08 April 2012
Every time we stand in a circle around this room to celebrate communion together as we did last Sunday, my throat tightens and I feel tears rising. Love catches me by surprise. It feels like resurrection to me, after the “root pruning” that we experienced following our move seven years ago.
On Easter, we celebrate resurrection — the physical presence of Jesus in a new form — as the Risen Christ. Easter is also a pagan celebration set for the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox to honor the return of Spring after a long Winter although the beauty of our springtime this year suggests that we do not need the deathwatch of winter in order to see rebirth in the natural world.
Our biblical story absolutely joins crucifixion and resurrection. In human affairs, you cannot have one without the other.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb “while it was still dark” because of the crucifixion. When Jesus died on the cross, something died in her too. Healed of seven demons, she had followed Jesus gladly, willingly, supporting the company of disciples from her wealth and learning from him as a teacher, guide and friend. Whatever their relationship had been, it was over, dead and gone. It was her grief that brought her to the tomb, not her hope.
It would be easy to spiritualize or romanticize this story. For worship at Learners & Teachers last week, Jacqie Wallen shared a poem by John Updike warning us NOT to spiritualize the crucifixion or the resurrection. The New York Times calls Updike’s “Seven Stanzas for Easter” the most famous Easter poem of the 20th century. I’m guessing that’s because it is so literal, so gritty and substantial. The rock is solid. Jesus bleeds. Angels sweat. Mary wails in anguish. This is no phantom encounter. Their pain is real.
On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Naked, dying, alone, Jesus lets go of the God he has known and loved — his Abba, his heavenly Father.
I think Jesus’ stark cry of despair from the cross is KEY to understanding the crucifixion. We must lose God in order to find God in a new form. On the cross of pain and suffering, old beliefs shatter. Old comforts die and we are left on the hard rock of reality, here and now. Often that means we must lose a close personal relationship with God in order to experience resurrection. Peter Rollins, in his provocative book Insurrection, says “Radical doubt, suffering, and the sense of divine forsakenness are central aspects of Christ’s experience and thus a central part of what it means to participate in Christ’s death.”
We hear that same sense of “divine forsakenness” in Mary Magdalene’s story. She comes to the tomb and finds it a gaping hole. She runs back to where the disciples are gathered and two of the men come with her to see if her report is true. It is, and they leave again, apparently clueless about how to respond. She too must have felt utterly abandoned, forsaken by God and by her friends.
Only then is she ready to experience resurrection. When she hears her name and reaches out for the Jesus she had known and loved, he says “Don’t hold on to me, but go and tell the others…” In other words, don’t hang on to what we have had together. Don’t try to preserve our unique relationship. It’s over. Finished.
Now there is a new reality, a new form for you to discover. “Go and tell the others…” is an invitation to a community of caring — with the very men who had left her standing there in the dark, beside the empty tomb.
Several weeks ago, Fred Taylor stood at this pulpit and spoke of resurrection as an experience of community where old divisions are bridged, where solidarity is practiced, where love grows. Rollins would go so far as to say God does not exist except when we love. The emphasis shifts from self to other—to making that other visible. It’s a movement from ME to WE.
I thought about that last week, as we stood in a circle around this room and again on Maundy Thursday, as we knelt to wash the feet of one another. We are becoming a more diverse community, with different emotional and financial needs and different gifts to share.
There is always the danger, of course, that our ritual gatherings will inoculate us against the real experience of costly love, of washing bloody feet or claiming a connection in front of a jeering crowd. We won’t know whether our love will hold until harder times come, but for now, I see us practicing solidarity, reaching across boundaries of self-sufficiency and self-preservation to affirm the beauty and joy in others who are different from ourselves.
That’s one of the reasons why we go back to Guatemala every summer, to be with people who have faced harder times and found their way to resurrection as a community. Last summer, Peter took this picture of Annie Smith-Estrada and Dona Marta, the woman who helped to clean Annie up after a muddy work day and loaned Annie her best clothes to wear home. Notice her face, her dignity, her strength. Peace Accords in Guatemala ended their war just 15 years ago — about when Annie was born. This woman, one of the village leaders who organized lunch for us, would have been born during that war. She would have been a child when food was scarce and there were no schools. Whole villages were wiped out during that war, people terrorized and leaders targeted. It is estimated that 55-60,000 people died, 90% of them were civilian leaders and 75% of them were indigenous. It was an experience of community crucifixion abetted by the U.S. Government as a fight against communism.
When we first started going to Guatemala 11 years ago, there was not enough extra food in the village to feed us. That year, we saw women coming with the babies to receive USAID rice and powdered milk because the countryside was still recovering from the government strategy of burning crops and razing villages to counter the guerilla movement. Now there is food to share and for the first time, we will return to Paxixil, the same village where we worked on a school last year, in order to build the first PAVA library so the adults can also learn to read. We literally see resurrection among the indigenous people each time we return.
In the alternative gospel reading for today, from Luke, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb in the company of other women.
They too find the stone rolled away. The women encounter angels who tell them that Jesus will appear again in Galilee, where his ministry started. In Luke’s version, the women tell the male disciples what they have seen and heard, but their message is dismissed as an idle tale.
What gave those women the courage to go to the tomb? To risk arrest or ridicule?
My reading for this Lenten season has been Jan Richardson’s book, Sacred Journeys. For the first week of Easter, she includes daily readings from the mothers of Plaza de Mayo — women who stood silently in a public square with pictures of their “disappeared” husbands and children. The first time I went to a women’s gathering at WATER with Kate Cudlipp, we heard one of those mothers speak. This story could have been hers—or one of the women at the tomb:
In the Ministry of the Interior I met another mother looking for her child. When I left the building she was waiting for me outside and she called me over. She asked me if they’d taken my child too. I told her what had happened. She said, “Come to the square on Thursday and join the Mothers. We meet every Thursday.” I said Yes, that I’d already heard something about the Mothers. She said, “Come, they won’t ask you any questions. We’re all women together.” Within a few days of my son’s disappearance I was in Plaza de Mayo.
The first Thursday I got off the bus and just stood there in the street. I saw some women but I didn’t know what to do. There was one here, two there. They weren’t allowed to be in a group so they were all dispersed around the square. I asked myself, “Is that a Mother? Is she a Mother?” I felt afraid, like you always do when you do something for the first time. Then I saw the women who had waited for me outside the Ministry of the Interior. What luck she was there! I walked straight towards her, without looking to either side, without looking at the police.
At first you feel afraid, but when I got to the Mothers, they all seemed so strong…and how can you feel afraid when you are fighting for a just cause? I cried a lot, but they were tears of relief. I felt like another person. Because looking at the faces of other mothers who had experienced the same as me gave me the strength to fight. (Aida de Sauarez in Mothers of the Disappeared by Jo Fisher)
Crucifixion and resurrection. Loss of a protective saviour and discovery of a deeper wellspring of love, brimming up again in the company of others.
Christ is risen wherever love takes hold. This seems like a good fit with Peter Rollins’ understanding that God is love. Resurrection happens when we move from “me” to “we” by way of the valley of death. It happens today when we find God in the company of others who dare to love again — like an AA group or a survivor’s group or here, at Seekers, in a class or mission group.
I want to close with a note that was passed to Peter at the end of a silent retreat which he led at Dayspring on Good Friday:
Thank you for giving the meditations today. It is my first time at Dayspring. I’ve looked for silent meditation for years and am grateful for the space and grounds that were so generously provided today. I didn’t share during the group time at the end, but did want to share with at least one person in the circle the lessons I’ve learned today in this space.
I’ve worked in the social justice space for four years before burning out and escaping into a dreamless slumber, somehow existing day-to-day for the last year. The meditation reminded me of the call of the cross and the pain that it often brings — even Jesus fell down three times. I’ve turned away from this pain, dropped my cross somewhere along the path of my calling and like that one-talent servant in the parable of talents, have been burying my gifts in the ground out of fear and paralysis.
The meditation and the walk on the grounds today re-awakened me out of my slumber. I heard a stern rebuke that inaction is not just laziness, but it is wicked in the context of a world that still exists with so much injustice. Here is a poem inspired by my walk outdoors:
God’s voice rustles in the leaves
The reeds bend, embraced.
The fox rests and darts away
Yellow butterflies chased.
God’s voice still across the lake
The geese cry warning
Yellow butterflies behave.
God’s voice planted in bulbs
Bright flowers to emerge.
The soil in anticipation
Yellow butterflies converge.
God’s voice walks among the trees
Trunks heaven-reaching, ground clear.
The roots naked before the sun
Yellow butterflies disappear.
Thank you and the Dayspring community for offering this space and time for reflection. I will return — and bring friends!
And so we grow from “me” to “we.”
God is love. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Allelujah!