What does it mean to “practice resurrection” on this planet covered with the ashes of grief? For over a year, we have faced a world gripped by sickness, loss, struggle, and fear. Many of us have, time and again over these past months, found ourselves at the end of our own abilities. We adapted until we couldn’t anymore. We pushed forward, and sometimes we crashed.
After a year-long journey that felt a lot like Lent, what does it mean for us to rise?
In Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” he penned this oft-quoted phrase: “practice resurrection.” But this beautiful statement comes at the very end of a difficult poem that speaks of opposition and greed, fear and consumerism. Why is it that his hopeful line comes at the end of something so painful and challenging? What does it mean to “practice resurrection” in a world that is filled with death and brokenness?
In this season of Eastertide, we remember once again that Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of our own. His ascension planted the seed for our own ascension. And yet, when did his resurrection come? In the midst of violence and fear, after all of his friends deserted him, after death seemed to have the last word. The reason Berry challenges us to “practice resurrection” is because resurrection isn’t instinctive in a world gripped by pain and loss. Resurrection is something we need to live into, something we need to try on, and practice, until eventually it becomes our reality.
The turning point of Berry’s “Manifesto” says this: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.” In other words, make a habit of doing things that are resurrection things. Live a life filled with new-life liturgies, things that confound the ways of a death-dealing world. Though there are many liturgies that will help us “practice resurrection,” I want to lift up three.
- Let love influence what you do. Wendell Berry talks about loving the Lord, loving other people, doing things without expecting repayment, and loving those who don’t “deserve” it. These are good things, but I think practicing resurrection goes beyond any one of these things (or even all three). The undercurrent of these practices is love. If we are influenced by love, our leading question won’t be “What’s in it for me?” I once read that you should plan to give a gift at a wedding that costs approximately what the couple spent to have you at the reception. The goal is to pay the couple back so that things are even. Jesus didn’t call us to live in a way in which we even out the score with others. Instead, he invited us into a way of sacrificial love. What would our daily lives look like if love led the way?
- Invest in something beyond yourself. I love the way Berry says this. He writes, “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Why sequoias? Because they will mature long after the one who planted them has died. The one who plants will not enjoy the full benefit, but planting them is an investment in the enjoyment and well-being of others. If we are consumers, we use resources without regard for those who will come after us. We will take more than is our share; we will waste without regret; we will live like there’s no tomorrow. Practicing resurrection takes the long view. When I first started babysitting kids in my neighborhood, my mom told me to leave each home better than I found it. My time in these homes was not about me—it was about the family that invited me into their lives. This advice scored me a lot of babysitting jobs (what parent doesn’t love coming home to kids in bed and all the dishes washed?), and it made other people’s lives better—even if just for a night. Practicing resurrection is about investing in something that benefits others. It is about planting seeds, even if you never get to enjoy the fruit.
- Choose joy. “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts,” writes Berry, and my type-A, rational mind bristles. How can I be joyful when the world is falling apart? How can I laugh when there is so much pain? Yet, I am convinced that joy is the work of the defiantly hopeful person. Joy laughs at the tomb because death has been swallowed up by life. Joy radiates in the bleakest of nights and brings hope when despair is digging in its heels. Every March, I plant seeds indoors. The seeds are meant for the garden, but they need to be planted before the weather is warm enough outside. Every single year, when I plant my seeds, I worry that they won’t grow. I wonder if the weather will stay cold for too long, or if I’ll be able to keep the plants alive long enough to transfer them outside. But I plant them anyway. I do this because even when winter’s grip seems too strong, seeds provide joy in the knowledge that new life is possible. Practicing resurrection means choosing joy, even when it doesn’t make sense; it means planting seeds, even if you aren’t sure any of them will grow.
Practicing resurrection doesn’t make the tough stuff go away. It doesn’t prevent us from feeling hurt or keep us from experiencing grief…but it does help us laugh. It helps us hope. And it helps us try on resurrection life and become people who are led by love.