Scripture: John 20:1-18
On Good Friday, I heard the story of Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion told twice. Here at Lyndale in a beautiful, simple service we read the whole story from Matthew’s gospel, interspersed with singing “Were You There?” Then, in the evening, I was with Maggie at First Congregational where the story was told using John’s gospel. And I was struck by all the embodied details of the story and how humiliation, violence and pain were used to inflict as much suffering as possible on Jesus and those who loved him but were powerless to stop what was happening. Jesus was stripped, he was mocked, a soldier spits in his face, he is beaten and tortured, all before he is nailed to the cross and suffocated to death.
As I listened, I was struck by how much Jesus suffered in his body…
This Easter morning, I come to the story of resurrection still steeped in the story of the arrest, torture and execution of Jesus. And I feel convicted to say that before we know resurrection, we must face into the reality of Good Friday. Pain, suffering, abuse, oppression…. These are the all-too-present realities of our day. Crucifixion happened and it continues to happen. But today, we name and claim the ways in which Jesus’ crucifixion is a moment of God’s radical solidarity with all who are oppressed, wounded and experience violence. We name and claim God’s willingness to experience in God’s body what it was to be executed by the Powerful of the world, executed in the same way that countless people and the planet suffer at the hands of Power today.
Good Friday does not valorize crucifixion, it does not celebrate violence. Good Friday condemns all that would break or injure God’s precious creation. And today, on this Easter morning, we claim that God’s radical solidarity on the cross is not the end of the story. Today, we claim that God’s response to any crucifixion is always and everywhere, resurrection. Always and everywhere, resurrection.
Mary was still in a fog… the trauma had happened so quickly. There wasn’t a lot of time between the shock of his arrest, the frantic attempts to get Pilate to release him and the horror of watching him die. And she had been there for all of it. She had borne witness to all the degradation they had spewed, all the suffering that she felt in her own body, and she’d tried to offer something to him with her presence.
She was still in shock and deep in grief on the morning in the garden. She was in so much grief that she mistook him for the gardener. She can be forgiven for her clouded thinking because it had only been three days since his execution at the hands of the Roman Empire.
But when he called her name, her attention shifted, she was awakened from her stupor and she recognized her beloved, her teacher… “Mary”…. “Rabbouni.”
It is one of the most moving passages in scripture, for me. In the shortest of exchanges, the calling of her name immediately gathers her in relationship, in love, in the impossible reality that from such horror and pain and death has sprung new life.
For years, the factory had polluted the soil and the waters of the surrounding community and then it closed. It sat empty for over a decade until it was torn down and the land sat barren. A group of local community activists sitting in the midst of a food desert decided they would try to remediate the soil. It was one of those amazing projects: you had the Black elders, some of whom had worked at the plant, you had the young Black and brown activists, you had the Black, brown and white geeks who studied microorganisms, plants and mushrooms and the white Canadian woman who spent her life’s energy writing about Earth Repair.
They first met together in a place that looked deceptively simple: grasses growing but not much else. And then the Canadian began to describe what lay in the soil, the chemicals and toxins that had woven themselves together to poison the earth. But she said, this death is not the final word. We can ally ourselves with the organisms, plants and fungi. For every contaminate, there is a microorganism for which it is food. The contamination took decades and the repair will, too. But we can heal this land if we align ourselves with the creatures who can bring life out of this death.
That was twelve years ago and the work is far from done. But the earth is being repaired in that small plot of land and the death of environmental degradation is slowly giving itself over to the life of human and mushroom, plant and microorganism working together, practicing interbeing, practicing resurrection.
Almost five years ago I made a trip to the Pacific Northwest, to a place that resonates in my soul-body the way few things do. It was right after one of my dearest mentors had died. And I was grieving deeply. As I drove around the top of the Olympic National Park, the bottom of the Makah reservation, and finally approached the coast, I felt my fascia start to loosen and my heart begin to soften. I felt my breathing gradually slowing and my mind begin to settle. And all of it caused the tears of grief and loss to come closer to the surface.
Finally, as I got out of my car at the trail head that led through the forest to the beach, I inhaled like I was home and started onto the path, interbeing working on me. For the first section of the trail, I was looking up at the trees, the ones that always remind me of cathedral pillars standing over a hundred feet tall. I had that same sense of sacredness and worship as I paused and looked through the intricately woven canopy with the sunlight speckling through. And then, for some reason, my eyes were brought to the ground. Just ahead of me and to my left, lying about 75 feet long was the greatly decayed trunk of one of the massive trees that had fallen several years earlier… in the span between when it fell and now, millions of insects had feasted, slowly softening its hard wood into sawdust and soil. And there, along its massive span whose outline was less-visible because of its softness, rose dozens and dozens and dozens of saplings. What I was looking at, what had brought my attention from the heavens to the earth, what had called my name, was what is known as a nurse log.
The tears which had been close to the surface, came spilling out. That one grandmother who had stood for centuries probably had been transformed from death into life for literally thousands of other creatures and close to one hundred other trees. Amidst my grief, she had grabbed my attention and seemed to call out my name, “Rebecca.” And I recognized her as my teacher.
And she said to me, remember, life springs from death.
Life does indeed spring from death, but, our Biblical story aside, most resurrections take a long time. So much so that it might be better to say that we are called to practice resurrection for the long haul… and, even then, resurrection is, more often than not, generational work. It’s the work of interbeing that is started by grandparents and passed like an heirloom, onto children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Practicing resurrection, practicing interbeing is long haul work because the power of crucifixion… of colonization, of white supremacy, of extractive capitalism…. The power of crucifixion is real. Trauma and pain, suffering and sorrow, degradation and toxicity can be pernicious, persistent and long lasting. And they, too, can be handed down from generation to generation like a poisoned inheritance.
But the fact that practicing resurrection and interbeing is generational work doesn’t make it any less sacred or powerful. Indeed, being part of a long line of healing is a gift unlike any other.
We were in a small room behind large metal gates in San Salvador. It was 1987 and the Civil War was raging. I was part of a delegation of Christians and Jews who were on a solidarity trip during Las Posadas in Advent. We were waiting for two Co-Madres, mothers of the disappeared, to speak to our group. And they were late. And then, “bang, bang, bang,” there was a pounding on the metal gates and shouts as our hosts quickly slid open the gates enough for the two women to slip through.
They had been at the Presidential palace protesting, an extremely dangerous thing to do as protestors were often killed on the spot or disappeared. They had been tear-gassed and as soon as they came through the gates, they ran for milk to neutralize the gas in their eyes. And they coughed and threw up in a bucket. Our small American delegation just watched as they were ministered to by their friends, cleaned up from the impacts of the gas that was probably made in Homer City, PA. When they were better, they turned to us and started to tell us their story.
Within a few minutes, the first woman who spoke shared that she had lost five children to the Civil War and that she had seen her son tortured to death.
As I stood there and took in the whole experience, the pounding on the metal door, the tear gas, and the knowledge of all she had lost, I raised my hand, my 18 year old, white, North American hand and asked her, how? How did you survive losing your child? How are you brave enough to go the Presidential Palace? How can you be talking to us right now?
And she said to me, I know that in Jesus, God knows in God’s body what it is to be tortured to death and so I know that God was holding my son as he died. And, furthermore, I know that in the resurrection, God has raised my son. And I know that if anything happens to me, God will be with me and will hold me and raise me up. And that makes me fearless. And my fearlessness makes me powerful.
I met Jesus in the garden with Mary the day I met that Salvadoran Co-Madre.
And I came to my adult faith that day, too.
God’s love, God’s justice, God’s healing, God’s resurrection is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE more real and more powerful than any crucifixion that Empire might seek to perpetrate—against Jesus… against trans beloveds, against the body of Mother Earth, against Ukrainian kindred, against school children or elderly Black folx shopping for groceries or Latinx folx shopping at Walmart, against young, Black and brilliant legislators standing in solidarity against the gun violence.
On this Easter morning, Jesus stands resurrected before the death and violence of our world and calls us by name. May we so hearken to the call that we might be fearless and powerful and just outrageous enough to join our hearts to fungi and our bodies to nurse logs and our lives to the sacred work of practicing resurrection for generations to come. Amen.