There was a moment deep into Avengers: Endgame that knocked the wind out of me and I knew it was coming. If you haven’t been keeping up with the blockbuster behemoth, the previous movie devastatingly ends with the intergalactic villain Thanos wiping out half the living beings in the universe. So the whole premise of Endgame quickly becomes a desperate attempt to somehow, someway get those individuals back.
Like I said, I knew that they would succeed. Most people did. Spider-Man was among those who were turned to dust and he has a movie coming out in July. It was not a question of whether the Captain America, Iron Man, and company would bring them back, but how.
Yet when I saw them come back, it did something to me. Because this is a superhero movie, the third act is a ginormous fight scene. Just when it looks like all hope is lost, portals of golden light open up everywhere and through them enters all the heroes that had been lost when Thanos turned half the universe to dust. Every last one of them. When I saw that mass resurrection, this involuntary heave came from deep in my body and my hand covered my mouth.
I think we all just really want to see resurrection.
In this world where there often seems to be so much darkness, we just desperately want to see that Hail Mary of Hope succeed. We want to know that the end is not the end. That belief that somehow, someway God is going to make all things right, that goodness triumphs, and that resurrection is real is something that I still—in spite of all the obstacles—cling to. There was a brief moment in that movie where this work of pop culture touched this immensely deep need in me.
This past week has been probably the fifth consecutive week that has felt like a whirling dervish of busyness. I nearly sat down to write about that moment several times, but never could get the words down in a way that didn’t sound like a youth minister trying to make a spiritual point using the pop culture moment du jour. It probably still reads like that though I promise you it felt quite significant to me in the moment. But then I got a call from E.A. yesterday. She was crying. Rachel Held Evans had died. And as I tried to explain to my two sons why the death of someone we didn’t really know made their parents so sad, that involuntary heave leapt into my chest again. But this time it was for another reason altogether.
It felt like the cruelty of the world was snapping its fingers. It wasn’t right that a husband should lose his wife at 37, that two tiny children should lose their mom, that family and friends should see a bright light dim so unexpectedly soon. It doesn’t seem right when people who wield their religion like a violent weapon live on and even pile on in her death. It is dispiriting.
Rachel was a brave and welcoming voice for a lot of us who found ourselves struggling with churches where we didn’t fit in. She made us feel less alone which is a blessing because spiritual homelessness can feel like one of the most lonely places in the world. If you go to Twitter and search #BecauseofRHE, you’ll get a small sense of her compassion, intellect, bravery, and what she meant to so many people.
So I told my sons that she helped a lot of people with her words and with her actions and that we were some of those people. The youngest was upset because his parents were upset. The oldest nodded solemnly and then asked if I had searched on the internet to find out what the mystery Avengers Happy Meal toys were.
And I thought about that scene again. Of the dead resurrected. Of hope arriving just in time to stave off cruelty and indifferent malice. I thought of the Great Cloud of Witnesses coming through. I saw my Grandma. I saw Rachel Held Evans. I saw the scores and scores of people; loved ones, heroes of our faith, the lost and forgotten. Every single one of them in awe-inspiring numbers. And they do not come through to fight some great war. They come through to heal.
I know it may seem crass or juvenile to merge the loss of life with a superhero movie, but I just really want to see resurrection. God, I hope I see it one day.
Death and resurrection. It's the impossibility around which every other impossibility of the Christian faith orbits. Baptism declares that God is in the business of brining dead things back to life, so if you want in on God's business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world - including those of your own heart - because that's where God works, that's where God gardens.
Baptism reminds us there's no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It's just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair. Most days I'm not sure which is harder for me to believe: that God reanimated the brain functions of a man three days dead, or that God can bring back to life all the beautiful things we have killed. Both seem pretty unlikely to me.
-from Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans