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A Thousand Resurrections by Gary Robbins

On Friday, May 5, my father was on an operating table in Richmond.

Two months earlier, on March 11, he had suffered a heart attack and a stroke, and for eight long weeks had been dependent upon an intravenous feeding tube.  During the first of those weeks we had been hopeful—but over the final four weeks we watched in alarm as my dad grew weaker each day.  By the end of April he could no longer speak, no longer move his right arm, and no longer swallow.

We knew that something had to be done.

And so on Thursday, April 28, an interventional radiologist was brought in to try and get a feeding tube down my dad’s throat and into his stomach.

But my dad has a hiatal hernia as large as a grapefruit.  His stomach is twisted and more than two thirds of his stomach is up above his diaphragm.  As a result, the procedure ended badly.  My dad was raced to the emergency room with his heart pounding at 200 beats per minute.

Six days later, on my mother’s eightieth birthday, we turned to a gastroenterologist who had a reputation for succeeding where others had failed.  Our prayer was that he would be able to insert the feeding tube and give my mom the most important birthday present of her life.

But in less than an hour the doctor met us in the waiting room.  Because of the complications of dad’s stomach, and the weakness of my dad’s heart, neither he nor any of his associates would be able to insert the feeding tube successfully.

The only option was surgery—and that was not good news.

Eight weeks earlier, the previous hospital had told us that no one on their staff would attempt surgery in my dad’s condition.  Just a week before the surgery, a surgeon had said that he did not think that my dad could survive the surgery.

But we knew that this was my dad’s last chance.  Either we would attempt the surgery—or we would need to put my dad on hospice care.

And so we came to the moment of truth.

Now for years, as a pastor, I have preached about the power of the resurrection.  I have talked about God’s ability to bring Life out of Death.  I have preached that at the core of God’s resurrection power is God’s ability to come into situations as dark and dismal as a tomb and bring new life.

I have seen God’s resurrection power.

I have seen couples—convinced that their relationship was unsalvageable—experience “resurrection” as they discover God’s ability to bring forgiveness, understanding, and new life.

I have seen men and women addicted to drugs and alcohol find healing and sobriety through God’s grace.

I have seen inmates emerged from tombs of self-reproach and shame to embrace new possibilities for their lives.

But now the question took on a very special urgency.

Did I believe that God could come into the darkness of my dad’s situation and bring the possibility of new life?

“God,” I prayed, “you are the God of Easter morning.  You are the God who makes the earth tremble, who rolls back the great stones, and who bring new life to those who are dead.  God, the doctors have said that my dad’s situation is nearly hopeless.  We need a resurrection.”

Now I do not know why “resurrections” come some times and do not come at others.  My own faith is not exceptional.  My prayers have no more weight than the prayers of others.  We were fortunate to have hundreds of people praying for my dad, but I know that tens of thousands of people have prayed prayers more earnest and heartfelt than mine and have felt that their prayers went “unanswered.”

All I know is that within a few moments, my heart began to be filled with a deep sense of peace and I found myself singing the songs of the Easter season. I had a sense that I was being invited to witness God’s resurrecting power.

Moments later, the phone rang.  My dad had survived the surgery—and he was doing better than anyone had expected.

In the two weeks since my dad’s surgery he has begun to move his right arm, squeeze a ball, and has begun to talk with my mom, the doctors and his nurses.  His new complaint is that he is ready for more therapy!

I have witnessed a “resurrection.”

Now, I know that one day I will have to say goodbye to my dad and that one day, like everyone else, he will die.

But I also know that there are times when I, like Ezekiel, seem to be standing in a valley full of dry bones—times when I have nearly given up all hope, times when I feel the terrible crush of a Good Friday, times when I cannot see signs of life anywhere—and then, like Ezekiel, I hear God say, “Can these bones live again?”  And at one level, I wonder, “How can these bones come alive?”  But then, through the grace of God, a wind begins to blow, and the valley of dry bones comes to life, and to my wonder I see around me a thousand resurrections.

 

Gary Robbins is the pastor of Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Roanoke.  Visit them on the web at: www.gmumc.org.

 

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