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The Burning Patience of Easter

March 31, 2010

“We’re not desperate.”

— Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, in answer to my question, “In a world so full of brokenness, what difference does it make to pursue reconciliation and justice as Christians?”

My journey this Holy Week began Monday, early in the morning.  I was on the phone with an old friend.  We got to talking about another colleague who died some years ago at an early age.

“You know, he died of a broken heart,” said my friend.

He reminded me of the pain of our friend not long before his death.  He had visited an enormous evangelical ministry and was dumbfounded to see how much money was being received while prophetic ministries for justice and peace received so little.  Yes, perhaps the pain of lament exploded his heart.

A few minutes after the call I headed to work.  As I often do, I parked and walked through Duke Gardens.  I could not stop thinking about the pain of our friend before he died.  It weighed on me.  I began to think of my own laments, of places of people being used and disposed of, of things that move too slowly, of change resisted and hope abandoned.

Then an enormous Japanese Magnolia in full bloom caught my eye from a distance.  Somehow I couldn’t pass it by.  I felt an urge to go to it.   I got close to the exploding blossoms, and touched their softness and life.   I put my nose to the sweet perfume.  It swelled my heart.

“How do I hold together, at the same time, the fullness of this beauty and the fullness of this pain?”  It felt impossible.

Then I remembered.  I remembered that at the very same time our friend’s heart was expanding with lament, it was expanding with joy abounding, with knowing the embrace of God’s love more intimately, with promise for a new future.  It seemed impossible for one heart, yet I knew it was true.

It seems impossible, holding together pain and beauty.  In the journey from Jerusalem to the cross, Jesus suffered—grieving, in pain, the tears of blood in Gethsemane, abandonment by friends, and a cry of forsakenness to the Father.  Yet along that agonizing journey, Jesus was not once desperate.  Even in his enormous suffering Jesus internalized a different time.

Good Friday and Easter morning were both expanding in my friend’s heart when he died.   It may seem impossible but it is true–God has created room for both in the human heart.

“I tend to be impatient,” I told a colleague recently.  “Well, Chris, here’s what you need— a burning patience.”

Yes, burning patience.  That is the time of Easter.  A time of trees exploding in beauty that have yearned to reveal their fullness yet have not rushed through the winter of their bareness and discontent.  Not desperate, but quietly confident that new life will come in the right time–not in our time, but just in time, in God’s time–as promised.

A time for both cross and resurrection to be expanded in our hearts and lives.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. His writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers with Chris Rice.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Phil Morice Brubaker permalink
    April 2, 2010 2:46 pm

    “We’re not desperate,” said the white, male, tenured professor of a well-endowed institution. Maybe I’m missing some nuance or context somewhere, but I can’t get on board with this. It seems to me that the Psalms are full of desperation, and if “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” isn’t the cry of a desperate man, then I don’t know what is. (Chris, if you could spell out more how you see it as something other than desperate and despairing, I’m all ears.)

    For me, a primary critique of the Duke/Hauerwas project has always been that its eschatology is rather too “here” and not enough “not yet.” The world is full of desperate Christians who are not comforted to know that their desperation isn’t appropriately eschatological. I’d suggest that it is precisely those who are desperate who are left with nothing but their hunger and thirst for justice. They will be filled. In the meantime, they are desperate.

    I don’t think this takes away from your main point of the tenuous balance of holding together joy and lament, death and resurrection. Perhaps “burning patience” is akin to “fire in the bones”.

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