On Easter Sunday, in the middle of sharing my "Reflection & Rant," I became very light-headed and dizzy, I was not doing okay. Thanks to everyone at WildWood on Sunday, we made it through the rest of our service. I'm doing better this week, still tired and foggy-headed though. Of course, I'm working with my doctors to figure out what happened.
In my fuzzy-headed state on Sunday, I worked really hard to not muddle my words, but I'm not sure it helped and I doubt my words were comprehendible. So, I'm sharing my Easter "Holy Rant" here, if you want to read it.
I find it much easier to talk about Jesus’s death than resurrection. Death feels more tangible than resurrection. We’ve experienced the impact of the death, some may have witnessed death. Resurrection feels cloudy, murky and just out of reach. It has been, and can be, such a powerful narrative and image. But on Easter Sunday, when celebrating the resurrection of Jesus often includes banners and "alleluias", I’m wondering what are we actually allelu-ia-ing about?
I believe in miracles, I watch the garden come back to life after the cold of winter, I’ve witnessed people come back to life in the midst of addiction, depression, trauma, abuse. I’ve watched more than enough HGTV to know a transformation. I believe in, and actively participate in, the transformative power of a holy disruption that can open the way for resurrection. Something entirely new coming from what was. I am a strong advocate for burning down institutions and systems that bind and restrict us. I can also affirm and proclaim that through Jesus’s resurrection, death didn’t have the last word, but what is the next word?
Maybe I can start with articulating what (for me) resurrection is not. That “for me” is important. Diana Buttler Bass has written,
The resurrection is not one thing. It is a prismatic mystery. It is an unwordable story… One story, a single angle of vision, can’t begin to explain or communicate it.
And maybe that’s my first thing resurrection is not;
It is not uniform, clear-cut or static. It feels murky and just out of reach because it is. We can never know a once-and-for-all, true and correct story of Holy resurrection.
Second, God does not use Jesus as a sacrifice to prove God’s loves. (God already loved us.)
I don’t believe resurrection is personal salvation that can be used as an overbearing threat to control under the auspice of “saving me from an eternity of hell.”
It’s also not substitutionary atonement. I do not believe Jesus’s death was "paying for my sins," the inherent debt we owe God as a result of the actions of Adam and Eve.
These theological interpretations share some elements, along with the cross as the instrument of salvation, an image that represents Jesus’s sacrifice.
James Cone who is easily one of the most influential theologians in America, he literally wrote the book on the distinctiveness of the theology of the Black church. In his 1997 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, he articulates the irrefutable correlations between the cross on which Jesus was killed, and the lynching tree on which nearly 5,000 African Americans were killed from 1880 -1940.
The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. ...the lynching tree joined the cross as the most emotionally charged symbols in the African American community – symbols that represented both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope. The cross is the most empowering symbol of God's loving solidarity with the “least of these,”…we cannot find liberating joy in the cross by spiritualizing it, by taking away its message of justice in the midst of powerlessness, suffering, and death. The cross, as a locus of divine revelation, is not good news for the powerful, for those who are comfortable with the way things are, or for anyone whose understanding of religion is aligned with power.
The cross is a tool of violence and a tool of oppression, but, as Cone says, it can become a symbol of God’s solidarity for those who are oppressed and marginalized. Jesus’s suffering in his shameful violent death is reflective of all who have experienced oppressive violence.
Sometimes wish I could embrace an easy alleluias and banner waiving Easter story. But Jesus's life, death and resurrection must always be situated within marginalized and oppressed communities. We have to release, or maybe rescue, Jesus from the easy stories that ignore those who experience violence, crucifixion, in our world today. His death cannot be anything but a violent death at the hands of a self-serving system of power attempting to silence a perceived threat.
Here, in 2023, some 2000+ years later, we still haven’t moved beyond that same oppressive and violent social system amassing and asserting unchecked power. I don’t think our world is in a “banner waiving” place.
So, what then is the promise and purpose of resurrection?
Where is salvation? What is salvation?
Queer and liberation theologian, Marella Althaus Reid, (who proposed bi-sexuality of Christ as an inclusive understanding of the incarnation) centered much of her work on the ways global violence against LGBTQ+ people is reflective of Jesus's death. The systems of power that oppressed and excluded and crucified Jesus, continue to crucify the excluded today. In 2007 she,
The amount of people sacrificed by the Global Capitalist system is of such magnitude in terms of suffering and numbers that it can only be compared to the suffering of a tortured god dying on a cross' God lives and suffers alongside us; God is killed and excluded in many ways, just as we are.
Jesus’s death and resurrection, centered within the communities and experiences of the excluded, is salvation. To know that Jesus experienced the same emotional, spiritual and physical violence experienced by transgender, non-binary and LGBTQ+ people, by women, immigrants and asylum seekers, those who experience homelessness, the youth demanding gun reform, and those who are expelled from their state legislative floor for standing with them. To know that Jesus, not only understands that kind of violence, but was killed by that same violence, is divine solidarity. To know that death was not the end, that resurrection is possible in the face of the most heinous violence, is salvation. The death and resurrection of Jesus offers salvation in solidarity for those on the margins today.
The early Jesus movement, writes Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, was a vision of liberation, and salvation, embodied in community;
Jesus, and the people, both men and women, who were his early followers, sought to bring about the “commonwealth of God,” an alternative world free of hunger, poverty, and domination. A vision of healing and liberating practices that were already present in the inclusive-table-community of the Jesus movement.” Jesus did not die and resurrect alone, and neither do we.
As participants in the 'Commonwealth of God, not only are we not alone in our experience on the margins, it means we also stand in solidarity, are witnesses, accomplices and allies, with all experiencing oppression in our world. To be allies and witness, committed with our whole lives to liberation, is to simultaneously hold the dream of what can be and the reality of what is.
Standing in solidarity*, sitting in the collective struggle, is a painful tension and heartbreaking juxtaposition. It is easy to lose hope in the promise of salvation and lose sight of the dream of the commonwealth of God. Within this story of resurrection and salvation we find a reminder that the vision and hope is real.
In a Jewish context, salvation is liberation from that which destroys the value of human existence, a political and social emancipation, embodied together in community. My friend and clergy collegue, Rabbi Seth Goldstein,wrote on his blog about a Judaism and Baking class he is teaching with youth. For Passover they made haroset. It is a mix of dried fruit, nuts and spices, as he shared it has a symbolic texture; mortar-like, to represent the acts of slavery, and sweet, to represent the joy of liberation. Rabbi Seth writes,
[Haroset] symbolizes more than just slavery and freedom. It represents this paradox itself, that the same thing can represent two opposing forces. And by doing so, reminds us of a very real truth: that we are continuously navigating the both/and, rather than the either/or.
We are continuously navigating and holding the both/and, living in the contradiction of what can be and the reality of what is. The dream and the reality. The hope and the struggle. The now, but not yet.
Rabbi Seth goes on to say that the story of Passover and the Seder meal is a story of contradictions, ones that cannot be resolved, at least not easily or in the moment. Yet, the meals end with promise of hope for a future resolution and wholeness. He says,
We end the Seder with a note of hope, of the potential for a future wholeness and redemption and resolution. In the meantime we commit to doing what we can to bring about change, and ease the path from the narrowness to the expanse.
Hope for the future. What if resurrection is simply hope for the future, in the midst of what is. Not simply acceptance of the circumstances, but a commitment to participate in collective change.
Rabbi Seth closes with the affirmation,
The … message of Passover is that we are continuously navigating the bitter and the sweet, the past and the future, what holds us back and what compels us to go. We are invited to accept the reality of living with both at the same time. And the promise of liberation comes not despite this fact, but because of it.”
Maybe we don’t need to know the words that come after, "death did not have the last word." Resurrection didn’t solve anything and it wasn’t meant to, instead it offers hope. Resurrection is a symbol of solidarity in the now and a promise for the not yet. The resurrection hope and promise is, or can be, what compels us to do what we can to bring about the “commonwealth of God.” It is solidity, with God and each other, as we live into an alternative world free of hunger, poverty, and domination. Resurrection invites us to witness what we though was finished, what we thought was gone. It reminds us share a meal with the inclusive-table-community and to pull up a chair for someone else, as we live out resurrection with healing and liberating practices, rooted in solidarity.
Violent death didn’t have the last word, and resurrection is the sustaining hope we need to continue the work of flipping tables of oppression, transgressing social and cultural norms, and being accomplices in holy disruption that will open the way for justice, liberation, and a salvation worthy of banners and alleluias.
May it be so.
*In my original version that I shared on Sunday, I said "sit (stand) in the breach." In reading this week I realized the term comes from a military context and is a phrase used extensively by very conservative organizations and people. So, the more you know. I'll be erasing that phrase from my language now.