“Be joyful / though you have considered all the facts. / […] Practice resurrection.”
(Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front“)
The problem with “practicing resurrection” is that we cannot, in fact, raise anyone from the dead. At Easter, we rise early, ring bells, and shout, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). At my church, we pound on the doors of the sanctuary with the cross, crying, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in!” (Psalm 24:7). It is a pageant of grace: by the power of the cross, we enter the doors of salvation.
And yet, most of us have something to say about where we feel the sting of death. We feel it in our failing eyes, in our aching wrists, in our fading memories. Our limbs, organs, tissues, hormones, and hopes fail us daily. Like Martha, we wrestle with the pain of death and the fullness of faith in the same breath:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. (John 11: 21-27 ESV)
Across time, Christians have shared this agony. We have not received the glory of a new body yet, but we practice: in baptism, in song, in baking bread and planting gardens. On Sundays, we put on lovely hats or fine vestments. In Sunday best or ritual robes, our clothing is a way to say, “This, Lord, is the body you have promised to save. Body and soul, rescue us from death.”
This Easter, I made a dress from three yards of cotton. I bought the fabric the day after the doctor gave us the news: the little heartbeat had ceased. While my body was a tomb for my unborn child, I purchased lavender and teal flowers on a deep blue ground. For a body that had failed—again– to cultivate or keep new life, I made a garment like a garden, just before sunrise.
I made it beautiful. The extra weight around the hips, no longer welcome, I wrapped and draped with a skirt that swings. I tailored the seams for narrow shoulders, shaped the neck to show a string of pearls. Pockets to hold a handkerchief or sweets, an enormous bow my belt of truth. (And the truth is this: though we die, we live. Even through death, joy is our calling).
I finished it just before midnight; the final stitches were my Easter vigil. As I draped the cloth, I was forgiving my body for her failures, forgiving my God for His delay. And then on Easter, morning, I followed the Christ candle to the doors of the church. I rang my bell and shouted with the rest. I sang and danced and cried through all the songs of hope. Together, we are practicing. Waiting, working, making until the day he comes again. We put on garments that moth and mildew will destroy, longing for true clothes that shine like the dawn.
“For this perishable body must clothe itself with the imperishable, and this mortal body with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53)
Marantha, come Lord Jesus.