Paschal Joy - Alleluia!
The writer reminds us from personal experience that the joy of Easter may come only after the broken ground of sorrow and sadness has been plumbed. At the same time, this joy may affect whole communities as their situation is transformed politically.
Author: Jenny Dawson is an Anglican priest who is currently Bishop’s Chaplain for Hawkes Bay in the Anglican Diocese of Waiapu.
I have to confess that I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation about paschal — or resurrection — joy. That was until I finished the phone call asking me to write this article. When I told the friend who had been having coffee with me about the topic she immediately said “I know about that. I’ve been resurrected. From feeling wicked and knotted up with guilt, I now have a sense of wonder and even of joy. The teaching I heard from the church of my childhood had taken that away from me but now Christian people, especially through therapy and friendships, have given me resurrection. Before, I knew love only in my head. Now it touches my heart. I have learned that traumatic memory can almost be dislodged from the brain so the positive thoughts become the focus. Then once you know this, you learn new skills to live again.”
Place of personal experience
Indeed, if paschal joy is about hope and new life, her story reminds me that indeed Christ is risen and she is a witness to resurrection. Her personal experience means something that words or doctrine cannot. As we talked, I remembered a low time when my first marriage was very difficult. It seemed that the relationship could only get worse. I could not see any healthy way ahead for us together, and I wrote in my journal ‘Resurrections follow deaths, they do not follow fainting spells.’ As it turned out, acknowledgement of the death of that marriage was what eventually led both my ex-husband and me to a depth of joy that we hadn’t expected. I discovered a simplicity of hope and grace and gratitude that for me was not negated by the loneliness and uncertainty of being single again. Gradually I began to see that sadness and sorrow are not opposites to joy but are rather the broken ground from which joy can grow.
Yet that joy is sometimes far from sight. I am writing this Easter article before Lent begins because I have learned in the past that the Lent experience focusses me so much on the journey into suffering that the joy, while still present, sits deep below the surface, sometimes able to be plumbed only very deliberately and perhaps only in listening to the words of others.
Living easter intentionally
If we are truly an Easter people, as Bill Wallace’s celebration hymn reminds us, then I want to talk more often than I have about that joy and also to live it intentionally: “We are an Easter people, ours is an Easter faith. Our tears are freed to flow and heal our shattered hopes and hearts . . . Christ is risen in our lives!”
It is sometimes said that we are an Easter people, living in a Good Friday world of pain and suffering. The writer of the letter to the Colossians declares that we have already died, and our life is hidden in Christ. Death is real, with all its painful potentiality, but the victory of Jesus Christ is more real yet. Hidden in Christ, we might dare to live in defiance of what death may yet do to us. Our small experiences of new life out of apparent hopelessness gradually teach us that death is not the end; instead, the end is the beginning with the one who bears the marks of his death on his risen, living body.
I had an experience of real Easter life in 1990 when an ecumenical group of us visited Muntinlupa Prison outside Manila. We were there to see Jimmy Tadao, the unjustly imprisoned leader of the farmers’ union, and while we could speak with him, our Christian group was not allowed to share eucharist with any of the prisoners. Yet they told us clearly they wanted that celebration to happen, where they could see it. Despite the ugly context, they needed to be reminded of the life of the risen Christ, in the world, in us and in themselves. We visitors shared bread and wine in the blazing heat of the stark prison courtyard while the prisoners watched us intensely through the bars of their cells. Somehow there was a setting-free that day.
Our faith story reminds us often that in God’s time, old wrongs can be set right; destroyed cities can be rebuilt, oppressed peoples can be set free and the poor will be filled with good things. People who have faced imminent attack have sometimes said that when one has been set free by God in Jesus Christ from the fear of death, then there is nothing that any tyrant can threaten that will undo the hope that Easter brings. In a Good Friday world, Easter people proclaim the truth: claimed by the Crucified One, our life begins in the grave.
No playing at ‘pollyanna’
The hope and trust that make it possible to live this with authenticity come from celebration of Easter joy in our ordinary lives. It is not about being a Pollyanna, playing the ‘glad game’ in the face of pain. Nor is it about developing some scientific understanding of life after death. I don’t have any energy for trying to understand or explain resurrection but I am deeply heartened when I hear suffering people express such a strong resurrection vision that they can find hope to sustain them.
Annual easter message
For instance, in 2011 at Eastertime, 13 heads of churches in the Holy Land issued their annual message including these words. “We find sadness competes with the joy of Easter as we witness the violence which has erupted in the face of peaceful demonstrations by people throughout the Arab world these past months.” They described crucifixion as an ongoing reality for many, in the face of ever-present violence against innocent people. “In [Christ’s] resurrection we experience his victory over violence and death and we embrace a vision of the future in which all people live together in harmony.”
Yet they concluded their statement: “This vision gives us hope to renew our faith in the face of despair,” the leaders said. “The cross is ever before us day by day and the cross is empty. New life has come. Christ is risen. We are risen. Alleluia.”
A vision for full life
The paschal joy of Easter is deeply personal and intimate, springing sometimes from the broken ground of almost unspeakable pain in the lives of individuals. Yet it is also political and transformative as whole communities find in it a vision that calls them to continue to walk into and work for a just and peaceful future.
In the darkness of barely-discernible dawning light, the cry continues to ring out: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia!” May we be agents of this risen life to one another.