It’s gray and misty outside today. Sometimes rain feels fresh and cleansing but this is the cold, sleety, spitting kind. I’m at a coffee shop but I want to be at home under a big heavy blanket with my kids tucked in beside me. I want to sleep. One of my most beloved spiritual mothers lies unconscious in the hospital. Good Friday was yesterday, Easter tomorrow, and I feel the expansive silence of this day. It yawns into the damp corners of my home and my mind.
I’m remembering Easter Sunday in the church of my childhood. The dozens of lilies circling the stage and the way the pastor greeted our pastel-clad congregation, “He is Risen!” and we’d shout, “He is risen indeed!” A full orchestra led us in the hallelujah chorus, and the pews emptied as men and women crushed in upon the choir to join them for the four part harmony.
For those of us who struggle to find a faith home, to find our part in the choir, to make ourselves presentable, Easter is another lonely holiday. I miss the old certainties during this season more than any other time of the church year. I miss the easy joy, shouting the refrain, singing the triumphal hymns without a flood of questions about what the hell they even mean or how this is good news for the poor and oppressed in this here and now world. I miss the comfort of community where everyone mostly agrees on mostly everything – biblical interpretations, politics, parenting. Nobody thinks about these messy, complicated questions. Nobody wonders what Jesus was actually like, or what he would think of our celebrations. It’s a day of victorious shouts and scalloped potatoes, why ruin that with unanswerable questions?
But it comes with a cost, doesn’t it? The millstone of atonement theology – praying to thank Jesus for dying for my sins, apologizing that he had to, singing “it was my sin that held him there” while I imagine Jesus bloody and limp because I didn’t empty the dishwasher the first time my mom asked, because I shoved my brother, because I had a crush on a boy and daydreamed about being kissed.
It makes a lot of sense that so many of us who were whipped into church submission as 8-year-olds grow up to be the people who jeer “ALL lives matter”, who want to purge our nation of asylum seekers, who scream about bathroom bills. Jesus was, after all, only turned over for execution after the mobs, whipped to religious fervor by the men in power, screamed for his crucifixion.
It’s insidious the way we’ve retold the story of Jesus. He’s been weaponized, a tool for shaming children and adults alike into unquestioning submission. He’s been sanitized from a more aloof Shane Claiborne type into someone who would have been welcomed at a mega church on Sunday morning, someone charmingly edgy who has “a past” (nothing too scandalous), someone who has been carefully groomed to stay theologically “on message”.
We’re told the takeaway, the “good news”, is that we have hope now, now that he’s dead and raised to life. He conquered the grave so you can live forever! Don’t worry about what that means, they say. It’s a wonderful mystery, they say. Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father. Yes, his literal right hand. In heaven, where you’ll have a literal body/no, no body, it’s a place for the soul/we’ll get new bodies. We will/won’t work and learn and marry and have families/new families/we’ll be reunited with old loved ones and live happily every after. We won’t want relationships/won’t want new children/ won’t have sex/we’ll be satisfied in Christ. (ew) You will/won’t get to meet your dead baby/dog/grandma. You won’t want any of that because all you will want is God. There’s really no point in worrying about it. What you need to know is that you should be hell-bound, but thanks to Jesus/predestination/the sinner’s prayer you’re not, and God no longer hates your guts because he murdered his only son for you, to fix the problem of the evil he allowed/created, so just be grateful/trust the bible/don’t ruin Easter dinner with these questions, dammit.
And yet, here I am, 8 or 10 years into the questions and I’m coming back around on this story. On Jesus. On the gospel. I can finally see that Jesus’s cosmic-breaking-in was for those of us on the margins, those of us that can’t find hope in the answers of the religious elite. Less Gospel Coalition heretic hunting, more college students hunger striking on behalf of their food insecure friends.
The hope of Jesus is the breaking through of the cosmic Christ. The end of the us vs them binary. In Christ we learn to see the Divine in our sister, our neighbor, and our enemy as we do in ourselves. In Christ we learn to spend our privilege for those without it and to center their stories in our communities, working towards justice together.
I imagine Jesus shaking his head at us, not because we haven’t evangelized enough souls out of hell or because we are “sinful”, but because we’re so distracted by all our rules that we completely miss the work God is already doing in our midst.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he would say,
“She has called me to give hope to the poor. Yes, just the poor. You wealthy folks are going to have a mighty hard time understanding the kingdom of heaven.
“She has stirred in me a passion to free women and children trapped in the sex trade or in homes with abusive partners and fathers. Her spirit guides us to free the children and their parents held like animals in cages at your borders.
“She insists we ensure proper representation and fair trials for Black and Brown men incarcerated in your evil criminal ‘justice’ system.
“Our great healer waves the banner of healthcare for all, pointing out how ridiculous it is that a civilization advanced enough to develop life-saving medications and surgeries to heal the sick lacks the ethic to actually heal them without demanding payment.
“Most importantly, and hear me on this because y’all struggle: our Divine Mother calls for the centering of the stories of all who have been stepped on and used and tossed aside in your relentless pursuit of a bargain and a bottom line.
“I have come to proclaim a year of jubilee because you thick headed people need a hard reset. Forgive debts, turn over industry to the people, marry, care tenderly for the children and the aged, focus on the needs of the poorest among you.
“Then you will know the kingdom of heaven.”
The government was angry. The religious leaders were incensed. The crowd was full of fear and their imaginations could not see the imprint of the Divine in this vagabond.
So they murdered him.
Not quietly, but publicly. A warning to any others who would dare follow in his steps. I’m not sure what I believe about Jesus’ divinity or his knowledge about what was to come, but he certainly could have run away. He could have fled like his parents did 30 years before, living as refugees while the king had a price on his head. But no, not this time. He submitted to their anger, their fear, their evil. He hung on a cross, a bodily witness to the stone cold hearts of men.
His disciples hid.
The women waited.
And then the women (the women!) told the story, the story of the boy who lived.
I don’t know what the resurrection actually, literally was, and that has bothered me so much for so many years. But even so, I feel this story in my bones. I believe with my whole heart that evil, angry, powerful people do not win. Love abides. It flourishes in the weak, in the forgotten. Perhaps the Resurrection was both an infusion of hope in our desperate humanity and a tugging of the edges of our timeline, a cosmic bend away from our fear-fueled destruction.
A new life in the way of Love.