(This piece was originally written for The Dialogue, the weekly newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.)
Once upon a time, somebody described the Christian life as “believing in Easter in a Good Friday world.” I don’t know who said it, but whoever it was got it right. Each springtime we Christians celebrate Easter and even with the holiday’s pagan roots and tales of candy deliver-ing rabbits we still manage to talk about an empty tomb and a guy named Jesus who couldn’t stay dead. Yet, this celebration of good conquering evil, hope winning out over fear and life overcoming death can be a bitter pill for some to swallow. For many, the resurrection has not come yet; they remain in a Good Friday world due to pain, grief and hardship.
Our world is a broken one filled with much violence, despair and disappointment. We live in a world where tornadoes come out of the sky to rip apart lives as happened this week. We live in a world where earthquakes and tsunamis destroy entire cities as happened last month. We live in a world where car bombs and smart bombs kill indiscriminately as happened—pick any day in the last two decades. We live in a world where a few can enrich themselves by cheating our entire nation without fear of ever being held to account as happened in the financial collapse. We live in a world where children are abused, marriages fall apart, women are raped, and people are assaulted for their skin color or their sexual orientation as happens each and every day. The violence and despair of the cross rather than the empty tomb mirrors the reality of much of humanity.
Critics rightfully charge that the events of Holy Week are often empty rituals or worse rituals filled with debilitating guilt and shame, but I prefer to think of them in their best form as an honest appraisal of reality. One of the appealing things for me about Christianity is that, despite the deformed manifestations of it that emphasize prosperity over sacrifice, it faces squarely just how screwed up the world can be. Furthermore, it has the temerity to declare that God gets to experience this world in all its “screwed-up-ness” along with us. Violence, death, betrayal, abandonment, fear, terror, hypocrisy, abuse of power, etc. etc. etc.—it’s all there in the Gospels for us to read, if we dare. If our Easter celebrations are empty of meaning, then perhaps it is because we skipped from Palm Sunday to Easter without stopping at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
In our tradition, the ministers of the church do not speak for God; each believer has her or his own relationship with God and can directly experience God’s presence. Yet, sometimes I do perform a sort of “priestly” role for people experiencing difficult times. They come to me in order to share their difficult experiences and in response I get to acknowledge that difficulty and declare that God acknowledges that difficulty too. The events of Holy Week serve a similar purpose. They are a means for us as a church to validate the experience of the one who hurts and doubts by demonstrating in services and rituals that Jesus experienced similar troubles. Holy Week declares that God is not removed but in solidarity with people who are hurting. It is only after we have done this “priestly” work for one another that we can celebrate the empty tomb in a significant manner
The writer Mary Gordon says, “For me the meaning of the Resurrection is the possibility of possibility.” By that, I take her to mean that the resurrection we celebrate on Easter and we hope to experience ourselves is a decision to believe in the possibility that Good Friday does not have an ultimate claim upon who we are. The pain of this life is not all there is and one way or another we will not be defined by our pain but by the grace we experience from God. Yet, if we gloss over the pain or worse seek to deny its existence altogether, then our celebration is trite and without significance. For us to truly celebrate the possibility that our lives, our deaths and whatever we experience beyond them shall all transcend the troubles we have known, we have to admit there are troubles in the first place.
This Holy Week, I pray that you are finding ways to face with courage the broken reality of this world, and that you will journey with the rest of God’s people towards the empty tomb and the promises it offers.
Grace and Peace,