Brian often talks about how his favorite Christian observances are the ones that sit us smack in the middle of waiting and death: All Souls, Advent, Lent, Holy Saturday. Like him, I, too, appreciate those observances. I appreciate how they make space for a range of emotion, how they allow us to name the hard parts of life, how they allow us to grieve and doubt and question.
And yet, there is something about Easter that I can’t shake. But I haven’t always felt this way.
In my church growing up we didn’t observe Lent so there wasn’t a sense of waiting until Easter. Plus, we talked about the crucifixion all the time. Even on Christmas. That baby wasn’t even born yet and we had him nailed to the tree. “Jesus was born to die” was a common refrain. On Easter we sang the triumphant hymns and celebrated the resurrection, but even as we did there was this overwhelming sense that it wasn’t the resurrection that mattered. It was great and happy and all of that, but death was what changed things.
Every year, at least once, more likely several times, we were treated to a sermon about the horrors of the crucifixion. It would be described in intricate detail. Every blow, every lash, all leading up to this simple message: He did it for you. It was supposed to be a hopeful message, but wrapped up with the “he did it for you” was the second part “and it’s all your fault.” See, God was so grossed out by my very existence that he demanded that torture of his innocent son in order to make me palatable to God.
No wonder I had issues. No wonder a lot of us still have issues.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and had done the work of deconstruction that I realized just how powerful the Easter story was.
What did you learn about Easter growing up? In your tradition or family was the emphasis on the crucifixion or the resurrection? What did that teach you about your faith and your life?
The story of Easter is deliciously subversive. Women were the first witnesses. Women were the ones who found out that everything has changed because they were the ones who were faithful to Jesus. They didn’t hide or run. They stayed until the end and then came back to make sure that things were done right. Now, in those times the word of women wasn’t allowed to stand up in court. So even in the resurrection the message God is sending is that those on the margins; the outcasts, the ones despised, they are the bearers of the good news. They are the ones we should be listening to.
The power of the resurrection is that it turned terrified followers, hiding out in fear, into bold witnesses. The resurrection was a giant “fuck you” to the Empire. It’s God’s way of saying “Is that all you got?” The way you keep people in line is to threaten them with death, well, I’ve overcome death so what now?
And suddenly when a group of people are no longer afraid of death; whether it’s because they have nothing left to lose or because they believe in the movement, or because they believe death is not the end… Well those people are the most dangerous of all.
So Empires in all their forms try to keep us afraid of death. They sell us cure alls. They numb our feelings. They keep us feeling like we might be able to rise above our station. They make sure we know there is always someone under us and that we don’t want to be like “them”. They keep us separated so we won’t be in solidarity.
But every once in a while we get glimpses of resurrection; of the people willing to speak truth to power, of marchers in the streets facing down water cannons and mace and guns, of transgender people who keep showing up and living their lives loudly even in the face of hate.
Every time we get a hint of resurrection the Empire loses a bit of power. The world gains a bit more courage. We start to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
What would happen if we truly were willing to believe in resurrection? How would that change how we worked for justice? How we loved one another? How we worked to create a better world? How would it shape and shift our courage to do hard things? To stand up for what’s right, even when it costs us something?
God continues to inspire those on the margins to lead the way in the work for justice. God continues to call us to walk toward Jerusalem, to do the hard work, to face down death. But God also promises that death is not the end. Not of the movement, not of the story. The Empire never gets the final word.
So go boldly. Walk with your head held high. Live your truth. Fight like hell for justice. Be witnesses to the truth of the resurrection.