Happy Easter! Happy feast in which we rejoice that “Christ is risen from the grave, and that by death, he has conquered death, and to those in the grave he has granted life.” It is a feast marked by newness. Jesus’ resurrection heralds a new creation, a resurrection time, a bright and fresh world, a new reality in which we can encounter God face-to-face – and live. God, in fact, has given his whole self to us, so that we might become his children.
Everything is new. But that’s a challenge that is hard to hear in a coronavirus world. These days, there is much that is quite new in our experiences, but not Easter-new. Most of us have been under stay-at-home orders and we navigate new ways of dealing with our days. Many, many of us contend with job losses or pay cuts we could not possibly have expected at the start of Lent. Some people have expressed surprise at being named “essential workers,” since by all accounts, our society has not repaid the “essentiality” of people like migrant workers and janitors with anything like essential wages or benefits, let alone essential protection from deportation.. Several of us are staring down this novel disease, feeling the waves of infection hit us, as no other illness has before. Several of us mourn people who have died, from afar, being unable (in ways that are shockingly new) to sit at their bedsides nor attend their funerals.
It is a new, confusing world. We can’t see what’s coming, though we can imagine all kinds of bad and very bad.
We are, in many ways, like those disciples in today’s Gospel, who are in shock. They can name facts: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” They do things in the moment – they can run to the tomb, awash in shock, and confirm: yes, no body is here.
“What is going on?” the disciples wonder, as we do today. How shall they make sense of the new confusion? After all, it could be a case of a 1-2 punch, getting the disciples while they are down, by stealing Jesus’ body, desecrating the body further.
Slowly, over time, the new world the disciples, and we, have been presented will begin to make sense. It won’t make sense just by our wishing it so, however. The disciples knew their world was irrevocably changed – they knew it in the cross. The empty tomb brings forth even more newness and change – but more confusion.
The readings from Acts, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians show us how the disciples have begun to make sense of it all: they are witnesses.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,Acts 10:40-42
not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.
Our sharing in Christ’s risen life is likewise a call to witness. We, like they, have been chosen by God to be witnesses for this time and this place.
We have seen some such witness to the new world Christ brings in the current crisis. Essential workers giving their bodies and potentially their lives, people making masks, people protesting loss of voting rights, some CEOs taking paycuts or zero salaries and deciding not to cut workers, my local coffee shop finding ways to pay workers at great cost to themselves.
The tough part is that there are still yet vestiges of our old world – old yeast- stubbornly hanging on without paying due attention to being fresh dough. Edited to add: century-old sick leave policies that leave multiple people in the dust; FMLA that continues not to serve families; insurance and health care systems that are dis-enabling. Our Catholic and secular culture wars seem to have continued apace – caring for COVID-19 victims means, for some, that we care less about victims of abortion. Immigration debates continue even in the face of humanitarian crisis. Christians are busting each other up on social media – being smug and arrogant about who the real Christian is – because of support or lack of support for physical distancing measures in worship.
Hanging on to the old divisions does not witness to the world. As Paul says to the Corinthians, the Risen Lord will not be proclaimed in our old yeast.
In this new and newly confusing world, may we become fresh dough. May we witness to our Risen Lord in “sincerity and truth.” Perhaps this begins as simply as not dismissing our Christian brothers and sisters online in smug tones – “those proggies,” “those Trumpians.” Or we ask how might COVID-19 victims and abortion be seen as part of the same witness to Jesus Christ? Perhaps we may see our way toward new structures, new ways that enable human life to thrive and yes, to witness, in the 21st century. As with the disciples at the tomb who struggle and learn together what new life in Christ shall mean, together we shall find the new turns toward which our path now takes us. In that, God’s life shall be proclaimed.