“… to rise from the dead.” In some ancient belief systems sleep was understood to be a “little death” and rising from sleep was like rising from the dead. Today, however, based on scientific studies of what happens when we sleep, we know that when we wake up in the morning we are still the same living person that we were when we went to sleep the night before.
In a similar way we might think of health care professionals treating desperately ill COVID-19 patients. Certainly a victim of the virus may feel that he has experienced a kind of rising from the dead when he is finally able to be taken off the ventilator and go home. But even though he will no doubt have a new appreciation for life he, too, will still be the same living person he was before his brush with death.
On the other hand, consider the woman who teaches a family literacy course for newly-arrived immigrants, many fleeing places where war and terror are daily realities. When asked how her course differs from “English as a Second Language,” she explains that, while she teaches English and reading to the children, when working with the adults, she not only teaches language skills, but also prepares them to be their children’s primary teachers, assessing needs and adapting materials that they can later use themselves.
While it might be simpler to teach the adults along with the children, she doesn’t want to deprive them of their role as first teacher. Her goal is not only to improve their lives but to actually change them, and because of her sensitivity and care, her adult students are able to rise up to new life as parents and teachers in their own homes.
For these people, life will never be the same. Their previous life of pain and loss has died, and now, because of this young woman and others like her, they are able to rise up from the dark tomb of fear and death into the life-giving light of possibility.
“… to rise from the dead.” Where else might we see Jesus’ words being lived out today?
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.