We were pummeled by death and then amazed by life in a space of 48 hours. Our middle daughter died after childbirth. Not “almost died.” She died. And then she died again. And then she died again.
Three times dead. Coded. Pronounced.
Followed by three resurrections.
The details are sad, tragic, horrific, angering, and even (a couple of times) almost hilarious. For her sake and ours, I will not tell any of these stories.
But we were pummeled by death, and then amazed by life. At one point, the doctor in charge declared to his hospital staff that there was a 90% chance that our daughter would die again, if she were moved to a larger hospital that had the surgical services which might turn things around. That sounds bad. Awful. Far too risky to attempt. The problem was, he continued, that there was a 100% chance that she would die again if she were not transported.
What kind of choice is that?
Beyond hope, exceeding any expectations, our feeble and fervent prayers were answered with our daughter’s resurrection, three times. Then, slowly plucking our mired hearts out of the quicksand of our sticky doubts, she made a plodding near-complete recovery over the next two years. No brain damage after an 11-minute flatline. No pulmonary damage after a 26-minute heart attack. No blood poisoning after kidneys died completely, and had to regenerate as if she were being born again.
And I am embarrassed. I have been a Christian all my life, deeply invested in praying for others, generally and specifically. I have been a pastor all my adult life, agonizing in intercession for people in my congregations. Yet again and again, women ravaged with cancer lost the fight, children didn’t recover from leukemia, athletes remained paralyzed after accidents, men were let go from necessary jobs, crops failed to produce sufficient harvests, and soldiers died in combat. Useless, useless prayers! What kind of faith did I not have? What sort of pastoral failure was I?
And then our daughter died. And we despaired more than believed. And she came back to life. And then she died again. And we were afraid to pray for another miracle. And she was resurrected. And then she died again! And we knew it was the end. And God brought a miracle that leaves a host of medical people scratching their heads in disbelief and wonder to this day.
I am embarrassed by the richness of the grace we have received. I am embarrassed by the impotence of my prayers and ministry. And I long for things to be different.
I long for Easter. I long for Jesus to make things right, the way that God wants them to be. For everyone.
I remember a businessman who became a friend for a time. He worked in a good clothing store, and I bought many shirts, pants, suits and shoes from him. We talked. He had been raised in a nominal Christian home, but long ago left that behind. He was intrigued by my occupation as a pastor, and joked with me regularly about how I ought to order up better weather, or change national politics with my inside track to the “Big Guy.”
Then came Holy Week one year. Out of the blue I got a call from him at my church office. His mom had died suddenly. They had no church, no “religious” person to do what needed to be done. Could I help them out? Could I create a funeral for them? Could I talk with his daughters at the cemetery?
The small ceremony and burial took place on Good Friday afternoon, just after I officiated at our church’s Good Friday worship service. Jesus was dead. This Mom and Grandma was dead. And we were gathered in a graveyard.
But I talked about a New World Order. I explained God’s Alternate Reality. I nudged in them a hope that this was not an End but a Transition.
Good Friday makes God’s pain at the crap of this world personal and shared with us. But we need Easter.
Even when miracles sometimes happen, surprising us beyond belief. Because our thrice-resurrected daughter will die again, as Lazarus the resurrected also did, and as my Mom did 18 months ago, and as my Father-in-Law did 13 months ago, and as my Dad did one month ago, and as too many of my friends have done.
We need a New World Order, where Death no longer rules, and where our prayers make sense, and where God fully resolves the messes we have left behind. We need Easter. We need Jesus. Alive.
And in this is the testimony and ministry of the church. It is what I live for.