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Easter is for the Suffering

April 1, 2013

Easter is about victory. Easter is for the oppressed and suffering. This may not seem immediately apparent but think for a minute about the Resurrection. What does it mean?

Almost five years ago I could have given some good technical answers to the question of what the Resurrection meant. However, they would have been technical answers with little understanding on any sort of visceral level. Then I got cancer. I’m actually somewhat hesitant to describe this as “real” suffering. Yes, I had cancer. Yes, I had plastic tubes hanging out of my chest, a plethora of spinal taps and bone marrow biopsies, no hair, a fun incident in which I went septic, and the looming threat of immanent and painful death, but I didn’t have it nearly as hard as some. I remember waking up one morning on the chemo ward and hearing a lot of commotion down the hall and then someone crying. I’m pretty sure someone down the hall died that morning. I talked to a woman with liver cancer once in the treatment ward. We were both getting chemo run into our IVs. She told me about having to have a biopsy with no anesthetic because they needed her to retain control of her diaphragm so she could lift it out of the way when they told her to. Apparently a medical student was doing the biopsy and he had to try three times. I asked her how she dealt with that and she said that she had three kids. What else could she do but try her best to live?

Nonetheless, cancer is a fair bit of suffering even in when things go relatively well. In the first month of treatment especially it was not at all clear that I would live. Everybody knows that they will die but few really expect it, especially when they are still young. It is a disconcerting thing to have death loom near and to realize that soon you might have to pass into that dark veil.

In some ways the unknown-ness of death is the worst part. I know what it’s like to get a spinal tap. It’s not fun but I know how to prepare. I know what it’s like to face all sorts of other unpleasant things that happen on a regular basis. Death is a new one to me. I haven’t died before and while I have some reason to think that I know what goes on beyond death the dying part is certainly terra incognita. Actually, so is much of the beyond. Unless you believe that God’s world is extremely similar to ours (which seems a bit like assuming God is basically one of us but with superpowers) even the best description of the world to come must be metaphor and simile. Death means leaving behind everything you’ve ever known.

The Resurrection shatters the power of death. Lying in that hospital bed I suddenly put it together. Christ’s death and Resurrection are not just some metaphysical party trick that blots out invisible sins and fixes things for a court you’ve never seen but a path into the unknown. I realized that Christ was not merely the guy who would take care of me if I died but also the one who had died and had risen, the great trailblazer who walked through death before me and back out the other side, breaking the barred gates and leaving them open for me. To die would not be to enter the undiscovered country. It would be to follow in the footsteps of a dear friend, my Lord and Master. I sometimes like to imagine that in all those pictures of Jesus standing outside the tomb with his hands held high he is actually holding Death above his head for a split second before he slams it into his knee and obliterates it forever. This at least is the feeling of Easter for me, an almost gratuitous triumphalism. The Lord Himself has passed through death and split it open from the inside. Easter is victory.

Because Easter is about victory Easter is for the downtrodden. Death is the power of disease, the power of the oppressor, the power of hatred. Death is the final punishment to keep you in line, to break your spirit, to blot your name from history. But death is broken. The beating stick of tyrants and devils alike has been run through the wood-chipper and freedom has been proclaimed to those who lived under its tyranny. Easter is the promise that the final threat will turn out to be empty and that on the other side the losers will be winners. Easter is God sharing His victory with us. What does Easter mean? Easter means that death is robbed of its terrors. Easter means that we win.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 9:32 am

    Wow Eric,
    I have never faced a battle with cancer, but I have faced depression so intense that I have often contemplated death being the better option. I had always respected you for your intellect my friend but thank you for writing this also and allowing me and others to see your heart. You are right, Easter is about victory. Victory for those who have lost hope. Thank you my friend

  2. Dylan permalink
    April 1, 2013 10:52 am

    “I’m actually somewhat hesitant to describe this as “real” suffering.”

    It’s interesting, but this seems to be a common thread with survivors I know. In many cases, it’s from seeing those worse-off, I think.

    I had lymphoma 15 years ago. It was extremely treatable, so for me the issue was more perseverance rather than mortality, and I rarely think about it anymore. I feel like I didn’t *really* have *real* cancer.

    I have a friend who had cancer in his early/mid-20’s. He had one relapse and has generally had more side effects than I do, but he has a similar attitude.

    • Eric permalink
      April 1, 2013 11:37 am

      Yeah, I do think packing people into oncology wards gives you the chance to see the people who are in the very worst shape. And then being a survivor at all is coming out on the better side for many cancers.

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