The resurrection of Christ runs so far beyond words. Even the evangelists left the night itself to silence. They make no attempt to tell us what happened within the tomb, only that it was empty come Sunday morning, that he was restored to them, that Calvary had birthed a new, unimaginable creation.
The great challenge of preaching the resurrection isn’t proving that it happened. It’s always been a reality that stands beyond verification, because it summons faith and excites wonder. Humans can examine and explain the things of this world. What we can’t yet, we someday will. But the resurrection reveals a new world, one larger than our own humanity.
The question to be pondered isn’t what happened. It’s what it means, and here we must strive mightily not to limit its significance, not to reduce the resurrection to nothing more than the rallying of the human spirit. In the resurrection of Christ, the God who created us redeems us. The God who stands beyond life enters death to reveal our destiny.
Tennessee Williams once offered what might be called a parable of the resurrection. In "The Night of the Iguana," a failed cleric meets an impoverished artist in a rundown corner of Mexico. The Reverend Shannon, as he himself explains, has “been inactive in the Church for all but one year since I was ordained a minister of the Church.” He was undone by his unorthodox views and his sexual appetite: “fornication and heresy in the same week.” He’s banished himself to booze and broads. He’s a tour bus guide, who still hopes to return to his calling.
Hannah paints watercolors and is a “quick sketch” artist, who, as she admits, tends to flatter her subjects to provide for herself and her grandfather, a once great, but now penniless, poet.
Hannah and Shannon are both “at the end of their ropes,” and that’s the central image of the play. Underneath the veranda of the hotel a captured iguana is tied up. Shannon explains the noise that Hannah hears.
I’ll get my flashlight, I’ll show you. It’s an iguana. I’ll show you…See? The iguana? At the end of its rope? Trying to go past the end of its goddam rope? Like you! Like me! Like Grampa with his last poem.
Hannah asks, “Why did they tie it up?”
Shannon tells her:
Because that’s what they do. They tie them up and fatten them up and then eat them up, when they’re ready for eating. They’re a delicacy. Taste like white meat of chicken. At least the Mexicans thinks so. And also the kids, the Mexican kids, have a lot of fun with them, poking out their eyes with sticks and burning their tails with matches. You know? Fun? Like that?
The iguana is physically vile, but the Reverend Shannon is more so, spiritually. The tortured cleric can only respond to hate with vitriol.
Here I am on this…dilapidated verandah of a cheap hotel, out of season, in a country caught and destroyed in its flesh and corrupted in its spirit by its gold-hungry conquistadors that bore the flag of the Inquisition along with the Cross of Christ.
Shannon wants to call down God’s judgement upon the world. He wants God to vindicate his sense of right and wrong, to exonerate him. He says, “I want to go back to the Church and preach the gospel of God as Lighting and Thunder…”
But Hannah simply is the mercy of God. She tells Shannon—and clearly the queer, debauched Williams is here doing a little preaching of his own—“Nothing human disgusts me unless it’s unkind, violent.”
Hannah asks the Reverend Shannon if he hasn’t
just been so much involved with a struggle in yourself that you haven’t noticed when people have wanted to help you, the little they can? I know people torture each other many times like devils, but sometimes they do see and know each other, you know, and then, if they’re decent, they do want to help each other all that they can.
And then, as though she were the merciful savior, she tells him, “Lead them beside still waters because you know how badly they need still waters, Mr. Shannon.”
Hannah convinces Shannon to set the iguana free, and in doing so, she sets Shannon free. He isn’t meant to be a minister of the church. His Gospel is small, vindictive, centered upon himself, but Hannah has learned to
look out of myself, not in, and gradually, at the far end of the tunnel that I was struggling out of I began to see this faint, very faint, gray light—the light of the world outside me—and I kept climbing toward it. I had to.
And that is something of what the resurrection means for us. Today God takes our hatred, our small worlds of anger and cruelty, and sets us free. He “leads us beside still waters.”
Acts 10: 34a, 37-43 Colossians 3: 1-4 John 20: 1-9