Also Easter Sunday morning, 2010
Near the university the next town over, their daughter is singing accompaniment with her church, her people, her tribe. The drum pushes through her chest, her shoulders brush those of the pastor beside her, she allows her voice to blend into the unified voice of the community. The hymn ends to applause as a man dressed in black denim bounds onto the platform. As the congregation sits, Caron feels the final exhale of a community that breaths as one as it sings as one.
“Good morning!” he shouts with great sincerity.
“Good morning,” comes the enthusiastic response.
The pastor has the genuine smile of a child on Christmas morning, or perhaps better and less metaphorical—that of a theologian on Easter morning. “He is risen!” The proclamation is met with cheers, applause, and the traditionalists who shout back, “He is risen indeed!”
“We have come through months of darkness followed by months of snow. We have journeyed through Lent. And in that darkness, we have crucified our God.
“Humans, historically, have been confused. We believe that God is angry and needs to be placated with human sacrifices, or if the culture evolves then God is placated with animal sacrifices, and then sometimes those sacrifices evolve to grain and fruit: bread and wine.
“But in Jewish tradition, God is not angry. The rite of the atonement is about the priest-representing-the-Creator emerging from the Holy of Holies so as to set the people free from their impurities, their sins. The whole rite was about God coming down to his people to do the hard work of restoration, of love, of forgiveness, all on their behalf. In Jewish ritual, the people are the beneficiaries of God’s work.
“Jesus, then, at once fulfills the Jewish atonement rites while exposing the sacrificial violence of humanity. In Jesus, God substitutes himself in the place of the victim of our typical sacrifices. He overcomes our violence by exposing it for the murderous desire that it is, by substituting his human self for our grain or animal sacrifices. He inverts the sacrificial culture: he takes bread and wine, and makes it human. By revealing that sacrifices are murder, he reveals the lie, depriving it of power. Jesus is the authentic high priest, not only representing God but actually God, acting on our behalf to restore the relationship between God and all humanity.
“The good news is that God is not angry. The only angry divinity in the story is humanity, and the good news is that we don’t need to be. In the cross, we see our anger and violence for what it is, and in the resurrection, we are released from having to protect ourselves against death, because death cannot win against love. The one true sacrifice, the sacrifice of God giving himself for us in our midst as our victim, has taken place. It’s done. And love wins over death.
“What generally happens is that when people are dead they stay dead. That’s the way it works. But the Crucified One is risen. He was dead, and now he’s not. The tomb is empty, he is resurrected, and because that happened, we now know that love always wins in the end, even when hatred shouts and fear rages and God is dead on a torture device, the quiet whisper of love outlasts and cannot be silenced by death. Because love wins, we don’t need to be defensive, we don’t need to be self-protective, we don’t need to be afraid.”
Caron takes a deep breath in, savoring the capacious inhale as she allows herself the weightlessness of forgiveness, gives herself permission to believe that these words are true, allows herself to believe she’s worthy of such love, allows herself to be vulnerable.
“Today is the day of Resurrection. Now is the time of epic new life, the fresh day of a new creation. Today, we celebrate that we are able to enjoy the fullness of creation as though there were no death.
“Sometimes resurrection gets confused with life after dying, but while resurrection includes that, it transcends it. What we talk about is not life after death. It is not some disembodied evacuation to some other place. It is not a continuation of the same life that was; we are not interested in mere resuscitation. What we are interested in is Resurrection. What we talk about is a new way to live this life now. It is a new, transformed physicality. It’s about this world, and this life, and these bodies. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s physical.”
Caron is surprised by the familiar wetness of her cheeks. She has wept oceans since she began attending this church, but this week she helped write portions of the sermon, and somehow the words are still shocking in the freedom they announce. Something about being with your tribe, she supposes, and unashamedly wipes tears as they cascade.
“So, if you’re visiting us today, you might be asking: what does all this matter? What does it matter that one time one man’s love won over death, even if that man was God? What it means is that we have seen Jesus, our victim, approach us and forgive us. We have been thrown off balance by grace, we have been confronted by someone who is entirely outside our structures of vengeance and power. We are undone by a victim who approaches us without accusation and makes our world bigger, opens us up to new life. We are a community who testifies to the truth of the resurrection, not because we have evidence that it historically happened, but because it happens, and it happens to us and among us and in this world all the time. We are a community who testifies to the resurrection not because we’ve said the ‘right prayer’, but because we testify with our lives, we have seen ourselves resurrected, we have been loved into new life.
“The worship team is going to come back up, and there are elements for the eucharist in the front and an open table policy, everyone is welcome, and we are going to have us a celebration. We are going to have some church in here. For those of you who are not in a season of celebration, allow us to spiritually carry you.
The drumbeats are starting to pulse through Caron’s chest and people’s feet are already moving in anticipation of the coming music.
“Grace and peace of the Lord be with you, for He is risen!”
The pastor might as well have ended with “let the wild rumpus begin” for the reaction of the congregation, drowning out the first lines of the song. As he walks back to his seat beside Caron, they smile at one another, knowing that the work they have done was good. It’s not just that lives were changed that morning, it’s that in the fresh reminder, their lives are changed too.
It isn’t until the chorus that the congregation manages to find its place in the song all together:
We have been blessed—now we’re going to be a blessing;
We have been loved—now we’re going to bring love;
We’ve been invited— we want to share the invitation;
We have been changed to bring change, to bring change.