The first time I preached an Easter service I was joined on the chancel by a young man who had recently experienced a life-changing accident. He sat behind me at the aging church’s pipe organ, hidden by the height of the pulpit, privately listening while I quoted from the poet Karin Boye’s poem “Yes it hurts when buds burst.”
I was preaching on the meaning of resurrection as transformation, both as personal and as political transformation. As I spoke about the kind of resurrection that comes after personal darkness and pain, I began to grow more aware of the young college senior who was sitting behind me. As I talked about how the rituals and symbols of this time of year remind us that after the pain of betrayal comes new life, I realized that our church organist might have something to teach me about resurrection.
Just three short months before Easter, the young music major who served as our organist and pianist failed to show up for the Sunday worship service. A message had been left with our worship committee chair person who just happened to be out of town. As a result, we didn’t know until later that day that our accompanist had blown off half of his hand while playing around with a “potato gun,” which is basically a pipe-based cannon that uses an accelerant of some type to launch bits of potato or marshmallows or other small objects at high speeds.
After about six hours of surgery and three months of recovery, our accompanist returned to us in time for the Easter service. The surgeon had been able to reconstruct part of the palm of the right hand, but this young man who was about to graduate with a music degree specializing in piano was now missing two fingers. He was in constant pain as the injury continued to heal, but he was determined to return to his life as it was before the accident, knowing that his life would never be the same again.
The words I said about resurrection took on new meaning for me as I found myself looking out to the congregation but realizing I was talking to the young man sitting behind me. I talked about how after the death of our old ways of being comes not everlasting life, but the sense that life is ever-renewing. I quoted more lines from the poem:
Then, when it is worst and nothing helps,
they burst, as if in ecstasy, the first buds of the
when fear itself is compelled to let go,
they fall in a glistening veil, all the drops from
blinking away their fears of the new,
shutting out their doubts about the journey,
feeling for an instant how this is their greatest
to trust in that daring that shapes the world.
After the service I walked out of the sanctuary with this injured and healing young man. I shared with him my experience of sensing that somehow I had been preaching only to him. Now, looking back, I realize it was his life that was doing the preaching. It is his life that teaches me still to “trust in that daring that shapes the world.”