Remembering and Resurrection

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My father laid bricks long before he became a Baptist minister. He used to tell the story of how, at the beginning of a building project, the mayor, the city council, business leaders, and the foreman would show up with golden shovels for the ground breaking ceremony. A brass band would show up as well. At the appointed time after the speeches were made, the community leaders would force their shovels into the rocky ground and the band would strike up a merry tune.

Daddy always concluded his story with his irrepressible Alabama drawl, “Now look: I would be in bad shape if I turned over in my bed the very next day, went back to sleep, and failed to go to work because I was waitin’ to hear the band strike up a tune in the distance. It’s not every day that the foreman shows up with his golden shovel and calls you to work with the sound of the trumpet. Just keep on workin’ anyhow.”

Now I suspect for many people of faith what I have said thus far about remembering and redemption is all too earthbound—more a paean to the human spirit than to trust in the divine. So let me say here that I do believe in Resurrection, in final judgment, and that all things will be reconciled in and to God. This is the point of Incarnation, that the redemption of humanity involved Christ being subject to the worst inhumanity. Like Maximus the Confessor, Franciscans, and theologians such as Edward Schillebeeckx in his debate with Jürgen Moltman, to name a few, I believe that the work of redemption involves the cross because the cross is a tragic feature of human experience. Jesus was crucified on account of human sinfulness, violence being the chief feature of this sinfulness. Resistance to inhumanity in the form of Resurrection, albeit with scars still intact, is the sign and seal that Love prevails and that God stands forever with the crucified.

Most days I do not perceive the silence of God. I pulse with the music of a greater love, eternal in the heavens. But there are times when belief alone simply fails. I write these meditations in solidarity with those who cannot hear the trumpet, who face Easter before a silent God even as the Church raises her triumphal hymn. Christians may shy away from this painful reality, even doubt whether those who live in the silence truly have faith. But faith is less a possession than an orientation, a turning in the silence toward the faintest glow of life. The test of resilience is what happens in the silence. The test of compassion is whether those who so readily raise the triumphal hymn can also endure the silence of the suffering while working to dismantle their crosses.

Those who experience loss due to violence may shiver before a silent God.  Their very bones resonate with those piercing words from the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” If violence is inflicted by a loved one’s own hand, the whole universe collapses into silence. So too, I suspect, it is for the soldiers who are sent to fight on our behalf who, in the theater of battle, see and do what should never be seen or done, or, for those who were betrayed or violated by their trusted comrades in arms. These tragic moments, the crosses that cast their long shadows over the days and nights of far too many, can rob the most heroic of the will to live. It is a frightening place to be. In this place, where the will to live is lost and hope is a but a memory, one encounters the silence of God.

May those who are lost in that silence remember: That breach, that place of darkness at the edge of life and death is wider than one might think. For though we might lose the will to live, we have been fearfully and wonderfully made, as the Psalmist says.  So wonderfully made are we that even when the will fails, every cell, every heartbeat, every breath conspires to keep us living. The gulf between losing the will to live and choosing to die is a wide gulf, much wider than one might imagine. We can withstand that gulf for quite some time–long enough, in fact, to remember loved ones, the comforting words of a friend, the joy that was shared with our beloved, once lost. Remembering has the power to pull us back from the breach.

Remembering is the first act of resistance. 

A remaining ember of love glows brightly enough in the darkness to distract our eyes from the allure of death. Fix your eyes on it and the whole body turns. Breathe on it, even with sighs of exasperation, and it glows hotter and brighter.  What begins as a simple act of remembering, of choosing life, radiates outward far beyond the self drawing others into communities of hope. This is the power of Michele Josue’s cinematic memory that touches lives far beyond that little town in Wyoming.   Over the years, my love for my brother once lost burns hotter than the chill of his death.  It empowers me to accompany others through the silent shadows to the light of day.  Our brotherly love touches those who never met him.  I choose life in memory of him.

There is still more to remember: The eternal Reader who pours over the book of our lives is a source of comfort in the breach. Each solitary life, though finite, is of eternal significance. Remembering this keeps me writing the story of my life, in the words of my people in once in bondage, “to see what the end will be.”

May all who read these meditations find the courage to resist the power of death even when the trumpet seems a distant memory. Remember who and whose you are. Remember that the One once affixed to the hard wood of the cross has broken, once for all, the spell of death. Remember that Love still reigns.  Love shall reign forever and ever.

 

©2015 D. Maurice Charles.  All rights reserved.

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About D. Maurice Charles

Maurice is an Episcopal priest and historian of Christianity who reflects on religion and violence, having received his M.Div. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Most of his ministry has focused on higher education, having previously served as Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University. In 2015 he was appointed Chaplain of the Colleges and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies (by courtesy) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. Maurice contributes to this blog with his Chicago friends in the hope that personal reflection and heartfelt discussion lead to building beloved community.