I’m currently reading the book Spirit and Trauma by Shelly Rambo. It describes trauma as the middle ground between life and death, and therefore a theology that addresses this suffering needs to look at this uncomfortable ‘in-between’. She acknowledges that the Christian narrative of the cross places death (cross) and life (resurrection) at opposite ends of a linear journey, focusing on the ‘victory of life over death’ and running “the risk of glossing over a more mixed experience of death and life”. (pg7) She writes, “If resurrection is the event of the new life in Christian theology, reconciling these claims with the experience of survival in which life is not experienced as new, or as better, is difficult.” In other words, it’s all very well and good to speak of ‘new life in Christ’ but how do we explain it when suffering and pain don’t disappear?
I think we also see this rush from ‘death to life’ in society. We try to gloss over and move on quickly from painful events to ‘happier things’. For example, funerals will often have more of a celebratory focus rather than one of grieving. And when something bad happens in someone’s life we might find ourselves encouraging them to just ‘move on’.
It’s interesting the lack of this ‘in-between’ that is included in the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection. John 19 ends with the burial of Jesus on the Friday (the day before the Sabbath), and then John 20 starts immediately with the resurrection of Jesus “on the first day of the week”, ie. Sunday. Nothing is recorded about what happened on the Saturday. We know that on the Sunday evening the disciples were all locked in a room together (John 20:19). Maybe they had been there since the Friday night. I wonder what they might have been thinking and doing that time, other than feeling scared. And I wonder why Thomas wasn’t with them (John 20:24). Maybe, while the other disciples had needed community as they began to process what had happened, Thomas had instead sought solitude.
I’m not sure whether I’ve ever really thought before about what the disciples would have been doing during that ‘in-between’. When the church observes Easter Good Friday is most often a solemn service, and Sunday is celebratory and full of life. The ‘in-between’ is just a public holiday. It’s not really acknowledged for its significance, that this was the day that Jesus spent in the tomb and that this was the day that it probably started to really sink in with the disciples that he was gone. I imagine they would have felt very lost.
In her book Rambo quotes the words of a Deacon in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: “The storm is gone, but the “after the storm” is always here.” It’s that messy place of an event being over, but it not really being over. In theology the kingdom of God is often spoken of as “already but not yet”; it’s that same sense of ‘in-between’.
I’m left wondering what to do with this. What does faith mean to someone for whom suffering is “always here”? What does Christianity and the cross look like to someone without faith who is also experiencing that suffering that is “always here”? How can we share a gospel that they can relate to?
What would it mean to stop and place ourselves in that locked room with the disciples on that Sabbath, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion? What might we learn?