The Messy Business of the Resurrection

By Janet Brooks-Gerloff

Today’s reflection is by Angela Howard McParland, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.

Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.  

The weeks after the first Sunday of the Easter season can sometimes feel pretty anti-climatic. After the intensity of the Triduum and the explosions of daffodils and Alleluias on Easter morning, it’s easy for me to forget that the joy of the resurrection, like Christmas, is meant to be celebrated over a season rather than in one frenetic day.

I was given the opportunity to preach during Holy Week this year and so I mounted the pulpit and implored us to resist the temptation to skip from Palm Sunday Hosannas to Easter Sunday glory without pausing to rest in the discomfort of the in-between. Especially this year, I really wanted a story that doesn’t exist: I longed for a neat and clean story with a fairy-tale ending that told me all was right in the world and that the difficulties of this year would soon end and we would all live happily ever after. I wanted a story that promised the end of LGBTQ+ discrimination in the Church and world, a story that said gun violence and the devaluing of BIPOC lives would cease now that Jesus had risen from the dead. I was strongly tempted to want only the feel-good parts of the story and not the betrayal, suffering, and death. I wanted the resurrection without the cross.

But that isn’t the promise of Christ or the Easter story.

Resurrection, it turns out, is messy business.

The Gospel readings for the first Sundays of Easter share various encounters the Risen Christ has with his followers: John’s account of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb and then his story of the disciples hidden away in the upper room. For the Third Sunday, we get Luke’s version of the disciples hiding in the upper room, this time discussing Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus.

In both stories, the disciples are a bit incredulous that this could possibly be Jesus–in the flesh–standing before them. Luke even suggests that they think they are seeing a ghost, until Jesus beckons them to see and touch his body to be convinced, and not just any part of his body, but his wounds. In John’s version, Thomas is invited to actually put his hand into the gash in Jesus’ side, to join his fear and hopelessness with the brokenness in Jesus’ own body. In Luke, Jesus extols the group to, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” and shows them his battered hands and feet.

Resurrection doesn’t mean you wake up without scars.

It’s not simply catching sight of Jesus walking around post-death or even touching him that will confirm for the disciples the impossibility of what has happened. They have to feel Jesus at his deepest pain and most broken to grasp the truth.

Resurrection doesn’t remove all wounds.

Caravaggio, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”

The reminders of  how we have experienced trauma or suffering–sometimes as a result of the color of our skin, sexual orientation, or gender identity–remain with us,  just as post-Resurrection Jesus still displayed his scars from the cross. We don’t have to shake off deep hurt or pain to participate in the joy of Easter, even as we work to heal. Jesus’s promise is for all of us, in all of our mess and uncertainty, no matter what the world has told us is wrong with our bodies or our deepest selves. Jesus doesn’t promise us perfect lives free from oppression or discrimination, but he does promise us the same witness he gave to Thomas in Caravaggio’s painting: I am here with you. I am here in all of your woundedness, in all of the ways that the world has rejected you, just as they rejected me.

This Easter season, then, let’s practice that resurrection: not the sanitized, flowery version, but the raw and messy reality that fully accepts and loves us. Let’s recognize Christ in the transgender youth afraid to share their struggles, church employees fired for their same-sex relationships, Black people murdered over and over and over. The marginalized and wounded body is Christ’s body, if only we can allow ourselves to tap into our own vulnerabilities to recognize it. Only then can our fear and disbelief transform into joy and solidarity with all of God’s children.

Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, April 18, 2021

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