by Dante Zappala
Easter has come and gone. I’m still waiting patiently to be reborn. With only a few weeks until the Boston Marathon, I’m banking on the miracle to take hold. Yet, even as my body heals and replenishes, as the adaptations take hold, the concept of Resurrection escapes me more.
The premise of Easter is that life wins over death. The concept is as abstract as it is heroic. I’ve absorbed it in many ways over the years. It has resided somewhere on a 3D spectrum of fact, truth and metaphor. Yet no matter how I interpreted it, I always believed that triumph was a worthy aspiration.
But after going to services this year at FUMCOG, I have more questions than answers. That’s a scary proposition as I start to taper. I’m about to have a lot of time on my hands. Rather than celebrate Victory, I feel stuck in Purgatory.
I am in a holding pattern, restless and powerless, for the races ahead. After Boston, I’ll attempt to run Broad Street. The next 30 days don’t offer much. The winding down includes a few fine tuning sessions, business trips and a lot of rest. The recovery between the two races will require that I do mostly nothing.
In church, as we do every year, we recited in unison the poem “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou. It relays the power of the oppressed to overcome through resiliency and defiance. Angelou’s poem harkens to the history of suffering. It builds to a crescendo at the end:
Leaving behind nights of terror
Into a daybreak that’s
Bringing the gifts that my
I am the dream and the hope
of the slave.
The belief in resurrection is incumbent when tribulation is promiment. Conquering death ensures survival. But how does the story of Easter play when a person and their ancestors have not lived lives of persecution?
After the Angelou poem, we sang Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Verse three reads:
Lives again our glorious
Where, O death, is now thy
Once he died our souls
to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory,
boasting grave? Alleluia!
This sounds like an 18th century version of the smack talk we employed as kids on the Houston Playground basketball courts. It’s the call of the conqueror. It makes righteousness sound hollow, faith feel shallow.
I’m not alone in this questioning. Relative privilege and safety does, in fact, compromise the beliefs of many. The poorer countries are, the more religious they tend to be. As more and more segments of the world develop, religious doctrines fade. And where religion is practiced in wealthy countries, it can appear incredibly disconnected from the intended message.
Still, the world as a whole certainly does not prosper. Perhaps indifference to the massive amount of anguish that exists is the culprit of diminished faith. Sadness, tragedy, and hate surround us. One has to be in a self-centered bubble to assume that life is nothing but cheer. A surprising amount of people appear to be just that insulated.
On paper, Resurrection should be attractive to all with empathy. It says that despite the horrors of the world, love conquers. Love wins. Love lives.
But love lives no matter, as long as we live and choose to imbibe and share it. That love is the essence of life is not in dispute. Whether this love is eternal or temporary hinges on our personal belief. It could boil down to faith in legacy instead of God. Love could be everlasting due solely to the impact of our collective living days.
I remember an Easter sermon many years ago. Our pastor, the legendary Ted Loder, said, in essence, that he was certain everyone in the congregation believed in the life and death of Christ. Not many, he speculated, believed that Jesus actually came back to life.
This raised a critical question for me. Had the story of Jesus ended with his death, would we be worse off? As Ted pointed out, many Christians privately share this non-Christian view of Jesus. He was a prophet who showed the transformative power of love and forgiveness. For many, that is enough.
Maybe ownership is the problem. The risen Jesus is something to behold, something to possess. Are we brave enough to accept that perfect love, we’ll call it God’s love from this view, is absolute, ever present and yet it cannot be cloistered in our heart, hung in a frame over the mantle, or displayed in the trophy case?
Before the service, I’d done an easy recovery run. The day before was my pinnacle workout of the marathon training cycle. Thirteen plus miles at race pace. Throughout the run, I felt a constant struggle with the truth. Is this a pace I could hold for 26 miles? I felt overwhelmed at the finish; satisfied that I’d completed it at my target, anxious that it took more effort than I expected. No matter, there is very little left I can do to affect the outcome at Boston. What’s done is done.
As I sat in the balcony with my kids at church, despite my mind wandering through these questions, I felt mostly okay. I hadn’t killed myself the day before. The physical and mental distress of that run was my own invention, something that appeared in the void of running alone through the Valley.
No, it really wasn’t death that I was trying to overcome. It was just another long, tough run.