When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 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. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. (John 11:17-27)
Henri Nouwen was a Dutch priest who, for many years, lived in community with people with profound disabilities. Here, he writes about Adam, a young man who could neither move without assistance nor speak, whom he loved well, and who had recently died.
Where then does the resurrection begin?
Yvonne, Adam’s good friend, told a story that she imagined, right in the midst of her grief. She was thinking about Adam, about his death, and about their friendship. She became conscious that the next time she would see Adam would be in heaven. Then she imagined that she was walking into heaven. As she walked she saw a radiant-looking young man approaching her. She was puzzled because she did not recognize him but he came right up to her and spoke. “Hi, Yvonne,” he said. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” Yvonne kept looking at him feeling she knew him but not knowing how. Then he laughed and said, “I’m Adam. Your friend. Do you remember me?” Yvonne was consoled by his youthful energy and welcome.
Elizabeth, a longtime member of L’Arche, had a dream. She told us, “In my dream I saw Adam running and dancing, jumping up and down, free as a bird. I saw him as a free spirit, laughing and talking and moving his head, arms, and legs like a beautiful athlete. He was so jubilant, so radiant, doing all the things he had never been able to do while he was with us. When I woke up I was thrilled to have seen Adam dancing!”
I myself didn’t have any vision or dream. To the contrary, I had this strange feeling in my stomach that nothing was worthwhile anymore. That feeling was not there all the time — I kept on with my routines — but once in a while I said to myself, “Why do I do all of this? Why should I visit another person, eat another meal, write another book, celebrate another liturgy? It all comes to nothing anyhow. Why love when all ends in death?” I felt a draining fatigue as I lay down on my bed and I asked myself, “Why should I get up again?”
But every time I spoke about Adam to my friends, they listened. And they listened in a different way than when they listened to my other words. They listened to my grieving heart and heard there the voice of that silent young man I had loved so much. And as I talked they said, “You really loved him, didn’t you? Tell us more.” And I did tell them more — about Adam’s birth, his wonderful parents, his coming to Daybreak, our relationship and how he touched my heart. Such a simple story. But every time I told it I could see new life and new hope emerging in the hearts of my listening friends. My grief became their joy, my loss was their gain, and my dying their coming to new life. Very slowly I started to see Adam coming alive in the hearts of those who had never known him, as if they were being made part of a great mystery. Then someone said, “Maybe you should write about Adam, so that many people can know his story and rejoice in it?” …
Adam’s unique body is the seed of his resurrected life. When I saw his youthful beauty in the casket I had a glimpse of this new life. I have to trust the visions and dreams of my friends and the new hope that emerges in the hearts of those I tell about Adam’s life. I have to trust in what happens through my own and other people’s grief. And as I trust I must believe that I will see that the resurrection of Adam, the beloved son of God, is not only something to wait for but also something that is already happening in the midst of our grief. Ω
Reflect: When have you witnessed or experienced resurrection life? Or, imagine yourself in the Bible story. Place yourself in Martha’s shoes and recall a time of intense grief and loss. What would you say to Jesus? What do you hear him saying to you? What do you see in his eyes?
#Lent2020 © Sanctuary, 2020 quoting Henri J. M. Nouwen. Adam. God’s Beloved. Blackburn, Vic: HarperCollinsReligious, 1997. Order your copy from your favourite bookseller.
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