In an interesting juxtaposition of the liturgical and television seasons, the First Sunday of Lent saw the premiere of ABC’s much-promoted Resurrection. The show is raveling a thread about what happens when deceased loved ones return suddenly and inexplicably to their families in a Missouri town. I hesitate to make too many claims about the show based on one viewing, but its title and timing spark some points of comparison and contrast—feel free to respond to the ones I’ve listed or to add your own in the comments below.
- At this point, the show’s resurrections are mysterious reappearances. The returning deceased seem to be the same age as when they died, with little memory of the time between their death and return—and, it seems, precious little sense of cognitive dissonance. The drowned child remarks to his mother, who has aged 32 years, that she “looks different” but otherwise seems to want to return to life as usual (it’s an open question to me how much the resurrected sense and understand about their situation). Resurrection in the show doesn’t yet appear to be about the new and eternal life that both embraces and transforms our historical, embodied selves; seeing how the meaning of resurrection develops within the show may prove interesting and could raise further questions of ways we imagine resurrected life.
- The stories of Christ’s encounters with his disciples following his resurrection speak to a certain “hiddenness”—Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for the gardener, the disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize Christ until the breaking of the bread. In Resurrection when a boy returns to his parents, I expected mom and dad to be overwhelmed with recognition of their son, even years after his death. Yet it’s not until the dad and son interact over an old joke, or until the mom allows herself to reach out and touch her son (in ways reminiscent of Thomas) that personal recognition of the resurrected begins. The idea that we know the people we love not as abstract figures but rather only within the context of our relationships with them is a powerful one. Perhaps the fact that recognition grows also speaks to the power our expectations have over our encounter with reality—and how we come to see and respond to unexpected realities.
- While the characters struggle with varying degrees of incredulity, some are quick to call the resurrections a miracle. Pastor Tom struggles particularly between the years he has spent preaching about Jesus’ miracles and his inability to embrace what seems to be the miraculous return of his childhood friend. In the gospels, miracles play various roles. For instance, in Mark’s gospel, miracles result from faith; in John’s gospel, miracles are signs that compel faith. If the resurrections we’re seeing in this show are miraculous in the Johannine sense, it will be interesting to see what beliefs and actions arise from them.
- Pastor Tom’s concern is not only with his own belief, but also his uncertainty of what to say to others for whom he feels a spiritual responsibility. What is the role of the minister in the face of the unexplainable? We can hear that question being answered in the episode, and I hope it is one the show continues to wrestle with. Sitting in church, Tom says to an unnamed woman (whom I presumed to be his wife): “I’ve been preaching the miracles of God for 10 years and then when one happens right in front of me I don’t believe.” She replies, “You don’t need to have all the answers. That’s not your job. You just need to comfort those who have questions.” Our ministerial desire to “fix it” may cause us to overlook our more authentic role in the midst of others’ questions. Tom seems to work this out further in the midst of a sermon about John the Baptist and Jesus. It’s a bit unclear to me which man Tom is speaking of in the following quote—though it seems quite clear he is speaking to himself: “He was human. And like us he was given the tools to ask the questions, not to know the answers. And that might seem unfair. But isn’t that the price of human understanding? Isn’t that what it means to have faith?”
Did you watch the show? What did you think?