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I won’t blame you if you’re thinking that I seem to be somewhat obsessed with this whole resurrection business. I won’t blame you—because you may well be right.
Never before have I told the Easter story twice in four Sundays—although, in my defense, I will say that I think it’s always a good idea to consider different versions of the same definitive story. And this version has a postscript we almost never hear, because it never, ever, appears in the church’s three-year cycle of Sunday gospel readings.
Three weeks after Easter Sunday I am still stuck on resurrection—and not only because God’s victory over death is the most outrageous claim of our faith. I am stuck on the promise of new life also because, as latecomer-to-the-party Paul says more than once, what this means is that we have been raised with Christ into new life and that we, too, can live again, no matter how dead we feel, how far we’ve fallen, or how deep our despair.
But I’ll be honest: It’s entirely possible that something else is making it hard for me to let go of the resurrection story this year. It’s that we are surrounded by so much death. It’s that deceit and division and demagoguery seem baked into our national life. It’s that we are constantly seeing and sometimes suffering from political, economic, racial, environmental, cultural, and military actions that deny and destroy and distort life.
Which is to say, I think the reasons I’m not ready to let go of resurrection this year, the reason I may need it more than ever, are the same reasons we all need to hang on to the hope of new life:
Death and destruction are pressing in on us from every side, and we yearn and struggle for life like a drowning person fighting for air. The struggle between the forces of life and death and good and evil is real and constant, and every day we are bombarded with news suggesting that the bad guys are winning.
And if we don’t have the hope of victory, if we don’t hang on to promise of new, resurrected life and live into the reality of grace-filled transformation and spiritual healing, we will find ourselves exhausted by the struggle. We might even surrender.
I know you know what I’m talking about. And yet sometimes, as we go through our days, we have a hard time noticing what we’re feeling, much less understanding why we’re feeling it. So I’m going to name some of what I see happening. And I’m sure you will have your own failures and endings, losses and despair to add to the list:
In terms of human deaths, we’ve been hit pretty hard lately: First, with the seemingly sudden loss of dear Bob Page, and then with the death of our beloved Ken Langley. Many of us have also lost family and friends of our own; on Tuesday my stepfather, Wiley, died.
Last week many were rocked by the shocking death of 37-year-old Rachel Held Evans, and then just a few days ago another spiritual giant and leader, L’Arche found Jean Vanier, died at age 90. Any one of these losses is heartbreak enough, but the quick succession and cumulative effect of so much loss and grief can overwhelm us.
Add to all that the fact that many in our nation appear to be willing to sacrifice our children on the altar of gun rights, as evidenced by the response to the deaths of two young men who fought to stop mass shootings at their schools.
Add to all that the devastating news that, because of human-driven climate change and land-use patterns, some one million plant and animal species are facing extinction.
Add to that the reality that Lucio Perez has been separated from his family and in sanctuary here for almost 20 months now; and that thousands of children and parents have been separated from one another by our government. Add to that the Trump administration’s tireless and ever-more-desperate efforts to make life utterly miserable for both immigrants who have lived here many years and migrants who are now fleeing violence and poverty. Add to that that we who are advocating for Lucio’s welfare cannot even get employees at the taxpayer-financed Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Hartford to answer the phone.
Add to that the ending of a relationship, the apparent death of your dreams, the loss of opportunity, a serious decline in health or vitality, the political taking of basic human rights, and more.
So, yes, I will concede a certain obsession with the promise of resurrection and the hope of new life. I’m guessing that you are betting your life and the welfare of all we know and care about on much the same thing, though you may prefer to call it something less scandalous and more, well, normal: a new beginning, for example, a second chance, the process of becoming or growing, or our capacity to force change in unjust systems and laws.
I am obsessed with resurrection because evil triumphs only when we give up on good, because death wins only when we are unable or unwilling to consider what lies beyond the tomb. I am holding on to resurrection because it is the one thing that scares the powers-to-be to, well, death. Because things will never change if we believe they can’t be changed.
Consider, if you will, Matthew’s political postscript to the Easter story: The soldiers who had been charged with guarding Jesus’ tomb go to the authorities and tell them of the earthquake and the angel and the empty tomb and how the angel said Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Consider that ever since the very first Easter Sunday, the authorities have been working to squash the truth of resurrection.
Consider, if you will, that death’s power over us is our fear of death. But resurrection instills a different kind of fear: the fear that nothing will ever be the same, the fear that the powerless will, like death, rise up and turn things upside-down, that the mighty will be cast down from their thrones, and outcasts given a place of honor.
Consider how far the powers are willing to go to make resurrection, new life, transformation, the empowering of the powerless, and a different world—whatever you choose to call it—seem not only impossible but also dangerous. Follow the money and the bribes and the lies, and consider that resurrection has always been political as well as personal. Consider your own life, and reflect on how even personal change for the better upsets some people. How you finding your voice and coming into your own can threaten those who want you to be who and how they want you to be.
Resurrection is great. New and better life is awesome. But there is that whole death thing.
Does something have to die for something new to be born? Do we have to surrender all that is not good and true and life-giving to find true life? Do we have to stop following all our own desires to find out what we were created for? Do we have to let go of our illusion of control to be filled with Spirit power?
Nature tells us that the new-life cycle often begins with death, whether that is the death of a seed, the flooding of farmland, or the fire that makes way for new growth.
In studying world religions, Barbara Brown Taylor has found the spiritual themes of death and new life to be all but universal.
“There is no new life without destruction,” she writes in Holy Envy. “Death is the door to new life. No one rises again without first being destroyed.”
For myself, I can say that some of the hardest deaths and greatest losses of my life came about after I had found my voice and exercised my power on behalf of the powerless. The people and systems that had power over me did their best to contain my voice, and I paid a high price. I suffered death and loss and uncertainty. And it was from those painful situations, that doors opened and I found new life.
Beloveds, death and despair and injustice are all around. The powers of this earth would have us believe that that is all there is.
But we know better.
“We are gathered together,” Jean Vanier said, “to signify the power of God who transforms death into life. That is our hope, that God is doing the impossible: changing death to life inside each of us, and that perhaps, through our community, each one of us can be agents in the world of this transformation of brokenness into wholeness, and of death into life.”
And since we have been raised with Christ, let us set our hearts and minds on the things that make for life. Let us seek the fullness of new and abundant life for all. Let us claim the power of resurrection, which no bribe or political dealing can squelch.
Let us live as if we believed in resurrection. To the glory of God and the healing of the nations, let us be obsessed with it.