Clutching a picture of his pregnant wife, a 25-year-old Marine is flown into the military hospital in Afghanistan. Doctors immediately begin working on him, attaching IV’s and cutting his clothing off. As his blood spills out over the photo he begs the doctors buzzing around him to get him back to his wife. From pale lips he manages a raspy. “I promised…I promised I’d meet my son.” Then darkness falls around him. The staff notice he has lost liters of blood, and his testicles, penis, and both legs are completely gone. One doctor asks, “Will this kid even want to survive?” Silently and grimly, they wheel him in the operating room uncertain he will sustain the hours and hours of surgery ahead. A nurse tenderly removes the bloodstained photo of his wife from stiff hands and props it by the OR table.
Doubt is thick before this young soldier’s surgery even begins. The military medical staff have seen dozens of men like him everyday and all through each night. When the soldiers come around after days of powerful pain medications, many take the reality of amputation as an end of their life. Amputee soldiers are often sent home emotionally broken, spiritually empty, and unable to move beyond their traumatic losses. The doctors and nurses go through the motions each time desperately trying to save their physical life, knowing many soldier’s spirits die before they ever get to the OR table. Hope is hard to find among their hospital beds.
When this young Marine awoke after days of recovery his first words were to thank all the staff profusely for saving his life and then he paused to thank God for guiding their hands in his healing. The startled staff carefully repeated the severity of his injuries and the extent of his loss thinking he had not understood. He replied that he already knew how bad he was hurt when he was put in the helicopter. He knew this might happen. “God was with me and got me this far,” he explained to the nurses wondering when the news would really hit him. Instead of the blank stare and overwhelming grief the nurses were used to, this soldier grinned at them saying, “I’m still living and that’s something, isn’t it?” It was gratitude that poured out of him, not sorrow or lament or despair. He was grateful to the staff for keeping him alive, to keep his promise to his wife that he would get home and meet his unborn child. The staff marveled at his positive outlook and his determination. They wondered at his hope in the face of such loss.
When Christ came to Mary and Martha, weeping and lament were already in the air. Jesus himself wept with the mourners over Lazarus, sharing in the grief and feeling the weight of this loss. Then Jesus did the unthinkable. He called Lazarus out of the darkness of death and back into light of life, commanding him “Lazarus, come out!” Death seems an insurmountable obstacle to the onlookers but in Christ death is not the final word. The promise of life in Christ is not only an eternal kingdom but full life in the here and now. In the raising of Lazarus, we find hope for life, for transformation, and for resurrection in our time.
Living in hope is living in resurrection. This young Marine’s determined spirit despite his devastating loss is a profound reminder there is life beyond loss. There is life abundant if we but chose to grasp it. In Christ, we can imagine a new world of wholeness and healing, a world in which the lost are found, the lame walk and the dead live. In Christ, we are called to imagine a world with resurrection – resurrection in the lives of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges.
Jeanette Cooper Hicks currently serves as Associate Pastor at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She earned her master of divinity degree from Louisville Seminary. Jeanette loves baking bread, drinking tea with friends and traveling with her family. She and her husband, Al, have four children - Elizabeth, Rebecca, Katherine and David.