Holy Week was last week, the time in the church that we walk through the days of Jesus’ last meal with his friends, his betrayal, his crucifixion, and the resurrection. Every year, I summon all of my “Trust-God/Trust-Myself resources” for Holy Week, believing that what I need for each day will be given to me. And every year, it is—I usually feel fine about what I preach and what happens in those liturgies (every day at 7, with two extras this year on Thursday and Friday at noon), and always grateful for those who step up, every year, and do the whole thing with me. With all the focus on the three days—Thurs-Fri-Sat—I never quite have what I wish I had on Easter Sunday. I never quite preach the joy, never quite capture the wonder of God raising Jesus from the dead. The truth of Easter is that death has no power over us, the violence that appeared to defeat God in Christ is vanquished. To be very honest, Easter morning is one of those days I’m most grateful for being part of a liturgical church; we share Eucharist and we are in community—however I feel about my sermon, at the altar we will be fed, no matter what. If I am impressive in my own attempts at articulating the mysteries of our faith--that's nice when it happens, but not the most important thing.
This year, after having gotten through Holy Week and Easter day on adrenaline, coming to Easter week has been harder. Being in Easter this week has been harder. I have the week off from work, so no bulletins, no emails, no leaky pipes, no evening meetings. Yay! I pick my kids up early from pre-K and afterschool, watch movies with my husband, go for long walks, read. I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see "When the Stars Begin to Fall," a show of African American art from the South. The days of this Easter week so far personally has been very, very good. But it’s not quite felt like Easter.
Where I get stuck is that, while I get a break, even in Easter season, the suffering of Good Friday has not gone away. Family and friends of 148 people gunned down at a University in Kenya are still grieving. Walter Scott, another unarmed black man was killed by police for no reason, and would again have gone without justice if a bystander hadn’t recorded the encounter. More kids without a father. “All lives” matter, of course they do. But America doesn’t systematically devalue “all lives.” It does not to go without saying that black lives matter, because again and again black people are killed, and seen as “less than.”
Jesus, murdered as an enemy of the state, was interpreted as “less than,” too—a minority Jew living under empire. In his book Resurrection, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams calls him a “pure victim,” able to change the nature of reality itself because he refused to offer violence for violence. The term always bothered me—if he is distinguished as pure, what about all of the other impure victims? Those who are slandered, those who are blamed? Walter Scott would likely not have run from the police in the first place if it weren’t basically a crime to be poor in so much of our country. I think, too, of what was said about Travyon Martin after his death, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice…so many who did not deserve to die and so many whom our news media convicted again, as though one death were not enough. Where is their Easter?
To put it plainly, is it good enough to say that they are united with Christ in his death and raised with him in the resurrection? Is that enough? Is it enough to say that the “pure” victimhood of Jesus Christ ends the relentless pendulum swing of violence, the perpetual motion machine of hatred and destruction that has been human society since the beginning of time, for all of us, guilty or not?
I think it is…and it isn’t.
We are loved and “saved” by Jesus not because of what we do, but because of what God does. It is in God’s nature to create and love, and that is what God does, spending God’s self lavishly and falling in love like an idiot every. damn. time. someone is born. However you interpret the crucifixion—whether it was a blood sacrifice for sin or an ultimate pacifist peace-creating death (or somewhere in between), God’s love is the beginning and the end.
It’s not enough just to say that the resurrection of Jesus is for all, but it’s also not enough just to protest, or cry, or grieve, or wail (though the Christian tradition is full of that—see, for example: the psalms). You can’t just mouth the words “Christ is risen” and go home. On the other side, nothing you can do is ever enough. This is not a reason to do nothing, but it is an important reality check in a world where we want fast answers and easy consciences. (spoiler alert: you won’t get either one). We have to work hard for Easter simultaneously as we sit down and just open our hands. It means that we have to fervently hope and believe and know that all of those who are cut down by violence rise in peace and glory, and that death indeed has been vanquished for them as well...as those of us left behind work as we can for a newer world where we are with what we have (on this, see the potter Theaster Gates, whose "Billy Sings Amazing Grace" is at the Institute of Contemporary Art--his TED talk is about the recreation of his neighborhood in Chicago as is very Eastery indeed).
So that’s me this week—reading slightly trashy novels (currently appalled and delighted by Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man, walking along the lakes that feed the Mystic River, thinking about the change that is to be made where I am with what I have, being a couch potato in my existential angst and occasional wonder.
Happy Easter Friday, everybody!