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 and Ascension Thursday for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, the Seventh Sunday of Easter , by clicking here.
Today’s post is from Craig A. Ford, Jr, an assistant professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. He works at the intersection of the Catholic moral tradition, queer theory, and critical race theory. An activist-scholar, Craig has sought to build coalitions with other proponents of social justice with visions for futures beyond racism, hetero/sexism, and other structural inequalities.
This week, as with the many weeks of our lives, the Gospel invites us to identify with the disciples as they learn from Jesus. But this week things are very different. Jesus is saying goodbye.
And like the good teacher that he is, Jesus tries to summarize for them (and us) everything they have learned, so they can take the message out into the world. And Jesus is taking this summary-stuff very seriously. After all, very few passages in the Gospel are as direct and as instructive as the words that come out of Jesus’s mouth today.
“Now this is eternal life,” Jesus begins. And I can imagine that he says it in a tone that draws our attention directly to his voice, as if he’s going to give us an answer to a test:
“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is saying good-bye, but the disciples don’t want to see him go.
While we know this story from Scripture, I am not convinced that that is the story we are living out when we evaluate ourselves as the disciples who are attempting to follow Jesus as faithfully as we can today. I think, more devastatingly, that we are significantly different from the first disciples. During our current situation of global pandemic, rather than mourn the impending departure of our friend and teacher, Jesus, we seem to be all too eager to show Jesus the door.
It’s as if the Easter joy that we were allowed to experience earlier in this pandemic is just too much for us to bear. By ‘Easter joy,’ I mean the significance of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection for us Christians: that we can act in the world in such a way that there are no more victims; that we can act in the world in the same way that God’s own power acts: by replacing death with life, by replacing scarcity with abundance, by replacing fear with hope. That is Easter joy.
We’ve been seeing this Easter joy in the midst of the pandemic in the context of my home country, the United States–or, at least we did. We saw it when, in a spirit of solidarity, we knew that the way to live into the Easter joy of Christ’s resurrection was through protecting those who were most vulnerable to COVID-19.
That’s why we paused our economies;
That’s why we obeyed the safer-at-home orders;
That’s why we wore masks in public;
That’s why we stopped going to gyms, restaurants and salons–and yes, even to our churches;
That’s why we practiced physical distancing.
We did it to spread life in the midst of death, to continue to give life not only to those who were most visibly vulnerable to death– those who are older–but also as the continued gift of life to those who aren’t visibly vulnerable at all– those who are immunocompromised, to those with health conditions that could be exacerbated by coronavirus infection, We spread life by taking proper precautions, recognizing that we could spread the virus even without showing any symptoms ourselves.
This is Easter joy, the life that Christ inspired in us, that we spread–or, at least, it was. Now, just as we commemorate that Christ is taking his leave of us, just as we hear his words of benediction in the Gospel today, just as we receive the summary of all that we’ve learned as disciples, many of us in the United States are turning our backs on that Easter joy.
We’re ramping up our economic activity;
We’re repealing the safer-at-home orders;
We’re not wearing our masks in in public;
We’re going back to our gyms, to our restaurants, and to our salons–and yes, even to our churches;
We’re no longer practicing physical distancing.
We’re turning our backs on our Easter joy, and instead, we’re going back to the way things were before. And there are a lot of reasons for doing so: many of us are tired of quarantining; many of us want to start our summers; many of us want to get back to providing for our families.
All of these reasons are understandable, yet instead of addressing these problems, we’ve added a new one in the form of a showdown between, on the one hand, valuing public health, which circumscribes our individual liberties to the interest of the general welfare, and, on the other, valuing our constitutional rights, which circumscribes the general welfare to the interest of our individual liberties.
In addition to the public health problem and the political problems, Christians have to ask ourselves about a third problem directly in front of us: Whither our Easter joy?
How do we breathe new life in the midst of death? How do we witness to the resurrection in ways that give life to all of those whom we know COVID-19 might affect negatively? I’d like to think that as LGBTQ+ Christians, we have insight into recognizing that any choice that sacrifices the well-being of the marginalized cannot be a Christian one.
And what does that insight consist in? It’s the wisdom that comes from knowing that we are a people who intimately know what it means to proclaim life in the midst of death. In our veins as LGBTQ+ Christians runs the blood of all those who dared to love in the midst of another epidemic: HIV/AIDS.
And yes, in our veins runs the blood of every transgender person who dares to walk outside, not knowing whether today’s world brings affirmation or punishment.
And yes, in our veins run the blood of every queer person who can look up at the world with a pride that we know that the church and some other people around us do not want to give.
In our veins, in other words, runs the very blood of those whose creativity will not sacrifice some for others, but is instead a creativity that proclaims from the very heart of the Gospel that it is all of us or none of us.
So yes: this week, indeed, things are very different. Jesus is saying goodbye. He’s wondering if we’re going to keep this Easter Joy. His Easter joy. Our Easter joy. No more parables. No more riddles. No more hard-to-interpret pieces of advice. Just the summary: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”
—Craig A. Ford, Jr., May 24, 2020