By Jim Taylor
John 20: 19-28
To me, the most telling line in that story in John’s gospel comes right at the beginning. The disciples had gathered BEHIND LOCKED DOORS. The Bible assures us that they knew about the resurrection already. But they didn’t believe it yet. So, they hid behind locked doors.
They were still suffering from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress.
Trauma lasts longer than we think. Bev Sawatzky told me, once, that the children of Holocaust victims show symptoms of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, although they had no experience of the prison camps.
I expect the same will be true of refugees from Ukraine, from Syria, from Afghanistan….
Just because they have experienced a resurrection in a new country doesn’t mean that they’ve been able to leave the empty tomb behind. Our opening hymn repeats, over and over, the line “The tomb was empty at the rising sun.” As if it was easy to set that empty tomb aside, to banish it from our memory.
We have been spoiled, because we know how the Easter story ends.
We have to remember that people living through traumatic events – a death, a divorce, a war, an empty nest – don’t know how it will end. How it should end.
Sharon and I want to tell you about one of our empty tomb experiences.
Sharon tells of Huey, Dewey, and Louie:
I knew I wanted to be a mother even as a child. I was one of those kids that carried her doll around, pretending to mother it, talk to it, feed it, clothe it, nurture it. My doll, my favourite doll, was my Mom’s doll. She’s very fragile now… and her name is Katherine.
But knowing that I wanted to be a mother and getting to being a mother was a hard journey. Love and life, and career and timing didn’t work in my favour. Suddenly I was hitting my thirties with a ticking timeclock of a womb. I knew I still wanted motherhood, potentially several children even, but no partner in sight. Did I want to be… was I strong enough to be a single mother?
A couple of my male friends actually offered to “help” me out. But I declined. You see, when genetic testing for Cystic Fibrosis was introduced, I volunteered. I knew there was a high probability that I was a carrier, given that my brother had died of it. I was correct. That meant that any donor that I used would need to be cleared as a non-carrier to ensure that my children did not have CF.
There were numerous hormone treatments, getting poked and prodded inside and out and an emotional roller coaster of hopefulness and despondency over repeated failures. Finally, one of the in-vitro fertilizations worked in a petri dish. Three cell blobs were implanted and my body registered with the appropriate hormonal response to say that I was pregnant after almost a year of trying.
Huey, Dewey and Louis… that is what I called them, for some reason. A, B, and C or 1, 2 and 3 were too generic. Daffy Duck’s nephews is was.
Because of my age, mid 30’s at the time, it was considered a high-risk pregnancy. So, I had to have frequent ultrasounds to verify that everything was okay. After about 8 weeks, I was told that only 2 of the embryo’s were still viable. Disappointing, but not unbearable. Huey and Dewey would be my children. Louis was not meant to be.
About a week later the ultrasound showed no life. I phoned Mom and Dad. All I could say was, “It’s over.” And I sobbed.
Joan and I also sobbed for a while. And then I felt I had to get outside. I went for a walk.
I think I expected the universe to be grieving with us. There should have been thunder and lightning. Lashing winds. At least dark clouds, rain. But it didn’t happen that way. There were stars, brilliant, all over the sky. Shining as if nothing had happened.
I remember thinking, angrily: (pardon the language, please, but this is what I thought) “The universe doesn’t give a shit!!” That night, I lost my faith in the God I thought I knew.
I have slowly realized that I was wrong. The problem wasn’t God, but my understanding of God, and how God acts.
I’ve come to the conclusions that the universe does care about individual lives. Listen to this reading of a children’s book called “On the Day You Were Born.”
Some of that story is a bit fanciful, I admit. I don’t think the fish and the wolves and the eels sent messages around the world. But I loved the idea that the forest produced the oxygen for that baby to breathe. That the earth produces the gravity that keeps us from floating away. That the moon causes the tides that wash the beach clean for us to walk on. That all of creation works together for good, for each life, for every life.
Years later, I can affirm that the universe does care, if we’re open to recognizing it. Thomas demanded evidence. So do I. And I have seen the evidence for myself, all around me.
I have a different piece for your time of meditation today. Leonard Cohen knows the pain of the empty tomb, the empty room, the empty heart, the pain that won’t go away. Here’s Leonard Cohen in his famous London concert with his “cold and broken Hallelujah.”