Why Some Followers of Jesus Did Not Lockdown After Easter

Michaelangelo Allocca

According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is not a feast that the church celebrates only one day of the year.  The seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sundays are called Eastertide, when the church reflects scripturally on the mystery of the Resurrection. 

Bondings 2.0 has created the “Out of the Tomb” series to present reflections on the liturgical readings for these Sundays for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, the Second Sunday of Easter, by clicking here.

Today’s post is from Michaelangelo Allocca is a member of  St. Francis Xavier parish, Manhattan, New York. He holds degrees in religion from Columbia University and the University of Chicago, and has wide experience teaching religious studies, humanities, and Latin at the high school and university levels, and also as a catechist and retreat leader.

During my scripture class at an all-boys high Catholic school, we observed that all say the risen Jesus appeared first to women, while still keeping the male apostles very much in the forefront. One sophomore asked, “Do you think these stories would sound much different if they had actually been WRITTEN by women?”

Besides replying, “Why, yes, Marcos, I do indeed,” I complimented him on his perceptiveness and sensitivity. At that time, I had no idea that later he would become one of the co-presidents of the school’s gay-straight alliance, and would continue to demonstrate the same awareness that injustice to any is injustice to all.

He was, blessedly, far from alone. At one of the meetings of that alliance when I was its faculty moderator, we were brainstorming ideas and topics that the members considered important, and “intersectionality” was listed by many. Intersectionality means a strong commitment to feminism, anti-racism, economic equality and all other justice issues, not just “our own” oppressions. Since the school was all-male students, supporting women’s rights, for instance by co-hosting programs with the feminist groups at our sister schools, was a big part of our intersectionality.

Marcos’s question echoes loudly now, as the Easter week readings portray women as the resurrected Christ’s first witnesses, and were commissioned to evangelize the absent male disciples (Matthew 28:5-10; John 20:17-18).  In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears for a second time to an apparently all-male group hiding in their locked room (John 20:19-29). I wondered (and prayed about) why there would be no women present here when Jesus gives the Spirit to his apostles.

The first possible explanation was the one Marcos suggested: that the men writing down the stories had simply “forgotten” to mention the women. But another seems just as likely, and perhaps more in keeping with the motions of the Spirit: the women were not there because THEY did not keep themselves hidden away in fear. On the first Easter, they had gone out to the tomb to care for the body, as women customarily did, disregarding the danger. So, of course they encountered Jesus first. And while those men were cowering behind locked doors, lest the authorities find them, a week later (or even seven weeks later on Pentecost when they were still hiding), the women, no doubt, were still out in the world doing what needed to be done.

Our present COVID-19 lockdown circumstances encourage identification, on multiple fronts. First, with the male apostles: staying inside, seeking shelter behind closed doors from dangers connected with encountering strangers. But also with the women who continued, despite risk, to encounter whatever the outside world presented, as do many among us today who don’t really have the option of staying at home.

This commitment to actively working for justice is central to today’s first reading, which I think of as the forgotten part of Acts Finally, God willing, we can identify with the ability of both groups to continue preaching, whenever the Spirit arrives to allow it,  that “He is risen,” which we do not just with words, but by helping to bring about the reign of God through our actions, relationships, and lives. 2. If the phrase “Acts 2” evokes anything, it is the well-known special-effects-heavy description of the Pentecost drama. Thankfully, today’s lectionary reading presents the concluding part of the Pentecost description, all too often ignored.  This section describes the original church living utterly without hierarchy, and by frankly socialist principles. They gathered for the breaking of the bread “in their homes,” with no hint that anyone was permanently and exclusively designated as a presider for this sacred action. The apostles are only given pre-eminence as teachers, due to their immediate first-hand familiarity with Jesus.

In the parallel passage at Acts 4:32-35, the apostles also are made the supervisors of wealth-redistribution. All in this first community sell their private property and lay the proceeds “at the feet of the apostles,” who see that it is shared among all, so that no member of the community is left in need.

With Scriptures that teach us lessons like these, we nevertheless have a society that refuses to see “prosperity gospel” as an oxymoron; and a church that is patriarchal and clericalist, refusing to ordain women, and otherwise marginalizing them, the LGBT community, and too many others. This, I believe, is exactly what 1 Peter, today’s epistle reading, means by the ‘various trials’ through which we will have to suffer for a time.

Yet, despite our own fear and whatever other obstacles there may be, the risen Jesus “will flame out, like shining from shook foil,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. These same scriptures proclaim the resurrection through what the disciples did once the Spirit led them out of their closets.

And my brave and wise and spirit-filled students also proclaim it, in their reminder that ministry to LGBT Catholics must, intersectionally, entail ministry to all who need recognition and support. This proclamation, both 2000 years ago and right now, causes me (as 1 Peter also says), to “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”

Michaelangelo Allocca, April 19, 2020

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