Stories for Easter Sunday
I’ll keep this first story brief because it is still unresolved, and only partially mine to tell: Some time ago, I supported a young person who was in the process of overcoming significant barriers towards an education and a more stable living. For months we met weekly, for some weeks corresponding daily. This person successfully completed their program, walked across a graduation stage, and began weighing some promising options. I, satisfied that their potential was receiving its due recognition, left for a vacation. I returned to work a week later to discover they had been fatally shot a week after I had last seen them. They were caught in the crossfires of someone else’s disagreement and died at the site of the altercation.
Paul says death is swallowed up by life. How?
I went to their memorial service and imagined them removed from all the questions their family, friends, and community were asking. They were seated with Jesus and knew the answer while everyone else was reeling.
The Gospel of John describes the resurrected Jesus standing on the shores of Galilee, watching the men who walked with him for three years now returned to vocations they had occupied before he called them. I always wonder what sensations swept over them as they picked up their fishing nets after three years away from their trades. Did they think about the disbelief they had felt when a rabbi chose them, unlearned, undistinguished men, to walk with him? Did they think about the skepticism and then excitement that had rose within their hearts as he described the Kingdom at hand, or about how his words had electrified them even as they struggled to fully understand? Reading John 21 at Easter makes me want to cry out on their behalf, for the narrative I read with knowledge of its ending is full of darkness to them at this point of the story. What a bitter thing, to go back to the fields that lay fallow or nets that were hung out to dry for so long.
When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus describe their plight to Jesus, not knowing who he is, this is what they say: “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” “...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Succinct, and piercing. I can only imagine these words to be spoken haltingly, with stinging in their eyes and throat. He was the savior they had laid down lives and livelihoods to follow and the warmth of his presence had gone. The pliability he had worked into their hearts and imaginations was disappearing; they must have felt themselves growing stiff with disappointment and grief.
I don’t think anyone goes into the social sector intending to become hard hearted. As a child I remember looking at some of my teachers and wondering how anyone could become so cynical, or how anyone could choose a profession they seemed to despise -- but I am beginning to understand how easy it is to muffle sadness in the name of efficiency, in the name of serving the group and not being distracted by the one, or in an attempt to stabilize oneself in the face of disappointment.
Some days after work I have trouble sleeping because I know that someone I had contact with is probably digging through the trash cans behind neighboring restaurants to find their family’s next meal. Or weeping at a family member’s looming deportation. At this moment in my life, remaining tenderhearted while being immersed in the world rife with injustice, wrongdoing, and pain seems like the greatest miracle. As Easter approaches, this is the miracle I ask the Lord to enact. Jesus. Savior. Give me a heart of flesh for a heart of stone.
In Luke 24: As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’
The burning hearts! The sensation so absent in his absence and so remarkable in its return that it is the indicator that they stand before the Lord once again. This is the thing I struggle to unlock in my work. In communities that can seem overshadowed by death and violence, at times the Lord seems far, or his presence dormant. In those times I feel my heart grow brittle and cold in self protection, and before I know it I am numb in the name of efficiency, selflessness, reliability.
Here is the miracle of Easter to me this year: Jesus prevailed over the violence and disappointment of the world. Where our hearts grew hard he made way for them to become tender once again.
John 21: After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: ...Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.
This is the image I dwell upon every Easter – men grieving and adrift at sea, who catch sight of their savior, and find that joy breaks over them like a wave.