Back to Life – Easter 2020

back to life for worshipText:

Last night as I kissed my daughter’s forehead, she felt hot.  In normal times I’d just think: “Teenager. Day in the sun, no big deal.”

But this is not a normal time.  So I thought immediately of the virus.  And my daughter’s fragile life.  All of our fragile lives. My heart.

It’s become a common enough for me to wonder about disease as we get ready for bed that I’ve already developed a response in my head: All we can do is wait for the morning.  See what happens next.

And she was up this morning, ready for the day as ever. So we go on.

Yesterday, I read two articles that took this sort of thinking to another level.  

The first was about ventilators.  And what recovery looks like post-ventilator. I mean, when recovery happens, which isn’t often enough. It encouraged people to consider – do you really want to be put on a ventilator, if it comes to that?

The second article was about what happens to kids when their parents get seriously sick.  This one encourages parents to make a plan for their kids, just in case. 

My first response to both of these –so you know how my brain works – was about what the church should be doing to host conversations about these.  What education and what emotional and spiritual support the community would need. 

And then second, I brought it up to my partner.  To talk about US. Our answers.   

It took all the way to today before I broke down sobbing.  

In normal times, Unitarian Universalists are often accused of skipping ahead to Easter – WE LIKE LIFE! RENEWAL! HOPE! We skip over the days leading up to Easter – all that grief, and loss, and death that is actually what makes Easter such good news. 

But like I said, this is not a normal time.

This year, we meet Easter seeped in death.  News and numbers, and this question of when we will reach peak death.  We’re so filled with news of death – I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks wondering what Easter even means in this time.  

This time where it feels like we’re all stuck in Good Friday. Holy Saturday.  

The days when Jesus has died and there is no sense that there’s anything other than that truth, that reality of death. For those who loved him and followed him –  Jesus was a singular sign of hope for the hopeless, a liberator of the oppressed, a great healer.  

For him to have died – it was more than just devastating.  It was unthinkable.  

Everything they knew about what survival meant, what life should mean was taken away.  The whole world was turned upside down. 

One of my colleagues actually decided to postpone her church’s Easter service for this reason.  “Easter comes when we’re back in the same room, when the stories of death are fading.” She said. “This moment now, is not a time for Easter.” 

I love my colleague.  I respect her. And I get why she has decided this.  But also, she’s wrong.

Because this time – this dis-eased time, this time of death and fear – this is what the story and promise of Easter is made for.  In real time, in the moments after Jesus’ death, there was no coherent story.  They had no idea why the tomb was empty.  There was confusion, uncertainty, fear, grief – for a long time. Decades.

But over those years, the community began to find a way to understand, a way to go on.  And, ultimately, they offered their understanding as a gift for people across centuries and cultures who would also find themselves in times where everything they’ve ever known is turned upside down. Where grief and loss and death feels like the end of the story.  This gift, their understanding, is the story of Easter that we know today.  A story told in the way it is not because they did not know the pain of death and uncertainty –but because they absolutely KNEW!! And also, because they came to know, as we all come to know, that loss does not have the last word.  That life finds a way to persist, that we will find a way to persist.

And so when they go back and tell the story – they don’t tell it in the way it happened to them.  They don’t let years go between death, and new life.  They get that stone rolled away and the empty tomb declared right as the community is coming to terms with the loss.  Because they, and we know – we can’t hold life off – life has to always be now.  Because joy is not a luxury.  Joy is essential.  Like Thoreau talked about figuring out the essential facts of life.  Joy is essential for life.  

This doesn’t, of course, mean that everything is joyful, or that we must make what is horrible into something good. It’s just more believing that joy, and life are here too.  

Easter Sunday, right up against Holy Saturday. The rising, and the falling, and the rising again. 

Which brings me to the other important truth in this story.  Which is that –the rising, was not simply a returning to life as it was before. 

Easter is a story of transformation.

We will not be the same after all of this.  We are already not the same. 

We already have mantras to respond to worries about our beloveds falling ill in the night. 

And already we know the sound of our neighbors howling at the moon. 

And, we already know how much touch matters – remember how Thomas needed to touch Jesus to believe he was truly resurrected?  We understand this now, in new ways. We know how much touch matters, how much hugs mean – so that when we hug again – and we will! – it will be such a sign of life. New life.  

We are already not the same, and there will be more changes to come. 

And so we need to make space in these days for these changes. 

The change in you, in us.  

These changes, as Aisha Ahmad has said, will be “honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful, and divine. And they will be slower than [we] are used to.  Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world.”

“Because [loving] the world is our work.” Like Mary Oliver says, Our work “is loving the world.”

Courageously loving the world, even in the midst of disease and anxiety.  Courageously loving life as it is dying, and courageously loving this world, and ourselves into the world that longs to be born – anew.  

As Kendyl Gibbons writes: “This is all that faith means, has ever meant; the human willingness to rebuild the shattered world, and knowing what we know now, do better this time.” 

So this Easter, let us keep the faith to continue with our work – loving this world back to life.  

About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley is relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy of pop culture (reflected in this blog by random posts on Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Scandal, Orphan Black, or the latest Marvel movie). She has an audacious ambition for the liberal church, believing in its capacity to transform lives and our world by way of hyper-local relationships and partnerships that inspire the unleashing of courageous love. She's all in on adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy, and finds solace in the trails in and around Fort Collins Colorado where she serves with the brilliant Rev. Sean Neil-Barron as one of the ministers of the Foothills Unitarian Church. She and her amazing partner of over 20 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (14) and Josef (12) who both relish and resent being PKs, and who keep her grounded, frustrated, inspired, and humbled, everyday. She is basically obsessed with her puppy, a large sized mutt, Charlie.
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