Christ is risen; Christ is in us
Our Sacred Story this week comes from John 20:1-18. Read the full text here.
This morning, the friends and followers Jesus woke up with the same burdens they went to bed with the night before. The dewy morning air was thick with tension as they went on living in a world of broken hearts, fragile bodies, political turmoil, and the ongoing threat of danger and disaster. Yet, somewhere in the depths of her soul, there still stirred a story of hope that lingered from long ago.
Mary is going about her day, trying to carry on in the midst of all these things, when she encounters the empty tomb…linens lying thrown to the side. She is struck with the panic of coming home to the doors unlocked and your belongings scattered everywhere. It looks like someone has broken in; the grave of God has been robbed. She fears the worst. She fears what experience has taught her is most likely…that people are cruel and the powerful worst of all.
She turns to her community for help and support. Two of the men come running toward the crisis, take it in for a moment, and then head home even before fully understanding what they’ve seen and heard. The men who were so quick to rush in, who raced to get their first…have already left the scene. But Mary remains…shaking, sobbing, searching.
She turns her gaze and the angels of God appear, as they often do in moments of great fear. She turns again to find she is no longer alone. She may still be afraid, but she is also persistent in pursuit of the way, the truth, and the life.
She misidentifies the person in front of her, but then her own identity is spoken allowed. Jesus speaks her name and she feels fully known, fully loved, overflowing with relief and joy. God comes to her in the midst of her morning routine. God comes looking like a stranger, a gardener, as someone fresh of yard crew tuck, a laborer, a janitor, a table busser, as someone who makes the world go round but often goes unnoticed. God is alive and revealed in relationship. God shows up in the face of someone standing right in front of us, across from us.
Easter shows us the incredible unbound extravagance of what God can do – defying violence and death with peace and a new creation, turning tears of sorrow to tears to joy, expressing a depth of relationship in a world of isolation.
Easter shows us the incredible unbound extravagance of what God can do, but it’s not only about what God does… it’s about what that does in us.
This experience of divine love and resurrection causes her to respond. This Woman, Mary, is the first to preach the Good News of the Gospel, to share the story of life’s victory over death, to announce what she has seen God do. “If the women were all the time silent, then we would have no knowledge of the resurrection of Christ.” Without women like Maria, the resurrection would remain an idle tale of the past.
I asked Maria if I could share her story with you, and most of what I’m about to tell you are her own words.
Maria is a queer woman who works for one of our local shelters.
“In the Disaster/Emergency Management world, they get together a lot for training, and last week they met to practice and discuss hurricane readiness and response.
While thinking of ways for leadership to be more engaged, a woman stood up to offer a suggestion, something like
"Well, if he could do X, Y, Z... he could also..."
Once people realized that the organization’s leadership is currently entirely made up of women, folks began to talk over her and say "OR she." The woman with the mic got flustered and said, "Well, if California passes that law, I may as well be saying IT!"
People in the room laughed loudly-- some uncomfortably, others genuinely-- and others appeared frozen in shock.
The facilitator moved on quickly to the next comments, but before the next section was over, Maria looked around the room full of faith based, government, volunteer, and nonprofit leaders, people with whom she may be working with through the current crisis as well as the next-- people she’s going to need on her side as she continues in her line of work.
She readied herself because the decision had already been made; it was made for her because of who she is and because of her acknowledgement of her privilege.
Maria raised her hand.
She was shaking so hard with nervousness.
She said: "I don't want to move on to the next section without first addressing one of the previous comments. I think it's important to acknowledge that many people we serve have a variety of gender identities, and all of them still make them people. So, if we can move forward without references like 'it' I would appreciate it."
A bit caught off guard and trying to keep the meeting moving, the facilitator said, "Well, I don't want to get into politics and all the words we use; we'll just use he or she to keep it simple."
Maria quickly interjected, "This isn't about politics; this is simply about treating the people we serve with dignity and respect."
"<pause> Ok. Thanks."
The facilitator moved on to the next slide while (Maria’s) heart was beating out of her chest.
She couldn't bring herself to look at the other people seated near her, but just when she thought it couldn't get any more painful or lonely-- people started to clap!
At the next break, people came up to her--
"I really appreciate what you said."
"How can I volunteer for your organization? I'd heard good things about your org, but now this confirms even more that I need to sign up."
"Good on you. That took guts."
"All of us in the back were cringing when she said that, then we all kind of exhaled when you spoke up."
"Yeah, that was really cool; you did it so tactfully, too."
…When Maria walked up to the woman who originally said the comment, they exchanged a warm handshake.
"Hi.” Maria said, “I just wanted you to know that I didn't say what I said to embarrass or shame you, so I'm sorry if that happened."
"You certainly put me in my place!" The woman responded.
"Well, I just (had to say something)."
In the meantime, the woman had genuinely reflected on how her words were received and had googled the law to clarify. She said that she then recognized something she hadn’t before - that the law was about acknowledging a third gender and when she said 'it' she meant to say 'they'!
Maria responded, "That makes a lot more sense; thank you for explaining that. I had a feeling you didn't mean to make a comment like that; sorry this was so public."
"No,” (she said), “I learned something today. No hard feelings."
There is much to this story that remains unknown or unclear– people’s true motivations or intentions, the potential fallout in relationship or reputation by speaking up and learning publicly…
But Maria had a story that she could not keep silent. These women shared an experience of discovery, even in the midst of hurt, confusion, and difference. The impact of her story not only affected the people in the room that day who experienced this exchange first hand, but since she has shared this story of vulnerability, humanity, hope, and courage on social media…the story now has the capacity to shape how I personally will engage in consequential conversations with others in the future. Her words help me to envision how I might engage with others who have hurt me and whom I have hurt. Her shared story helps me find my own voice.
Her witness helps me see the risen and living God in the everyday moments of my day and the people of my city. When I wake up still in the shadows of Friday, I turn and Easter Sunday stories like this one arrive to announce the power of love over despair. When grief and white noise leave me in tears – feeling lost and alone, God shows up, calls me by name, puts a story of surprising joy on my tongue, and compels me to speak even in the midst of fear. When I find myself silenced by the resignation that nothing and no one will ever change, that the world is doomed…Christ defies the darkness with a new dawn, a new creation, a world redeemed.
Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen in us. Go and tell what you have seen, share the “upworthy” stories that don’t just lift our spirits but inspire others to speak and act. Alleluia. Amen.