April 12, 2020

Good morning and happy Easter!

Resurrection has not been easy on my mind. I was thinking of an image or idea that captures resurrection in our time, and what I came up with here at St. Mary’s are the tulip buds that will bloom very soon. We have not had tulip bulbs that grew and bloomed in the five years I have been here; they don’t survive the very destructive nature of our squirrel population! For well over a year, St. Mary’s has had the help of Gerald Clark, a landscape gardener from Massachusetts who has been watching and cultivating, planting and organically curating our front garden, including strategic co-planting to prevent squirrel destruction.Gerald is here thanks to the support of DeeDee Halleck, wife of St. Mary’s member Joel Kovel, who died 2 years ago now. Thanks to this cultivation, our garden is beginning to bloom in new ways toward our mission to “celebrate creation and heal human relationships with the natural world.” There is resurrection happening in our garden with tulips and more, and it is an ongoing process, definitely taking a lot longer than three days.

What is the resurrection to us today? What meaning does it offer us in 2020? One writer pointed out how today’s Easter celebration in most places around the world is much more like the first Easter than most any celebration since (A Very Different Easter). It takes place in the midst of a time of fear and isolation, a time of grief. We can only imagine what the disciples, like many of us now, were wondering about what the future holds, if their lives would ever return to something they thought of as “normal.” There were no crowds, no gatherings, only people out to do necessary work: the anointing of a body.

That first resurrection was a time of confusion and grief and surprise and joy.

I don’t think I have to convince anyone of confusion and grief in our time. Whether we know people who have died personally, or someone who is ill now, whether we have lost a job or in other ways our livelihood has been threatened, whether we are lonelier than we’ve been, whatever the effects of this pandemic, they are very much about loss. The loss we feel today, about not being able to gather, about not being able to take our “family picture” – a group picture on Easter morning that adorns our newsletters, of not being able to feel and hear the music swell together (though it is such a treat to have April Armstrong and Nabate Isles with us!), and not to share in the celebration of the Eucharist, that enactment of the world as it should be, feels very far off.

The church is empty, and we, like Mary, are left with our sense of aloneness and grief. And it is in this moment we are given an opportunity, however disruptive, however painful to be open to something new.

The writer Arundhati Roy wrote this just last week (Arundhati Roy, April 3, 2020: the Pandemic is a Portal; Financial Times):

“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”

Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. It is a jarring statement. We might not even hear it the first time. But Jesus will call us by name if we listen, Jesus is saying to us, what you considered normal was a trap, remember the promise, seek and find God’s kingdom, God’s freedom in the here and now. Jeremiah calls for the same kind of vision, don’t return to life as it was before exile! Rather return to the life that celebrates life. The Psalmist writes, “we shall not die, but live.” And, from the Book of Acts, “we are called to be witnesses.”

What new insights and actions will we witness to when the shelter in place order is lifted? Will we, as a society, as communities, be able to hold on to from the ways the environment benefited from our shut down? From the care we showed to one another, the appreciation for essential workers? Might we move even from evening cheers to equitable pay for hospital workers? For all the workers that have sustained our lives at the risk of their own in this time: cashiers, truck drivers, farm workers, repair and delivery persons? Might we strive to provide adequate health care for everyone, and address the disparities that are so apparent during this crisis? Release for people imprisoned and detained for too long and under inhuman conditions?

Maybe you think that I am crazy. But this pandemic shows us how flexible human community can be! We change when we are forced to change. And we can learn (or we have the opportunity to learn). A political science professor writes: “The pandemic shutdown of polluting industries has graphically illustrated both the horrific extent of daily ‘normal’ pollution to the planet by our economic activity, while at the same time paradoxically showing us exactly how quickly and dramatically we could (and should) reduce global emissions to address the global climate emergency”* (see endnote). In other words, we are capable, when we want to, of making a difference in the level of pollution, we are capable of addressing climate change.

Resurrection has never been about going back to the way things were, never about going back to business as usual. We enter now into 50 days of the Easter season to hear how the earliest followers of Jesus found their way. Maybe it is because we are closer in context to that first resurrection story this year, that I am also more eager for Easter season. It is not just an end to Lent, but exploring how to move forward into the new? What will resurrection life look like for us? We have precious new life born out of trauma and at great cost, how will we not take it for granted?

An Episcopal priest in Brooklyn responds this way (Steven Paulikas, NY Times, “The World is Empty Now, How Should We Fill It?” 4/11/2020):

“We don’t yet need detailed plans for the future. For now, we can simply examine the emptiness of this disrupted life and take note of the ways in which we might strive to make it superior to what we had before. Sitting with these questions now will determine what we are willing to accept once this crisis is over. Having tasted a simpler life, perhaps we will shift our values and patterns. Having seen the importance of community, maybe we will invest more in the well-being of the collective and not just the individual. Having seen the suffering of others anew, we may find it impossible to ignore it in the future.”

Today, we embrace Mary Magdalene, weeping in the garden; weeping at the excruciating loss and I think also at the profound shock and beauty of new life. That new life is calling us by name. I’m not sure we are quite ready for surprise and joy, but like our own St. Mary’s garden- it is a process, and today is a new beginning. Amen.

*Barry Gills (2020) Deep Restoration: from The Great Implosion to The Great Awakening, Globalizations, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2020.1748364