Unrecognized

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by Chad Pierce

Not a week goes by that I do not remember. A random glance at my son moves me to tears and gives me great joy.

We had just experienced a wonderful Fourth of July weekend visiting our family in Michigan. We played in the lake, watched and set off a few fireworks, and ate too many hot dogs. We capped the holiday weekend off with a trip to the batting cages. Life was nearly perfect.

Later that day my son told my wife that something wasn’t right. After some tests, I was now nervously driving him to DeVos Children’s Hospital. His kidneys were not working. My “Rockwellian” dream had turned into a nightmare. My son’s week was full of tests and procedures. Mine was full of tears and questions.

As I looked at my son and the other children on the hospital floor, some with cancer, others with kidney failure, and all with serious illnesses, I began to ponder again the care, power, and even the existence of God. How could a loving God do this? How could an omnipotent God let this happen? These are just kids! The world was not as it should be. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, I was spent. My nerves were shot and my faith was in pieces.

Then the phone rang. Little did I know it, but the power of the resurrected Christ was on the line.

This Easter season I have been struck by the fact that the resurrection is often unrecognizable.

Jesus’s resurrected body is a conundrum. On the one hand it appears to be the same physical body as he had before. After all, the tomb was empty, and he still bore the wounds on his hands and side. On the other hand, some significant changes had taken place. We read of Jesus passing into locked rooms. Even more odd is the fact that those who encounter the risen Christ did not always recognize who he was.

Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest followers did not recognize him at the tomb. Similarly, Luke 24:13-35 records two travelers on the road to Emmaus who unknowingly encounter Jesus. A stranger joins their conversation. They are lamenting how Jesus, the presumed Messiah of Israel, their hope, was murdered. In their most desperate moment, the resurrected Christ was with them, even if he wasn’t recognizable at the time.

My son’s pastor, my pastor, was on the phone. From 500 miles away he had a brief conversation with both of us. In our pain, in our questions, we were not alone. Cards and presents for an eight-year old began to pour in. Friends took time to sit with and care for us. Random strangers on the street would stop us, letting us know that they were praying for us. We were so appreciative of the love and care people were offering. Now, I believe something more powerful was going on.

The power of the resurrected Christ was among us, even if we couldn’t see him. In our darkest hour, Jesus was there, even if he wasn’t recognizable. Through that journey I fell in love with the church again. I fell in love with God again. My faith was rekindled, resurrected. Not all of my questions were answered, actually hardly any were. Yet, my eyes were opened and I could again see Jesus in ways that I hadn’t for so long.

I am not glad for my son’s illness. I do not succumb to overused and underthought Christian clichés on God’s presence in our lives. I am fully aware that while my son is in remission, others are not, and some have passed. Today many join with Mary and the Emmaus travelers crying and questioning. Many continue to walk in lonely darkness, with shattered faith, with more questions than answers, with more tears than hope.

I am reminded in those glimpses of my son that in our darkest moment, the resurrected Christ walks with us, even if he is unrecognizable at the time.

Chad Pierce is a minister in the Reformed Church in America who pastors Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

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