Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front is one of my favorites. His last two words of the poem are startling: Practice resurrection.
We don’t often think of resurrection as something to practice. It is an event. Something God did a long time ago. God is the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It was God’s work, not ours. Resurrection is a noun, not a verb. And yet, this command, from Berry: Practice resurrection.
It speaks to me for a few reasons.
We often conflate Christianity down to an intellectual assent to a series of propositional statements. Do you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead, that the resurrection really happened? We recite that in our Apostle’s Creed, but belief is more than agreement with a concept or idea. Belief a willingness to stake our lives on something and take action in response to that belief. Yes, God raised Jesus from the dead, but so what? That is the key question. What does that mean for my life and how I live every day? It means little that I believe God raised Jesus from the dead unless I practice resurrection in my daily life.
So how does one practice resurrection? We can’t raise people from the dead! That indeed is God’s work. Berry’s poem gives a few clues: Ask the questions that have no answers…plant sequoias…be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Resurrection is unpredictable. We think we know how the story ends. When people are killed and buried, they are dead. That is the end. The political power and show of the day, the Roman Empire had triumphed. The Jewish leaders had protected their understanding of faith and God. But God, in the act of resurrecting Jesus was proclaiming, “I am not done!” There is more, and this more will change everything you think and understand about life and how the world works.
I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to close my mind to new possibilities, or give into despair thinking. It often goes something like this: This is how it is, and it has been this way for so long that no matter what I do, nothing is going to change. I remember working with a small church early in my tenure as a district superintendent. The church members were not happy people, and on the occasion I had to meet with them, well, let’s just say it was not pleasant. Now I knew this church had a reputation for being difficult, and my experience was only confirming what I had heard. From my short interaction with members, I had made up my mind that nothing good was going to come out of this little church and it was on its way to death.
But God had other ideas. Out of the blue, a retired pastor reached out to me, saying he did not think he was done, and asked, “Do you have an assignment for me?” Boy, did I ever! God used this pastor, and something broke open in the congregation, and when I returned a year later for worship, it was full of joy and light and energy. That congregation is one of our small but mighty churches, still going strong today.
That experience taught me something very important: This is God’s church, and God is in the resurrection business, and I need to keep my mind and heart open to what God can and will do!
For me, to practice resurrection is to keep an open mind and let God be God, which means doing radically impossible and improbable things. It means not giving into what in AA they call “stinkin’ thinking.” I can be different tomorrow. Christ is alive and at work in me and you, and today does not need to be the same as tomorrow. Practicing resurrection means hanging on to hope even though all the facts point to death. It may not be how I think or expect, but life will come out of this somehow.
Practicing resurrection means praying specific and targeted breakthrough prayers, trusting that God hears and will respond, and letting go of the outcomes because God will do what God will do, and it will be good.
Why is the practicing so important? Without it, resurrection is just a story. We listen to it every year on Easter. It happened back then. But practicing keeps me connected with the fact that Jesus Christ is resurrected, and the Spirit is on the move, and I am now a part of this resurrection reality. I don’t just see it more in the world, which I do, but I actually participate in it and help others see that new life is possible. It shapes me and changes me, and it is now my story. And so my friends, I urge you to do the thing that on the surface does not compute: Practice resurrection!
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the Untied Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church