Today marks Easter Sunday, proclaimed around the world. Today marks the day that for centuries Christians have proclaimed, “Alleluia! He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Today marks the day that is the cornerstone of our faith. And today, this day in the midst of this Pandemic my heart is holding tenderly to my Alleluia. This day I am doing my best to stubbornly, faithfully proclaim my Alleluia.
Since seminary I have been held in an amazing circle of women and their lovingkindness. This group has stayed connected through the thicks and the thins of our lives for more than 30 years. We have promised each year to spend Labor Day weekends together. And now through the gift of zoom, we are checking in with each other during this Pandemic. We are spread out over six southeastern states, but our hearts don’t seem to notice the distance.
We are ordained clergy, two still serving in parishes. We are daughters of strong women. We are sisters of the heart. During yesterday’s zoom conversation, I talked to them about having no words for Easter. This has truly been a Lenten journey through the wilderness. I have had words throughout this Lenten season for the times of wandering. With the Pandemic as an uninvited fellow-traveler there has been plenty to pray over. But today, this day, this Easter I am honestly struggling with my Alleluia.
One of the things I treasure about growing up and growing older with these women is that more often than not, we remember things others have said/written along the way better than the speaker/writer. It happened yesterday during the call after I talked about struggling with how to write about this Easter. Les (yes, there are two of us) said to Jan, “Tell Les what you said about `stubborn hope.’” And when Jan started laughing, admitting that Les would have to say more, Les quoted many of Jan’s words to us:
“On this strange path of grief, I have found hope to be a curiously stubborn creature. It is persistent. It visits when I least expect it. It shows up when I haven’t been looking for it. Even when it seems like hope should be a stranger; there is something deeply familiar about it. If I open my eyes to it, I know its face, even when I do not know where it is leading me.
Hope does not depend on our mood, our disposition, and our desire. Hope does not wait until we are ready for it, until we have prepared ourselves for its arrival. It does not hold itself apart from us until we have worked through the worst of our sorrow, our anger, and our fear. This is precisely where hope seeks us out, standing with us in the midst of what most weighs us down.
Hope has work for us to do. It asks us to resist going numb when the world within us or beyond us is falling apart. In the height of despair, in the deepest darkness, hope calls us to open our hearts, our eyes, and our hands, that we might engage the world when it breaks our hearts. Hope goes with us, step by step, offering to us the manna it holds."
As our zoom-conversation continued I remembered one of the life-lessons I had learned years ago when working with folks who were infected with HIV/AIDS. Back in the 1990’s I came to better understand how our bodies are truly fearfully and wonderfully made. One of the examples of that is the notion of memory cells. These are said to be antibody producing cells or infection fighting cells. Vital cells, life bringing cells. And it made perfect sense to me that of course our bodies remember, even our cells remember. In times like these, our memory cells can lead us back to remembering what we are afraid we may have forgotten.
Centuries ago, women rose before light and headed out to the place where Jesus’ crucified body had been laid to rest. These women were going to prepare his body, to do what they could do for their friend and teacher. Many of us have heard this story our whole lives and this year, we will hear it in a way we never would have dreamed of before. This year there will be no organs playing or trumpets ringing or choirs singing. This year there will be no shared alleluias raised by the believers gathered. This year, one-by-one and two-by-two, many of us will be witnessing it on television or computers/iPads/phones.
Even with all that this Pandemic has thrown at us, my friend Jan is right, there will be a stubbornness of hope that cannot and will not be stopped. There will be singing, even if just one voice at a time. There will be proclamations, “He is not here. He is risen!” There will be Alleluias!
From our first hearing of this Easter story, we have been promised that joy comes in the morning. And this morning, thanks to Love that is greater than fear, Light that is greater than darkness, Life that is greater than death – even my cells are remembering this truth passed down from generation to generation: Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!