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Resurrection Stories: Parables for our time and all time

Jesus was often telling stories that show how closely resurrection relates to the reality of daily life. Take his parable of the prodigal son. The young man who took his inheritance and fled off into the desert, into Egypt, and there squandered his fortune, falling into humiliation and poverty and servitude. For all intents and purposes, it was as though he were dead.

As we know, eventually the young man returned home and was greeted by his father. "Bring the fatted calf and kill it, we are going to have a feast because this son of mine was lost and now is found, he was dead and has come back to life."

So the young man was restored to his home, to his family, to his native country and to God. The return of the prodigal son is actually a parable of the resurrection. It ends with a homecoming celebration.

Just like the resurrection stories of Easter. On the third day he rose again. Like the prodigal son Jesus returned to his home, to his native land, to his family and friends. And when he returned they celebrated by sharing a meal. They roasted fish and drank wine on the shore of the Tiberias. The same Jesus whom they have know and love is with them again. Like the parable of the prodigal son, the story of his resurrection reflects the patterns of our own lives. It is spun out of the fabric of our own existence. In this life of ours there are all those mysterious twistings and turnings that lead from life through the valley of the shadow of death toward a new creation. And always the joyous homecoming.

It's not only the Bible that contains these resurrection stories. ...

Not long ago I shared the unfolding of another parable of resurrection. It revolves around a small boy of about seven who was stricken with a fatal, ferocious and fast growing cancer. He had been treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering with every sort of therapy known to science. But nothing further could be done.

Perhaps they could administer one more dose of some experimental drug, but actually there was no real hope of recovery. And the side effects could only complicate the progression of the disease.

So the family and the doctors gathered in the little boy's room for a final conference concerning his treatment. They had tried almost everything, what could they possibly think of next? Finally the boy spoke up in a clear, crisp voice, "What I really want to do is to go home and learn how to ride my two wheeler."

The bicycle had been a Christmas present. It had those little trainer wheels attached. But before the boy had gained enough confidence to remove the trainer wheels the cancer caught up with him and he was sent to the hospital. Learning how to ride a two wheeler was the last thought the doctors or the parents would have contemplated. It just didn't seem possible. The boy was already physically weakened, why encourage him to do something that clearly would not be possible for very long even if he could succeed.

But the boy insisted and the resistance of the doctors and his parents melted away under the withering assurances of his clear brown eyes. And home they went.

Not thirty minutes after they had settled in, they were out in the yard, the boy insisting that his father take off the training wheels and let him have a go at it.

Obediently, but anxiously, his father took out his wrench and removed the training wheels to let him go. To their surprise, after only two false starts and one fall the boy was able to steer the bike, somewhat erratically to be sure. "And now," he said with mounting assurance in his voice, "Now I want to ride it by myself all the way around the block." Before anyone could stop him, he was off, up the street and around the corner out of sight. There were those few minutes of suspense as the parents, brother and little sister, waited for him to appear at the other end of the block, and after what seemed an eternity, there he was, headed for home, a gigantic expression of triumph and satisfaction written on his face.

When the excitement had settled down, the boy retired to his bedroom, and asked if he could be left alone with his little sister. He had his father bring the shiny blue bike into the bedroom. It sat there in the corner, a gleaming symbol of life. Then the boy turned to his little sister and said, "I won't be needing the bicycle anymore. I want you to have it for your birthday. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did."

From under the shadow of death, and in the midst of life's deepest tragedies, there comes the resurrection of life.

In giving his life for us, Jesus revealed that we too can move from moments of trial toward the joy which Christ's true disciples share. We too can make it through periods of boredom or self absorption and find that sense of purpose which is God's will for us. We too can confront sickness and physical suffering and come through the valley of the shadow of death to believe that we are held in God's right hand.

We don't need to spend our days grasping and grubbing for all we can get, when all we can ever desire is God's free gift of grace. We can follow Christ's foot steps until at last we are part of that great homecoming at the end of every resurrection story. We too can look forward to the day when we are embraced in the warm and welcoming arms of our creator and hear those words of praise: "Well done good and faithful servant, now enter into the joy of your maker." Praise be to God!



Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.