EASTER SUNDAY 2023
Jesus is risen! The good news is that the crucified Jesus whom a cruel, imperialistic power crucified was brought back to life. The spirit of God in Jesus came to show us life which the powers responded to with what the cross represents. In the last couple of years, books by Father Greg Boyle have made an impact on me. Barking to the Choir and Tattoos on the Heart. When I contemplate the presence of Mary at the tomb, a quote from Boyle comes to mind: ‘God was – and is – in the heartbreak and in the insight born of sadness, and in the arms that wrap around our grief.’ Boyle writes about people with tattoos inked over their bodies but also tattoos they may not be aware of - tattoos in their brains where they see their core identity, or are seen by others, as B-O-R-N-S-C-U-M.
They believe they are undeserving of God’s love. Boyle says, ‘Behold the One beholding you and smiling. It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image. It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God’s DNA. God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.’ Colossians today refers to our lives being hidden in Jesus and some might wish for greater hiddenness because of ruptured relationships. This false belief is shattered by the resurrection so that we can learn to live God’s resurrecting power. People in prison, people with multiple partners, people addicted to drugs, trans-people, abandoned youth, can feel exiled from healthy community and grapple with toxic shame in this isolation along with an overwhelming loneliness. Colossians reminds us that our identity is in Christ and that we are not B-O-R-N-S-C-U-M whoever we are. Prisons serve as society’s people-dumpsters where people are thrown away and forgotten. This is true for women, people who are non-gender conforming, people of colour and other ethnic minorities, people living with mental illness or other disabilities, and the socially awkward. Such marginalisation and stigmatising does not make for inclusive community. The cross represents the power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life, and preys on the most vulnerable in society. The resurrection defeats this power. It is defeated by life-giving rather than a life-negating forces that diminish the life of some so that others might live. God’s power never expresses itself through humiliation or denigration of another.
John’s story of Mary of Magdala speaks to those being marginalised when the Jesus movement was taken over by patriarchists. The egalitarianism of house churches was pushed out in favour of patriarchal groups who eventually won the power struggle to shape Christianity. We still have power struggles in the church today. Communities that recognised Peter’s apostleship and other male disciples came into conflict with communities recognising the leadership of Mary and women like Priscilla in the early church. But, John does not have Jesus show up to the men, but to Mary, who became an apostle to the apostles. Jesus revelation to Mary first reminds us of the importance of listening to whoever speaks their truth when they focus on the life-giving good news of love, justice, and their power to overcome, reverse, and undo the death-dealing things in our world. We could, as did Jesus, prioritise women’s voices as well as voices pushed to the margins and underbelly of society – displaced people, refugees, abused women and children, First Nations people, people with disabilities, the neglected, oppressed, and downtrodden. Such marginalised people are often our prophets who can point us toward the Sacred and a better way of being human. Every canonical version of the resurrection narrative drives home the importance of believing women when they speak. We can apply this practice in every area of our society today, both within our faith communities and in our larger society.
Women courageously go to the tomb as daylight comes and proclaim the resurrection in confrontation to patriarchal institutions that insisted that they did not have the credentials to proclaim the Good News. When we God’s power to save is inferred, it cannot include the willingness to humiliate, physically denigrate, and violate one body to save others? We need to see the story of Jesus, his passion, death and rising, as One who was murdered for social, political, and economic reasons by the state, and brought back to life – to show how life conquers death, love conquers hate, sharing conquers greed, and life giving power conquers death dealing. This is God’s answer to injustice’s crucifying power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life and preys on society’s most vulnerable. It respects the sanctity of all life and the integrity of every human body, all living things. The Jesus story is not about God overcoming death by adding one more death, i.e. Jesus’ death, but overcoming, reversing and undoing death by raising the One the state sought to execute. This can move us to believe in the ability of love to win, despite opposition and death, to work towards peace. Womanist theologian, Kelly Douglas writes, ‘God does not fight death with death. God does not utilise the violence exhibited in the cross to defeat deadly violence itself.’ Though peace groups are deemed naïve and unrealistic, Jesus’ rising is an assurance that the power of love is greater than the power of death. This requires a liberation from whatever contributes to a culture of death.
We have looked into many tombs of one kind or another: Palestine, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Rohingyas, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Mediterranean or English Channel boat crossings, etc. Under Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, 100 million adherents believe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is sacred and noble. Wherever this occurs around the world, religion tied to political and national ambition always turns adherents away from the Easter hope of new life towards the darkness of human failure. These tombs containing death and decay seem to have the upper hand, but the Resurrection is God's answer to those who think death and violence have the last word. Easter demonstrates God's 'No!' to hatred, exclusion, violence and self-promoting power. It means that peace is stronger than war, justice stronger than injustice, compassion stronger than hatred; forgiveness surpasses resentment, reconciliation surpasses revenge; nonviolence wins out over violence despite the conventional wisdom.
Jesus lives! Let us do resurrection by insisting on the things of life, justice and peace. We hear more and more people (women, people of colour, LGBTQ) say, ‘I will not collaborate in my own oppression’. We have resurrection moments in our lives: absorb animosity; refuse to be violent in speech and action; let go of hurts and resentments to begin the process of forgiveness? Speaking of the people he works amongst, Father Boyle says, ‘You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behaviour is recognised for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.’ We glimpse resurrection whenever people break through prejudice and fear; attempt reconciliation and make bonds of friendship across cultural divides; when we question institutions, country and church - when they fall short of justice, love and compassion; when we question and challenge racism, inequality or unfair practices in the workplace, war, detention of children, women and men who seek our protection. The tomb is not the final solution. This is the 8th day of Creation: a new earth; new relationships; a new and united humanity. God's image is imprinted on us. The power of the Easter message does not lie in words, least of all in dogmas or doctrines, it is immersed in transformed and transforming lives. Christianity grew rapidly in early centuries of the first millennium because it was apparent Christians believed in, and lived, a path that led to a world in stark contrast to the world of brutality and greed, they otherwise experienced. Today, in the West, Christianity is in steep decline. It is as not transparently clear that Christians live by standards of humanity in contrast with the wealth and power ambitions endemic in our society.