Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Easter is a wonderful day. The butterflies and bunnies, spring flowers or peeps, and nice new outfits surely enhance our celebration. But they are not central. Easter as a holy day is about the promise of more hope than we can handle. Easter is very important as we live through a time in which the world is starving for hope.
Carol Guzy is a photojournalist who has won four Pulitzer prizes for the images she captured in Haiti, Kosovo, and Colombia. Born in Bethlehem, PA, she is inclined to portray the grit of human dignity within a context of loss. She traveled last year to Ukraine to record pictures of the poetry of everyday people in the devastated cities. Her photo-essay Easter in Ukraine shows people going to church in cities that have been bombed, where mass graves are filled with tortured civilians, and terror has transformed the landscape. In Guzy’s photos, altar candles glow, teary neighbors embrace, priests bless baskets of food, and bandaged soldiers kneel to pray before icons. The hope that the people of Ukraine embody is neither superficial nor candy-coated. They have turned their tearful gaze to the remembrance of a Christ who rises again to life. Their hope is deep, beautiful, and possibly defiant of their circumstances.
Have you ever had an experience that has divided your life into the Time Before and the Time After? For many of us, that was the pandemic which upended a whole lot about our lives. We speak ironically about the time before as BC (Before Coronatide). But one does not need a pandemic to experience a watershed moment (or perhaps a Golgotha experience?) in our lives. Last week, someone received terrible news from a physician or from their boss. Last week, someone’s last hope for their relationship was crucified. Life can change in an instant. There may or may not be a physical death, but something dies. And we wonder, Now what?
Has this ever happened to you?
Facing the shadows of the tombs that surround us after a life-changing experience, in the grip of what theologians call desolation, sometimes we just have to move numbly through the expected rituals of the next days. Make the coffee. Feed the critter, or the children. The weight of grieving bears with it a special sort of silence. In GMt, after their hopes for a messianic victory are crushed on Golgotha, the women go to the tomb on the day after Sabbath. We hear in this gospel that they can just about put one foot in front of the other.
And then suddenly there is an angel with a message, and the earth seems to move. Easy for him to say Don’t be afraid! The angel obviously has not seen himself in a mirror. Yet the angel is making a point: Desolation can be seductive. As we walk in the chill shadow of an emptiness that we feel so deeply, wrapped in our painful knowing that this is just the way it is going to be, the lightness is overwhelming and the message of resurrection can be a fearful thing, because the new life offers more hope than we can handle. Again we wonder, Now what?
Every Easter, anyone who hears the story of the life of Jesus Christ has to wrestle with putting our trust in something that is inconceivable. Resurrection offers us a hope that is way beyond expectation and certainly surpasses anything that we normally consider remotely possible. Can this possibly be true?
If people in Ukraine can celebrate Easter, what shall we do today?
We can deny the possibility, and lean into embracing a self-protective cynicism, and with good reason. It is difficult to find empirical evidence for Jesus rising from the dead. And yet, what shall we do with the multiple accounts of his surprising reappearance, eating breakfast, teaching his disciples? Something inexplicable happened. How can we explain away the changed lives? Jesus’ friends had seen hope in the flesh, and it affected them. All but one of the apostles were martyred testifying to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was and is raised, if resurrection is a real thing, everything else can be changed and redeemed.
What about our own experiences of life that goes on after an ending? We can choose to trust in something which is better than we could ask for or imagine. That sort of hope is not simplistic or a saccharine. With all respect for Emily Dickinson, hope is not a sweet thing with feathers. Hope is edgy and strong. Hope is subversive and tenacious. Hope is an intentional practice, a turning of the eyes to seek renewed life. Hope battles to dig her way out of the tombs that surround us. Having confronted the power of death, hope is hungry for life.
After the moments and days of desolation, we may encounter our own resurrections. They may feel like earthquakes, like walking in a strange land. They may feel like an invitation to breathe fresh air. None of us is ever ready to encounter Easter until we have spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen. The rising of the Son is the last thing we are expecting. And that is why it terrifies us. Easter breaks all the rules about the way things work.
Speaking personally, I like that. The forces of chaos and evil try to destroy the Light of the world, and the Almighty, whose heart has been broken more than once, smiles through tears and says Angel, move that stone out of the way. I need to do something.
God interrupts despair with boundless hope.
On an Easter morning, those who follow Jesus Christ turn our eyes to seek the light of faith, and we cry out Alleluia with our trembling voices. We do not do this because the world is now perfect or because our life is perfect or because the struggle is over. It is because we trust that the power of Christ is greater than the powers of death, and that the worst that may happen is never the final word.
God is good and has come among us, taking all the pain of the world and making it beautiful.
Alleluia Christ is risen!
Carol Guzy. “Easter in Ukraine.” Faith and Leadership.