We awaken, we get up, we come out.
I was crawling through a very dark and narrow tunnel, the dirt of its ceiling scraping my back, lodging under my fingernails, staining my exposed kneecaps. The person in front of me had disappeared, moving more rapidly than I through this underground world, and when I confronted an intersection of three tunnel options, I began to panic. Why had I chosen to brave the long route through this adventure? What was I trying to prove—my manliness? And I began to feel the real effects of claustrophobia: a rising panic, the possibility of being paralyzed with fear, unable to move. What if the walls caved in, or the ceiling collapsed? Would I suffocate, would this be my tomb?
I chose the right tunnel, and followed it in a big curve that I feared was taking me deeper into the abyss. My heart began to pound, and then the bend suddenly straightened and way up ahead I saw my leading companion’s body climbing up towards a light streaming down from above. Oh my God, I said out loud, and with much relief. As I climbed up the ladder, the smell of fresh air was wonderful, and although the sun temporarily blinded me with its brilliance, I was overjoyed.
I climbed out of that hole, sweating profusely, but seeing my group members looking on, I managed to display a brave and manly face, simultaneously wondering why I needed to pretend in front of these strangers.
On my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I had emerged from one of the hundreds of miles of underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong fighters during the Vietnam War. They lived in these tunnels day in and day out for years, sleeping in them, eating in them, building simple but deadly weapons in them. They would only emerge from them at night when they would be hidden by the jungle darkness, and when they could attempt to ambush their enemies.
It’s hard to adequately describe how relieved I felt, standing on top of the ground. In my head, I knew I was never in real danger, but in my heart I had gotten really scared. Standing there in the sunshine, I felt rescued, freed, reclaimed, resurrected.
For centuries in mountain monasteries, the monks would begin a new day with one word, calling out from their beds when they awakened, 'resurrexit', ‘he awakens’, he’s awake, to let the community know they were up and ready for another day.
I wanted to shout out ‘resurrexit’ when I surfaced out of that tunnel, but instead I simply smiled sheepishly as the guide reminded us how people had gone into the tunnels to survive the war raging all around them. He also mentioned that many had died in the tunnels as well—from cave-ins, from suffocation, from bombs of the enemies.
Later that night, as I lay in my comfortable bed in my comfortable hotel room, I dreamed about being resurrected, saved. I don’t remember the details of the dream, but my mother was there and a bunch of my friends, and we were all crying in joy. I woke up--pop--and I heard a rooster crow, and the world was still there, it hadn't snuck away in the night, and I had real tears in my eyes, and I said out loud into the silence of my room, 'resurrexit'. As I slipped my feet out from under the warm covers onto the cold air-conditioned floor, sitting on the side of my bed trying to get the sleep out of my eyes, I said again, 'resurrexit'--he awakens, he gets up, he comes out, 'resurrexit'.
A few years ago one of my students was diagnosed with cancer and began a long battle with the disease. After exhausting all the medical treatments, his father brought Kenni back to his native Nigeria in the hope that the faith of his Christian community there could save his son. They prayed over him night and day in Jesus’s name, but Kenni finally breathed his last and died in his bed. His father was a very faithful man, and believed that if Jesus could weep over the death of his friend Lazarus and then raise him from the dead, he could do the same for his son. And so he prayed to Jesus to do just that, and gave the Lord the night to raise him up, resurrexit. He laid beside his son’s body through the night, believing that in Jesus anything was possible. But in the morning, Kenni’s body was still lifeless, and his father reluctantly agreed to have a funeral and bury his son.
There is that one line in the Gospel in the story of Lazarus that has always drawn me to Jesus, that gave Kenni’s father such faith. It’s just three words. “And Jesus wept.” After seeing Lazarus’ sister Mary and her brother’s friends weeping over his death, Jesus himself can’t hold back the tears. “And Jesus wept.”
How many prayers did Martha and Mary utter in those days when it became clear that Lazarus, the brother they loved so much, was not getting any better? How many times did they pray, "Lord, please... let him live..." And when he succumbed to the final sleep, as he slipped away forever before their reddened eyes, they wondered, where was Jesus, where was the man who had opened the eyes of the blind man? Where was the miracle worker? He could have revived him, saved him. Lazarus whom Jesus loved, would still be with us.
Jesus wasn’t satisfied when a mourning Martha expressed her belief in another life, her conviction that her dead brother would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day”. No, he corrects her and tells her that eternal life is the life you are living right now—if through real love of your brothers and sisters, you and God are one.
Resurrexit, you see, is something that happens to us every day of our lives. We awaken, we get up, we are blessed with being the face of love to those we will meet this very day. Resurrexit, out of the tunnel of our own fearful making, up into the light of the world that God has given us, there to weep with one another as our Lord did, there to save one another from our individual despair.
“I am the resurrection, and the life…whoever believes in me, will live” he said. Martha and Mary were given the chance to say ‘yesssssss’ to that, ‘I believe’ to that. Even Lazarus, when they unwrapped the mummy’s cloth from his mouth, surely found his voice again to proclaim the truth of the source of his life.
“Resurrexit,” he must have shouted in glee at the top of his lungs, ‘resurrexit, resurrexit, resurrexit!!!!!’, and who knows, maybe he dropped back dead as a doornail the very next moment and that was the real end forever and ever. It doesn’t matter if he lived 15 seconds or 15 more years because the point had been made abundantly clear to all concerned: “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”.
This is where it begins, you see, right here and right now, for all of us. Your eyes open in the morning to the sound of a rooster crowing, or perhaps the sound of a garbage truck outside your window, and you lay there in your bed and you say softly to yourself, and to God, 'resurrexit', she awakens, she gets up, she comes out, another miracle performed for us, Jesus Christ raising us from the dead of the night, tears in his eyes for the fragile creatures he knows us to be, calling us out to ‘come out, come out wherever you are” from our caves of darkness, up into the wonderful light we are meant to reflect with our love. Out to another day given over to us to gaze in wonderment at the beauty that surrounds us, to say it ourselves from our unwrapped lips to everyone within earshot of our voice.
Resurrexit, by his power we are awakened, get up, come out for nothing else but to give praise and reverence to the one who brings everything to life, keeps everything alive in his love on earth and in the heavens.
There is no more significant thing than that to do with our resurrected lives, to shout it out to everyone we meet, resurrexit, we awaken, we get up, we come out again and again, by the power and the glory and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, praise him, praise God forever and ever, Amen.