What changed because of Easter? Unbelievers scoff at resurrection. Theologians debate the empty tomb. No one can “prove” Easter. But one thing is clear: the first Easter transformed a motley band of fearful, confused disciples into joyful witnesses to the risen Jesus. Their experience of Jesus as the Christ changed them into fearless proclaimers of the Good News in the face of persecution and to the ends of the known world.
What changes in our lives because of Easter? The world is still a mess. Look at Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan. Suffering has not disappeared. Death still comes to all. As individuals or as tribes, ethnic groups or political parties or nations, we inflict pain on one another. But the risen Christ invites us to stand close to those who suffer: “Come, put your fingers into the wounds in my palms and your hand into the gash in my side.”
Some of us sidestep suffering, thinking that avoiding it brings happiness, but God stands with the brokenhearted. When we stand with the suffering, we encounter the God of mercy. Easter compels us to seek others wherever they are suffering, especially where suffering occurs on a vast scale. Once you know these things, you will be blessed if you put them into practice.
This is the way forward: believing that we share one planet, depend upon one another for survival, and are able to ease one another’s paths. Life isn’t about keeping track of our advancements or lapses in virtue; it’s about keeping our eyes fixed on God. It’s about God inviting us to drop our defenses and to turn toward a new way of loving. When love holds the scales, as the poet Kabir says, they stop working. There is no need to measure, compare, mete out justice, or give each person her due; none of us deserves what God is always giving.
Many of us are still much more comfortable with a just God than a merciful God. We’re bothered by those strange parables about the day laborers who work only one hour and get the same pay as those who toiled a full shift under the hot sun. We don’t understand why Jesus commends the cheating servant who cooked the books and slashed the amount due from his master’s creditors. We want life to be fair. We work hard at being good; we want to get what we deserve. But of course, we never get what we deserve from God. We always get mercy, pressed down and overflowing, undeserved and wondrous. From that experience of God flows Easter joy. We are loved, held, and cherished, no matter what.
Author Richard Rohr, in Hope Against Darkness, writes:
The wonder of the resurrection stories in the Gospels is that Jesus has no punitive attitude toward the authorities or his cowardly followers; and the followers themselves never call for any kind of holy war against those who killed their leader. Something new has clearly transpired in history. This is not the common and expected story line. All Jesus does is breathe forgiveness (John 20:22).
Reconciliation, compassion, forgiveness, and community all become possible when we experience Easter. God longs for our hearts and wants us to draw closer, but also closer to our neighbors near and far. Easter is a call to solidarity.
Once we are grounded in God, we are compelled to be with people who are not like ourselves. Why? Because God is other, and comes as a stranger. In opening up to people and ideas we find strange, we become open to encountering God. We must take risks, venture into relationships that stretch us, and include strangers in our circle. It’s not a burden but a gift. Where else can we expect to meet the God whose best name is “surprise”?
Easter means we live for others and not for ourselves. Many centuries ago the Sufi poet Rumi wrote:
Become the one that when you walk in,
Luck shifts to the one who needs it.
If you’ve not been fed, be bread.
An extraordinary description of Eucharist. Pray to become someone from whom luck shifts, so that the other may get more. Even if you are hungry, focus on your neighbors and find ways to be bread for them. Feeling lonely or depressed? Do something for someone else! Think nobody pays attention to you? Give your attention to others instead. Give thanks, not just when you have your daily bread, but that you can be bread for others. Then God’s own joy will grow in your heart.
We see in scripture that when God is active people move toward solidarity, away from their natural tendency to stay in their comfort zones of family, clan, or chosen people. Use God’s eyes to look out at our world. See others as God sees them, as a beloved. Love wants to be with the beloved. That is the movement underlying all solidarity.
Easter in the real world means becoming more and more loving. No matter what our calling in life, our real work is to carry this love as comfort for all who long for God, to go everywhere God goes, which is always outward to the stranger, the alien, the poor, and the forgotten – the nobodies of this world. That is the source of Easter joy.
Easter is love stronger than death, love that is itself a martyrdom, costing everything. It is not cheap grace. It is not warm, fuzzy feelings, or syrupy spirituality. How can we speak of God amid unspeakable suffering? All we can say is that God lives in these forsaken places, and is there before us. Our God is the God of loss and diminishment and failure; the God of refugee camps, abandonment, misunderstandings, pain, loneliness, and slow deaths; the God whose life seemingly ended on a cross, but who in that very surrender transformed suffering once and for all. That is the Good News.
The Easter stories in scripture are giddy with surprises and delirious joy. We too live in Easter. The only Jesus we can know is the risen Christ. We ought to pore over these stories and ask: How is this happening in my life now? Where does God appear to wipe away tears, to give me courage, to keep me from backsliding into old ways, to invite me to feed his sheep?With so much to be grateful for we grow in love. A joy that does not depend on external circumstances bubbles up in us. This joy is God’s Easter gift to us, and nothing can take it from us.
Marilyn Lacey is a Sister of Mercy and Executive Director of Mercy Beyond Borders, a nonprofit working with displaced women and girls in South Sudan and Haiti.