Seeing the World through Resurrection Eyes
But at this moment in the church calendar, we too are forced to wrestle with the Resurrection, and Thomas's story makes us ask the hard question: Do we really believe in the risen Christ?
And if we do—or don't—how does that change us?
Does it throw us off balance?
I know a little something about being off-balance. I grew up in a conservative Evangelical Christian home where God was assumed to be capable of intervening in reality whenever someone with sufficient faith asked Him to. Miracles abounded even now. After leaving the Church for decades, I returned to a faith that was skeptical of supernatural spirituality, a belief that found it hard to believe in miracles, and thus harder still to get my head around the Resurrection.
But a few summers ago, I was working as a hospital chaplain at Brackenridge, the regional trauma center near downtown Austin. Most victims of drowning, overdose, car wrecks, and other mishaps are taken to Brackenridge, and during my summer there, I walked alongside people and their families as they suffered great losses.
Hard as that was, I was able to identify with their suffering, for I have known suffering. I understood their requests for God's miraculous intervention, because I have made such requests. But I also know—or think I know—that the ultimate trend of all matter in this material universe is toward death and destruction, and I hoped to help people accept that.
One day on the critical care ward, a completely undignified shout went up from the hallway. I looked in that direction, expecting to see nurses and other hospital workers moving over to shush whoever was making the noise.
Except it was nurses and hospital workers who were shouting. They were clustered around a handsome young man of around 20, shaking his hand, clinging to his neck, and Jolynne, the charge nurse, must have seen my look of confusion, because she said: "That's Perez, the famous Perez. He was in 606, in a coma." She indicated the intensive care room right across from us. "Thrown riding a bull. He was brain dead. We had a couple of ethics consults—most of us wanted to pull the plug." She sighed at the memory. "But the family asked us to give it three months."
"He was brain dead," she repeated. "We thought he'd never come out of it. But," she blinked, a tiny smile growing across her face, "he did."
Sandra, another nurse, bounced back from the hall and settled in at the nurses' station. "Perez is here," she told Jolynne, who nodded and smiled back. "He's walking and talking."
"Wow," I said. "He really beat the odds."
Sandra held up her finger to shush me. "There were no odds," she said, waving that finger at me. "He was brain dead, and nerve tissue don't grow back." She looked down the hall, where Perez was walking to the far nurses' station. "And now—he's all walky-talky."
This story about the Famous Perez is clearly a resurrection story, and although you and I know that this story is notable, that resurrection almost never takes place, nonetheless, here it is. Like Jesus on Easter morning—something happened. I can't explain it, my life is easier if I don't have to think about it, but in this story, God moved in some fashion to make things right, and things were never the same afterward.
Ultimately, I think that's where we should land in thinking about the Resurrection, on the notion that something happened that changed everything, including, I hope, us. Progressive Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan has been speaking in recent years about the notion of "operational belief," the idea that whether you believe the Bible stories (including the Resurrection) literally or figuratively, those beliefs ought to make a living difference in your life.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.