On my way to church Sunday, I heard an NPR story about a ministry to homeless youth in Seattle. The tables are set once a week. A meal is served, and the pastor shares a “word of encouragement” before the kids set out into the night. One transgender youth who appreciated both the meal and the fellowship said, “I never came to church before. I thought these were the people that hurt you.” I felt like I was punched in the stomach.
What Word is the Church—my church—bringing for Easter? A word that hurts a transgender homeless kid and keeps them away? A word of hemming and hawing about Christ changing us—usually not into the image of a Palestinian Jew dying on the empire’s cross, but more often than not into the image of North American Mom and Dad and Bud and Sis primly sitting in neat rows for an hour or so on Sunday? A Word of grace: naked and honest to goodness grace? What Word do we really bring?
I visit an inmate in Milan Federal Correctional Institution. Unlike holy fire that burns without consuming, his passion, a passion he could not quench, burned his life down. His wife died of cancer during his trial. He seldom talks with his adult children. It is always on his initiative. They never write or visit. As I visited him this week, he said that he phoned them for Valentine’s Day. After some stilted pleasantries, his daughter told him that all the kids agree: when he gets out, he will not be permitted to see any of his grandchildren. Now, his unholy fire has burned even the bridges between generations.
I will next see him on Easter. At my house, there is no big ham dinner to be made when I get home from church. Easter is just another Sunday at Chez Freedman-Doan. But it’s not just another Sunday in the life of the Church. Without the Passion, the Cross, a dead body growing cold and stiff in a silent grave, and then women returning in tears from an Empty Tomb—well without all that, what is there?
Every Easter I can recall, I’ve heard a sermon on new life, resurrection power, and life renewed. I’ve heard god-awful chrysalis to butterfly analogies and God-blessed exegesis that ponders the holy details of the mystery of life and all creation turned back to right by a God willing to pay great costs to redeem.
So when I go to Milan, what word do I bring from my church, from the Church? What good is “new life” if you can’t hold your grandchildren? What good is release of the captive, when you have no where to go? When you find that some sin-burned bridges will never be rebuilt, how do you get over to the Hallelujah? I think on the Thomas incident in the Gospels. The holes are still, and always, in Jesus’ body. Death may be defeated, but the past is indelibly written in the flesh. I have been tasked with bringing a Word and I am tongue-tied. Cliches, Pollyanna, nice-nice won’t do. The Word must be both gracious and true-to-the-bone true. A Word is what I need, but what Word do I bring on Easter?