I was in a TV studio when the fire broke out at Notre Dame de Paris. I watched it on the studio monitor as the blaze grew and quickly overrode all other news coverage. It was stunning to watch for all of us on the set, and you could quickly feel and see the pain of so many, including many millions who don’t identify as Christian.
I was particularly moved by the images and videos of crowds of people of all faiths, and perhaps even no current faith, gathered in the streets outside the cathedral singing hymns together during the height of the blaze, especially as the outcome was very uncertain and many thought the whole cathedral would be destroyed. It was a remarkable outpouring of collective pain and collective hope, and in many ways felt fitting at the outset of Holy Week.
Holy Week for Christians represents a dramatic movement from pain to hope. We deeply feel and lament the pain Jesus Christ endured for us, but we also feel our personal pain and the world’s pain. Then we rejoice as that pain gives way to the eternal hope that is always available to us through the resurrection — a hope that is not just for ourselves but for the world. We say, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” with a joy that surpasses understanding.
We see both the pain and the hope that Holy Week exemplifies all around us. The pain is everywhere. Just this week, we seem to be seeing an attorney general picked to protect the president do just that in ways that could be deeply corrosive to the long-term health of our democracy. That same attorney general also demonstrating his loyalty to the president by helping enforce his shameful, sinful, and cruel immigration policies, making it easier now for asylum seekers to be detained indefinitely while their cases are adjudicated.
We see the continuing open wounds of structural racism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression exacerbated by the current administration and far too many of our fellow citizens. We see Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hatred practiced more virulently and openly than at any time in recent memory. Every day it seems we get new scientific information or data from observing the weather that reinforces the inescapable fact that we are running out of time to avoid the most catastrophic levels of climate change, and that those already most vulnerable in societies around the world will be first and most affected by it. We also see crowd-funding campaigns for people trying to pay for medical procedures or insulin and hear stories of people who died because they couldn’t afford the treatment they needed.
Beyond so much public pain, we know all too well that everyone has pain in their own lives and their family’s lives.
And yet, Easter is a desperately needed reminder every year that pain, loss, and death don’t get the final word. The resurrection of Jesus Christ teaches us that there always is and always will be hope — we do not carry that hope in vain. And that resurrection hope is one we can see mirrored in our lives and current events, if we know where to look.
I believe in the resurrection — the actual historical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Both my faith and my hope absolutely depend on the resurrection of Jesus. I remember a conversation I had, many years ago, with some of the Jesus Seminar New Testament theologians. One of them asked me, “Do you actually believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ?” I felt the eyes looking at me. “Yes, I do,” I replied. “Well, the resurrection is more metaphorical for us,” they said. I silently pondered their statement, and whether to start up again the endless theological debates about the reality and meaning of the resurrection in the Christian apologetics. It has all been said before. Instead, another question came to mind, so I asked them, “Do you think a merely metaphorical resurrection would have been adequate for Desmond Tutu in South Africa?” The question brought silence to the table and ended the conversation.
Believing in this resurrection helps me more easily see the continuing signs of hope in our world, and our moment. Believing helps me to continue to trust that hope can indeed be greater than all the pain.
The Parkland students continue to give me hope, speaking and acting after the horrible loss of their classmates to gun violence in 2018. Like many of you, I was watching and listening very carefully to the students who were speaking out and mobilizing after 17 of their friends, classmates, teachers, and coaches were killed in another mass shooting with an assault weapon. Their voices have continued to spread across the country. Their shared values are serving to preserve and protect lives, to shine a light on what needs to change with our gun laws and regulations, and to make me hope that we will eventually win this moral and political battle.
Women who marched into the streets after the inauguration and many who then headed toward becoming new elected officials in the midterm elections of 2018 have been one of the most powerful and hopeful signs in these dangerous times. So have the women who have had the courage to stand up to sexual harassment and assault, creating the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, shining a light on our patriarchal culture.
One of the most powerful signs of hope are all of the young people of color standing up for what is right and for a better future for their children, despite the odds against them, in movements like Black Lives Matter, which gives many of us a hopeful vision of long-term racial progress, right in the face of the repressive racism of the current regime. I also find hope in the black pastors who are willing to speak truth to power to protect these young people both in their churches and beyond the pulpit, offering both salt in the streets and light to the society.
Those are some more examples of hope, but there are many others:
- The shifting of our collective imagination caused by the ongoing 2020 primary season around what could be accomplished on issues like wealth inequality, structural racism, and especially health care and climate change
- Unprecedented diversity in the new Congress and specific new leaders like Rep. Lucy McBath, a champion for gun safety after losing her son to racist gun violence, as well as new diverse leadership in state governments like Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan — now the highest ranking Native American official in any state.
- Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and named to the Time 100 most influential people just this week, and so many of her generation who led the Youth Climate Strike on March 15 as part of the #FridaysForFuture movement
- The new space for talking about faith in politics that isn’t the religious right, created by Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Amendment 4 restoring voting rights to people formerly convicted of felonies, supported by groups and people ranging from The Christian Coalition of America to The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and progressive faith groups, by both evangelicals who believe that God gives us second changes and the ACLU who believes in human rights.
- A very hopeful meeting just occurred at the Vatican, with energy from both grassroots leaders from the global south and cardinals from the Catholic church — and with the blessing of Pope Francis — to commit to a future of creative non-violent action to resolve our many human conflicts.
Such examples are not perfect, but they do give us hope for a different kind of future than we have today. And just like private pain, there are signs of hope at the personal, family, and community level that never get covered in the media but change the lives of the people who experience them.
So even when things seem at their most hopeless, when we feel as Jesus’ disciples and loved ones felt on Good Friday, we remember that hope isn’t just a feeling that comes and goes. Hope is so much more than optimism. It is a decision we make based on what we call faith, and it’s a decision we can and need make each day. Or, as my dear friend, evangelist Tony Campolo, loves to preach, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin!” So Happy Easter to all of you. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.