ABC has been promoting its new drama “Resurrection” for months with the tag, “What if someone you lost … returned?”
The premise of the series is that at least two people who had died in the small town of Arcadia, Mo., have returned to life and have come home to those they had left behind.
The first episode of the series aired on Sunday, March 9. The plot follows a young boy, Jacob, who awakens in a rice field in China and is revealed to be the same child who drowned in an accident in Arcadia some 30 years before.
The child appears to have not aged at all and has no recollection of his life over the last three decades; he at one point says that he “just woke up” in a foreign land.
By using the title “Resurrection,” the producers must have known that they would be required to deal with Christian conceptions of life from the dead, and the first episode does not shy away from these categories.
The local pastor, Tom Hale, is a boyhood friend of the newly returned child, who finds himself caught between the reality of Jacob’s presence and his own unbelief that resurrection is possible.
“I’ve been preaching the miracles of God for 10 years; now one happens right in front of me and I don’t believe it,” he confesses to a friend.
She advises him to live in his uncertainty, saying, “You don’t need to have all of the answers; that’s not your job. Your job is to comfort those who have questions.”
Later in the episode, Hale delivers a sermon during which Jacob and his mother enter and sit in the congregation.
Jacob’s presence – a tangible, miraculous impossibility – rattles the preacher and causes him to shift to what the viewer is led to believe is a more “authentic” message.
The sermon addresses the confusion and doubt that John the Baptist had about Jesus when John was in prison (Matthew 11:30).
He extemporaneously proclaims, “John was human, which means he was given the tools to ask questions rather than know all the answers. This seems unfair, but isn’t this the price of human understanding? Isn’t that what it means to have faith?”
Another conversation that will tickle the ears of Christian viewers mentions the idea of believing in the resurrection of the boy Jacob.
The boy’s father is understandably skeptical of his long dead son’s return.
When he is confronted by another character about his angry reaction to the boy’s sudden presence, he is reminded that when he laid eyes on his son for the first time in more than 30 years he “believed.”
There is little explanation as to what the father is supposed to have believed, but the statement certainly resonates with those of us who remember Jesus claiming to be the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
As I watched the premiere, I found myself asking, “What is ‘Resurrection’ trying to accomplish?”
In one way, it offers a contained examination of what would happen if someone came “back” from the dead, not as a zombie, but as a whole and healthy person.
The plot and setting are tightly controlled to eliminate what would be the mass hysteria, even in a small town, over the return of a long dead child.
For example, the characters are more concerned with their own interior understandings of what is happening with the resurrected child than with the child himself.
This may be a clue to what angle the creators of the show are going to take.
Christians affirm the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ and believe that there will be a future resurrection of people, even though there are many different interpretations of what the future resurrection of the dead will entail.
However, Christians may not have spent much time thinking through the realities of Jesus’ resurrection in a real-world sense.
We believe Jesus rose from the dead, but what did that look and feel like? Thomas doubted and we vilify him, but wouldn’t we doubt if a loved one suddenly returned from the grave?
“Resurrection” is, at first, an enticing exploration of the reality of life after death. After watching the first episode, I’m interested to see how the faith of Pastor Hale and the obvious Christian symbolism work out through the plot.
I fear, though, that the show will take a turn away from what Christians will find stimulating and aligned with their categorical understandings of what resurrection means.
Perhaps this will prove to be a positive shift for Christian viewers, as our categories need a good resuscitation every now and then.
Whatever twists the writers might weave into the narrative, the show could prove to be a helpful platform for Christians to reflect more deeply on the nature of faith and the hope of resurrection.
Brock Ratcliff is a minister at Madison Chapel in Madison, Miss. He also teaches mathematics and computer science at Clinton Alternative School in Clinton, Miss. He blogs at Fides Quaerens Intellectum.