If you have taken part in the services of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Sunday, you know how profound and meaningful they can be. The entire week becomes an extended experience of the suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus. The emotional roller coaster turns very quickly from shouts of Hosanna! as Jesus enters Jerusalem to cries of Crucify him! as he goes to the cross. It’s a very intense and powerful week. But it is just one week.
Did you know that Easter is not just one day? In our church Easter is an entire 50 day celebration of resurrection. For 50 days the church puts on a party with our best decorations, the lit Paschal candle, our most joyous music and the singing and shouting of Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! During the season of Easter we practice resurrection by remembering, rehearsing and responding to the resurrection. We tell resurrection stories and hear ones from Scripture like the one we heard today in Luke’s gospel.
Depending on how you count it, Luke tells at least 4 resurrection stories. Just as the disciples didn’t fully grasp Jesus’ mission and purpose during his ministry, it takes them time to absorb the reality of his resurrection. They need to hear his voice and recognize it as the very voice of their master. They need to touch his hands and his feet to see the wounds that mark him as their crucified Lord. They need eat and drink with him as they had done so many times before.
And they needed him to teach them from the Scripture and to open their minds and hearts to understand that this is how God delivers us from sin, evil and death.
Fifty days is what it took for them to become people of the resurrection. Fifty days before the Spirit came upon them in power at Pentecost and the resurrection spread to every corner of the world. One week turned their joy into sorrow, plummeted them into despair and ended their hopes. One week brought them face to face with betrayal, denial, violence, suffering and death. But that was all turned around in 50 days as love and life triumphed in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Most of us have Holy Week stories of failure, suffering, and the ending of dreams. Sometimes we even get stuck there, rehearsing and rehashing how we have been hurt or betrayed; sorrowing over what has been lost, seemingly forever; living as a perpetual victim or so protected and walled up that nothing will ever touch us again.
Like the disciples we know what it means to be terrified and disbelieving. We know what it’s like to listen to every raspy breath of a sick child or to sit at the bedside of a dying parent. We know what it’s like to be awake in the middle of the night mentally examining our bank account, the unpaid bills and our impossible mortgage. We all have weeks where everything gets turned upside down and life as we know it has come to an end. We may even know the crisis of addiction and the power it has to destroy life.
Last week I found myself right back in Good Friday. One of our unsheltered neighbors died just across the street from St. Luke’s in the park’s porta potty. He was just 30 years old. While the medics worked on him for over half an hour, we kept vigil. The man who discovered him unconscious and cut his backpack off of him in order to extract him from the porta potty. The long-term vehicle resident who alternates between despair and rage at the state of our society. The woman whose own son died 2 ½ years ago of an overdose while homeless in LA. And the young female friend of the victim whose sobs and wailing broke all of our hearts. After hard and heroic efforts the end was called, the medical equipment and refuse removed and a sheet draped over his body.
It was my turn to commit him to God. I’m sure that somewhere he had parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, maybe even a wife or kids. But drugs and life on the street had taken their toll. As I knelt down beside his poor body, I could see the wounds, the abuse, the neglect and filth he had experienced. I could feel the presence of those who had gathered around in grief, despair, anger and numbness. And I remembered that this Good Friday I hadn’t been able to kneel at the foot of the cross during the adoration because I was serving as the technical assistant for virtual worship.
Here, in front of me was the body of Jesus wounded, traumatized, suffering and dying. Here were the police angry and so tired of another senseless death that they were blaming the victim. Here were the medics, stoic and seemingly unfazed by the trauma that might later haunt their dreams. And here were the women, grieving and witnessing to the end. One of them passed me a small child’s figurine of Woody from the movie Toy Story so I could tuck it under his chin before they wrapped up his body, so he wouldn’t be alone in the morgue.
We also have stories of resurrection. On the same day that Matt died, I caught a vision of the resurrection. I was at the Bridge Care Center to talk with one of the staff members who was accompanied by a woman who I didn’t recognize but who seemed familiar. She kept smiling at me over her mask but I couldn’t make the connection. Finally she said, Canon Britt, you know who I am, don’t you? At that moment I was amazed and disbelieving. I hadn’t seen Cassie for well over a year since the SHARE shelter was closed and she and her partner left for housing on the east side. Apparently neither the housing nor the relationship worked out so last summer she returned to the place where she knew there were people who care.
With the help of our friends at the Bridge and the support of others, she has housing, is in school and doing an internship on site helping others. When I recognized her I was overcome with joy. We spontaneously held both our hands up to one another, palm to palm. It was like touching the resurrected hands of Jesus. She was still herself, still wounded but now, gloriously changed into her best and truest self. She was healing and working to heal others. All three of us were laughing with love and light and life as tears filled our eyes.
We have all had our Good Fridays. But we also know the power of resurrection. Because Jesus has been raised, we too are raised to new life. Because Jesus lives, so do we.
How will you be practicing resurrection in the coming weeks? If you attend St. Luke’s, this is how you will find it happening. Like those early disciples, we will be remembering the words of Jesus. We will trust God to open us to the Scripture in a way that deepens meaning and understanding. We will practice resurrection as we pray for one another and the needs of our community and the world. We will continue to respond to Christ’s commands by loving our neighbors, by living generously, by caring for creation and by providing a place of worship and service that will hold the true treasure of Christ’s body for generations to come.
We, along with Christians everywhere will be called upon to witness to the resurrection – the good news – by word and example. We will be called to move into areas which we would otherwise not go into and engage in activities that we might not otherwise have done. We will be open to hear stories of the resurrection in the lives of our companions and invited to share our own.
We who follow the risen Christ have more than 50 days to practice the resurrection, we have a lifetime, and it begins now.