It is the time of the church year when we consider that a dead man came back to life and walked among us for 40 days. In the lingering energy of Easter’s festivities, I sat down to catch up on ABC’s new drama, Resurrection, which is set in a small town in Missouri where people begin to return from the grave.
The show began as a couple wrestled with the reappearance of their precious 6-year-old boy who had drowned decades earlier. In recent episodes, the town’s pastor must face the sudden return of his love who had committed suicide years earlier. The uniqueness of the series is grounded in human emotion. We witness the resurfacing of feelings that death had exacted in the lives of these characters, and the unravelling of certainty. It is powerful to see the mixture of grief and joy in the return of a lost child. It is moving when the pastor is able to ask his lost love why she committed suicide. The audience is left pondering: “What if?”
The television show has charged head first into spiritual territories, questions and emotions that the First World Western Christian Church delicately whitewashes and often works to avoid.
It is speculated that American culture is more insulated from death than any in the history of the world. Studies say the average American lives to be around 79 years old — quite a divergence from the shorter lifespans of countries in the Third World. It was common early in the 20th century for churches to sit adjacent to cemeteries. Parishioners might walk by the headstones of their parents, aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters and friends on their way to worship. While we cannot live fixated on death, it can also be said that we now work too hard to avoid the evidence of our own mortality. I wonder if we can truly understand the power of Jesus’ story when our religious and popular culture seems so intent on keeping death at arm’s length.
Before we celebrate resurrection, the central moment of the Christian faith, we must first have death: cold and lifeless, thick with its hopelessness and finality. The empty tomb means nothing without the dirt, grime, betrayal and blood of crucifixion’s labor.
There is a moment in Resurrection when the pastor’s resurrected fiancée is told by the doctor that she is pregnant. This twist in the show’s storyline caught me off guard. Even a decade later, my family still grieves the loss of my younger sister and her unborn child, Gabriel. Watching the emotion around this character’s resurrection made me think of my sister and what it would mean for her to come back to life. It made me wonder about the real power of our Easter story and how impotent it becomes when it is fairy taled away from its humanity: the raw tears, the wrenching heartache, and the emptiness that death imposes.
Imagine the grief of Mary at the cross. The next day, she awoke and had to remind herself of this new reality of life without her child, and then the tears of joy and confusion when she realized that resurrection was true. Hear the emotions of Jesus as he cried out in his last words on the cross, “Dad, where in the world are you?” Wonder at the first full breath which the very human, yet very divine, Messiah might have taken in the cold dark tomb. Consider the still small voice of the Father echoing like a hurricane inside those stone walls, maybe with the answer to our Savior’s final question on the cross. Feel Thomas trembling to touch the wounds of his friend who had days earlier taken his last breath.
Imagine the visceral humanness of these moments. Is it possible that the players in the story of Jesus’ death experienced emotions similar to those of the characters of the television drama?
If we fail to recognize death’s permanence, we cannot get our minds around the miracle of new life; the truth of an imminent reunion with those we love.
There are many points in the Bible that can be debated. Resurrection cannot be one of them. The tomb is empty. The foe we work so hard to deny in 21st-century life will ultimately be defeated. Jesus walks from the grave and therefore so will each of us.
You see, the ABC drama captures our imaginations with the essence of resurrection, not the fairy tales of white robes and singing choirs, halos and wings, or even with the new American gospel promises of wealth and a happy life. The television show and the Gospel narrative capture the creation-rattling certainty of the dead waking. That truth is our sure reunion with those who departed too soon and left us here with an ache of longing that is fundamental to the human experience.
ABC’s Resurrection has left me thinking quite often of a reunion. I’ve been imagining what it might be like for my little sister to walk into our home with her son Gabriel in her arms or to sit around the dining room table with my father and the grandchildren he never met. It is during this time, under the bright rays of Easter’s wake, that we must be sure to consider death and all that it has stolen so that we might celebrate the reunion that resurrection will some day deliver.