Nicholas Samaras’ poem in this issue (page 2) got me thinking – not just about the wonderful truth he reveals as he moves us through his psalm, but about “then,” a simple four-letter word we press into service constantly, but upon which, at least in its use as a signifier of what comes next, entire lives and stories may depend.
“What happened then?” we ask. Something good perhaps. Then again, maybe something awful. “Then” takes a step, big or small, this way or that. But always it marks a new place in time, a different position.
Reading through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, we encounter one “then” after another as the events in Jerusalem that Passover weekend move to their final end. Then he took the cup… then he went to Gethsemane… then all the disciples deserted… then they spit in his face… And so it goes, through the death and burial, through then they rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
Then comes the greatest turn of all. God raised Jesus from the dead. “Then” seems almost inadequate for this. Jesus dead and then alive again is like a new path altogether. Christ is risen, we call out Easter morning. He is risen indeed!
There are so many ways the Spirit moves us over the threshold of “then” to participate in resurrection reality. Two stories about one of these movements – that of confession to forgiveness and freedom – come to mind.
Silence over a dog
The first is a memory my father put down on paper some years ago. I can’t get his permission because he has Alzheimer’s disease, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me sharing it.
He had committed his life to Jesus as a child, but he was in his late teens and wanted to be baptized. He knew there were two things he had to confess. He had to clear away a lie he told his father to avoid punishment, and there was also the matter of the dog.
A widow and her family in their farming community had a dog that “tended to run all over the country.” This annoyed others but the dog’s owners were very fond of him. One day my father, who had been hunting rabbits, noticed the dog about a quarter mile from the road.
He stopped his horse, pulled out his rifle, took aim, and pulled the trigger – to scare the dog and “send him home in a hurry.”
“But he wasn’t scared,” my father said. “He just lay down. Then it was my turn to be scared.”
He had killed the dog, “and there he lay, day after day, away out in the field. No one but I knew where that dog was or why he was dead. The owners suspected a different person of killing their dog.”
He finally mustered his courage and told the woman the truth. “She was shocked!” he recalled. “But also forgiving. What a relief.”
And then he was free of it, ready for the next step.
A church split
The other story comes out of the history of the Mennonite Brethren church in Paraguay. During World War II, some Mennonites who had settled in the Chaco became deeply divided over support for Hitler. They had been helped to flee Russia by Germany’s aid, and pioneering in the Chaco was almost unbearably difficult. Some, then, dreamt of returning to the lush farmlands of their settlements in the Ukraine under the flag of a Germany victorious over Stalin. Surrendering the peace principles of their faith seemed not too big a price to pay. Others, however, felt that conflating their German and Christian identities was not only dangerous, but wrong.
With strong personalities and colony politics thrown into the ideological mix, opposing groups formed. The disagreement ran through the middle of the MB congregation and in 1944 it split apart.
This conflict has been documented in a number of books and memoirs by now, but the story of later reconciliation has not been told as much, said Alfred Neufeld in a lecture in Winnipeg last year about Mennonites in Paraguay. That reconciliation involved many meetings and much pastoral visitation, particularly by the elderly Canadian minister B.B. Janz. It involved testimonies of confession and forgiveness. Over the course of several meetings in September 1947, nearly 150 people spoke publicly.
Then the church came back together.
So thorough was the peace forged through that long process, Neufeld says, he grew up in the reunited congregation not knowing who had been on which side. Two men, previously opposed, worked together as senior and assistant pastor for 10 years.
This is the power of the resurrection moving in us and in our churches, taking us from there to here. Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Herald readers with good memories may recall reading David Ewert’s “Does the resurrection make a difference?” it appeared in the Herald some 20 years ago. The article’s answers to the question are well worth reading, however, for the second time, or the first. It was 40 years ago that Lena Isaac last wrote for the Herald, she told us. We’re glad to have her back with a meditation on tears in the Bible, which accompanies the poignant “Crocheted Tears” (art and story) by Odia R. Reimer and Wilma Derksen. Also in our features, Ewald Unruh, longtime leader in our conference, talks about reaching out and Regenerate 21-01.
In May, we’ll consider aging, a subject that affects us all.
—Dora Dueck, interim editor