I said off-handedly to our nearly 13-year-old: “I need some inspiration! I don’t know where to start with this sermon!”
“You know what you should preach about?” was the reply. “You should preach about what happened in Michigan.”
“Umm, what do you mean?”
“Another Black man murdered by the police.“
“It’s supposed to be an Easter sermon, dear.” I replied. But I thought about it, and I realized, my kid was right. Easter comes, if it comes at all, in this world—a Good Friday, Holy Saturday world, a world full of crosses, a world in which bodies lie in the streets, a world of fresh graves and flowing tears. So I sat down with the news article I had not yet read, about Patrick Lyoya (Leeyoiya), the man who was killed on April 4 by Grand Rapids police. He was 26 years old, the father of two. He was the son of Peter and Dorcas, who came here to the United States to escape violence in their home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. After Patrick’s killing, his father said: “My life has come to the end. . . . My life was . . . my son.”
During the weeks of Lent, we focused on the Psalms. For me, Psalm 126, in particular, has been a companion and a consolation: “Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” We have choices, I realized. Even in sadness, we can plant seeds. And our weeping is not useless. The tears water the seeds! For me, this beautiful verse illuminates the actions of the women in our Easter Gospel. The end of Luke chapter 23 portrays the women as the most faithful disciples of Jesus. They were the ones, Luke explained, who stayed until Jesus had breathed his last and his body was taken down from the cross. They saw the tomb. They saw how his body was laid. Then they prepared spices and ointments for the rituals of grief. And after that, because it was the Sabbath, they rested. Imagine that: claiming the freedom to rest in the middle of a crisis, in the shadow of a lynching.
And then, at early dawn, on the first day of the week, they returned to the tomb. Weeping they went out, bearing the seed for sowing. They carried the seeds of the life and community they had known with Jesus. Amid the terror of Jesus’ execution, and now the shock of his absence, they kept on living the way Jesus had taught them. They did not abandon the body of their loved one. They did not let fear divide them. They grieved together. They cared for each other. In this way they carried on Jesus’ project of non-violent resistance to empire. They continued his most sacred work of healing and liberation. They held on to the vision Jesus gave them, of a revolutionary community of love and service formed through foot washing and table fellowship.
The Ukrainian artist Oksana Drachkovska created an image of Mariupol under siege. The empty buildings are drawn across the skyline, gray, with blacked out windows. Smoke and fire billow upward as bombs pelt down. The focal point of the drawing; however, is beneath the ground. A small rectangle, representing a subway station, I assume, is set within the dark earth, outlined in light gray. The station is filled with warm, yellow light. People huddle close together in the bunker. They are holding pets. They are soothing children. To me, the station looks like a seed planted in the earth. Amid the horrors of this war, people are resisting empire’s violence and oppression simply by living. People are helping each other, comforting one another, people are sharing and showing compassion. What resurrection means to me is that no act of love, justice, or hope is in vain. These acts are seeds. Seeds that are watered with tears. Seeds that grow and blossom. Seeds that in one way or another, bear a bountiful harvest.
“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” What about that joy? What about those armfuls of grain? This morning’s Easter Gospel names many emotional states; but there is no mention of joy. The women are perplexed and terrified. The men are skeptical and disrespectful. And finally, Peter is amazed. The Easter proclamation “He is not here; he has been raised,” is a word of joy. However, resurrection joy is a particular kind of joy. It is joy that weaves itself together with sorrow. Joy that coexists with tears. Joy that refuses to dissociate itself from the real struggles of life on this planet.
Easter joy looks and feels different when God is not a heavenly version of Caesar, when God is not all-powerful and in control. If God is, instead, wholly good. If God’s power is the power of love, which, by definition, does not coerce, then we humans have choices and God cannot override our agency, then God cannot snap God’s fingers and bring an end to suffering. What God can do is guide us and work beside us. God can plant seeds and inspire us to plant seeds. God can continually reach toward us with the possibility of new life, even when it seems that our lives are over. And God’s never-ending joy, the joy of the revolutionary community Jesus formed with his disciples, is possible anywhere, and anytime.
Writer Ann Lamott captures this complex kind of joy in her recent social media post reflecting on her birthday. She muses:
I was going to celebrate how age and the grace of myopia have given me the perspective that almost everything sorts itself out in the end, that good will and decency and charity and love always eventually conspire to bring light into the darkest corners. That the crucifixion looked like a big win for the Romans. But turning 68 means you weren’t born yesterday. Turning 68 means you’ve seen what you’ve seen—Ukraine, Sandy Hook, the permafrost . . . Marjorie Taylor Greene. By 68, you have seen dear friends literally ravaged by cancer, lost children, unspeakable losses. The midterms are coming up. My mind is slipping. My dog died. Really, to use the theological terms, it is just too frigging much. And regrettably, by 68, one is both seriously uninterested in a vigorous debate on the existence of evil, or even worse, a pep talk.
So what does that leave? Glad you asked: the answer is simple. A few very best friends with whom you can share your truth. That’s the main thing. By 68, you know that the whole system of our lives works because we are not all nuts on the same day. You call someone and tell them that you hate everyone and all of life, and they will be glad you called. They felt that way three days and you helped them pull out of it by making them laugh or a cup of tea. You took them for a walk, or to Target. Also, besides our friends, getting outside and looking up and around changes us: remember, you can trap bees on the bottom of Mason jars with a bit of honey and without a lid, because they don’t look up. They just walk around bitterly bumping into the glass walls. That is SO me. All they have to do is look up and fly away. So we look up. In 68 years, I have never seen a boring sky. I have never felt blasé about the moon, or birdsong, or paper whites. It is a crazy drunken clown college outside our windows now, almost too much beauty and renewal to take in.
“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Friends—like the women who grieved at the tomb, we carry within ourselves the seeds of the life and community embodied by Jesus—seeds of resistance and revolution, seeds of healing and sabbath rest, seeds of love and liberation. What seeds are you planting? What seeds is God planting beside you? What griefs—yours and God’s—are watering the seeds? And what joy will you and God harvest together?