories; stories that express our pain, expose our wounds, and reveal our truth.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ comes again and again.
Jesus was the embodiment of the LOVE that we call God. LOVE dies. LOVE dies again and again and again. We’ve all seen the wounds of such death. We bear these wounds in our bodies. When LOVE dies it is the touch of the wounded that comforts, soothes and heals so that LOVE can rise again. We have been told a story about death that portrays death as the end. We humans have been telling stories about the meaning of death ever since humans have been able to tell stories.
It has been said that we tell stories, but the truth is that the stories tell us; for in the stories we discover who and what we are. And so, after the excitement of Easter, in the midst of our resurrection proclamations, this story is told and once again we find ourselves once again locked away in fear. For LOVE and fear are intimately intertwined.
I can still remember the euphoria I felt the very first time I fell in love. It was astounding to feel so very much for my beloved and it was also terrifying. The thought that death might one day touch my LOVE is terrifying. And yet the mere touch of my beloved reminds me of the power of LOVE to transcend even the fear of death. In the familiar words of another story, “It is truly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” A cliché perhaps, but even clichés reveal truth when they touch our fear. I do not fear death, not my own death. But the death of my beloved, or the death of those I love, the pain of these losses, the fear of these wounds locks me up in ways that only the touch of those I love can open me to the risk of loving.
The all too familiar stories of those who loved Jesus locked away in fear, touches my own fear in ways that unlock me, release me, heal me and give me the kind of peace that opens me to who I am. Our stories tell usprecisely when they reveal the truth of who and what we are. Our most treasured stories are kept alive by the way in which they continue to tell us who and what we are becoming. Our most treasured stories are living stories and like everything that lives, they change. A treasured story changes over time because we tell them differently just as surely as these stories tell usdifferently.
Looking back on that long-ago funeral home visitation, I have often been touched the tears of the newly widowed woman as the experienced widow embraced her. Increasingly, I am also touched by the tears of the comforting, embracing widow. I can’t help but marvel at the courage it must have taken for this woman to walk into that room to approach the freshly wounded woman. Walking into that room opened up her own deep wound, yet again exposing her to her own familiar pain.
Looking back upon her tears, I am reminded of the insights of Henry Nouwen, who wrote the truth that emerged from his story when he wrote: “Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.” Nouwen asked, “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” This question emerged from the stories of Nouwen’s life, and out of those stories, Nouwen coined the phrase, “wounded healers”.
Over the years, in the embrace of widows I have seen the power of wounded healers at work. I have seen embraces that have moved me to unlock some of the doors that my own pain has caused me to shut, releasing me from the fear of more loss.
There is both a captivity and a freedom in our woundedness. Our stories tell us who we are. May your stories, our stories, the followers of Jesus’ stories, may they continue to tell us who we are and who we are becoming. The wounds of the Christ are all around us. As we remember Christ’s wounds, may these wounds continue to inspire in us a desire to touch and be touched, to heal and be healed. For like Jesus, we too are called to embody the wounds of Christ; we too are called to be wounded healers. In this telling story we hear Christ’s earnest prayer in the word expressed from the depths of the wounded ONE, “Shalom.” Peace be with you. Shalom. Our longing for this Shalom, this peace, opens us to the pain of our own woundedness, which has the power of healing.
There’s a Benediction by the Irish poet Padraig O Tuama that captures this longing:
“the task is ended
go in pieces
our concluding faith
is being rear-ended
certainty’s being amended
and something’s getting mended
that we didn’t know
and are traveling to a place
with delusion as a fusion of
loss, and hope, and pain and beauty.
the task is ended
go in pieces
to see and feel
May our stories, your stories, the stories of Jesus’ followers, continue to unravel us, expose our woundedness, and tell us into becoming the wounded healers that the world longs for us to be. May the healing of our wounds release us from our fear and open us to the depths of who we are. May LOVE rise from tombs to free us from the places where we have been locked away in fear. May we go in pieces, to touch and be touched. To be LOVE arisen here and now, is the Shalom, the peace our world cries out for. Amen.