What comes after death? I’ve been thinking about that this week, partly because it’s Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday, and partly because this pandemic is causing me to wonder what comes after this virus has departed or been defeated. What comes after death? I suspect you’ve been thinking about that too.
I remember after my mom passed away, I was visiting with my father, and he looked at me and asked, “What do I do now?”
He could have asked that question any number of ways. “What do I focus on now? How do I live now? How will my life be different now?”
Those are questions all of us ask when our lives have been upended. Those are scary questions to ask. When the women went to visit the tomb of Jesus and met a young man who told them Jesus had risen and urged them to go tell others, they fled from the tomb, trembling and astonished, and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
What do we do now? What comes after death?
I was talking with a mother and father the other day while out for a walk in our neighborhood. I asked them how they were doing. That seems to be the first question we ask everyone now, isn’t it? In all the years I’ve known this family, they’ve been a very busy, very active family. Their children are enrolled in many programs, their calendar has always been full to overflowing. So when I asked the mother how they were doing, she said, “I almost feel guilty saying this, but this has been a wonderful time for our family. We eat every meal together. The kids play outside. We’re not as stressed out. People keep telling me that when this all over, we can go back to our normal life, but I’m not sure I want to go back to that life.”
I didn’t think to say this at the time, I never seem to think of the right thing to say until a few days after the opportunity has passed. But what I wish I had said is this: We don’t have to go back to that life. We don’t have to go back to our pre-quarantine lives, unaffected by the many changes this virus has wrought. Yes, of course we want to go back to some of it. It’ll be wonderful to go grocery shopping again, to have toilet paper again, to eat out with friends, to shake hands and hug and not see other people as potentially dangerous. But there are other things we don’t have to go back to, mostly the unrelenting busy-ness that has poisoned our lives, the hurry and the haste, the relentless demands on our time.
After Jesus died, the disciples did not go back to their pre-Jesus lives. Their lives had been, and remained, inescapably changed. Just as ours have been. As painful and difficult as these months have been, we can’t help but affirm that right alongside the sting of loss has been the balm of grace. Neighbors, families, and friends rising to the occasion, pitching in, helping out. How can we not be changed by that?
I began by asking you what happens after death. Sometimes what happens is new life. Isn’t this the lesson of Easter? That we don’t go back to our old lives, our old ways, our old patterns of living?
I know a man who’s lived with depression for some time. He was right at that unfortunate age when telling a doctor or seeing a therapist was something to be embarrassed about, an admission of failure, an acknowledgment of weakness. So his depression persisted. Until this past autumn his wife said, “I am taking you to the doctor. You will go whether you want to or not.”
So they went, his wife determined, the man reluctant, but married long enough to know when he’d lost the argument. So they went.
The doctor talked with the man, then said, “I am referring you to a therapist, and I’m giving you a prescription for an anti-depressant.”
The man went to the therapist, once a week for two months, now just once a month for a little tune-up. “It’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be,” he told me.
The man took his medicine. The first time made his wife pick it up. He was too embarrassed. Now he goes and chats with the pharmacist about anti-depressants and thinks maybe he should have been a pharmacist instead of an engineer.
But here’s what I’ve found most interesting. I can see the change in his face. He’s a new person. Enthusiasm has replaced apathy. Happiness has replaced sorrow. A part of him died, and something new and wonderful has taken root.
In 1976, in the journal Medical Economics, a doctor wrote an article urging his fellow physicians to never waste a crisis. He said to use every medical crisis as a unique opportunity to help improve a patient’s personality, mental health, and lifestyle.
A crisis almost always brings with it overlooked opportunities. Easter reminds us that we don’t always find dead bodies in tombs, sometimes we find new life.