St Andrew’s Anglican Church of Indooroopilly
Sunday 12 April 2020
Resurrection is a portal ©Suzanne Grimmett
I wonder how often lately you have felt, or heard expressed, the wish that things could “just return to normal”. This is driven by grief at separation from loved ones, by the low hum of constant anxiety and questions about life, and the sense that all our moorings have been lost. Who would not wish that we could just position Lent as a bad dream and start afresh at Easter by returning to the way things were?
I have been saying lately how the psalms have taken on new power through the Covid-19 crisis. While I admit in the past I have given the psalms scant attention, I have found again and again through this strange Lent that it is the Psalms which have best expressed my sense of loss and confusion. So I was not surprised when I came across Walter Brueggemann’s analysis that the psalms express three experiences; orientation, disorientation and reorientation. The psalms of orientation Brueggemann himself describes as “not the most interesting” because of the lack of tension. They are the hymns of praise and creation songs- for when all is in order and all we have to do is be thankful. The psalms of disorientation, however, are the ones that pack a punch right now. Brueggemann describes these complaining psalms as ones which are ‘a painful, anguished articulation of a move into disarray and dislocation’, ‘a candid, even if unwilling, embrace of a new situation of chaos’ that has required ‘a dismantling of the old, known world and a relinquishment of safe, reliable confidence in God’s good creation’.1 Small wonder that right now, when so much we have known as stable has been overturned by this pandemic, these psalms are expressing the range of emotions we are feeling.
In the past, the church has been guilty of ignoring or avoiding some of these uncomfortable psalms. It is at the cross on Friday of course that we hear the most famous of the complaining psalms, Psalm 22, that begins;
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me:
why are you so far from helping me and from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry to you by day, but you do not answer:
and by night also I take no rest.
These of course are words Jesus spoke from the cross, a cry of despair that has haunted us in those moments when we don’t see the light of the new resurrection day.
Disorientation might have been a good word to describe what Jesus’ disciples went through in the days after that last supper in the upper room. We don’t exactly know their hopes and dreams in following Jesus, but it is reasonable to believe that they would have expected some earthly salvation from the very real and present occupation of the Romans. Despite Jesus predicting his suffering, death and resurrection, the events of Good Friday had shaken their world, banishing them to isolation behind locked doors and living in fear. This is not where they expected to be. Jesus, the Holy One of God, shamed, tortured, executed and entombed is not how things were meant to turn out. All hopes for the salvation of Israel through this prophet and redeemer were dashed. Who knew what would happen next?
As we arrive at the empty tomb this morning, maybe we can relate. I am sure sitting in our homes watching the Easter service, with the church full of empty pews, is not where any of us expected to be. In a whirlwind of change, we can no longer have confidence that our reasonable expectations for employment, family time, safety, companionship in illness, and even for life itself will be met. There is a dislocation, grief and confusion that can find some expression in the narration of the crucifixion scene and the bewilderment and fear of the disciples. There is a terrible revealing of the fragility of life as it has always been.
One of the keynotes of this stage of disorientation is a letting go of a belief that we are in control. The complaining psalms run the full gamut of emotions from anger to despair, acknowledging a helplessness and grief that we cannot just go back where things can be normal again. The disciples, conscious of their own betrayal and hiding in their houses full of grief and confusion, may have had that same desire to turn back the clock; a wish to go back to a time when the Messiah had not been deserted and tortured to death. This was not how things were meant to be, and as I stand here this Easter Day, I find part of me is still identifying more keenly with those huddled, frightened disciples than with the women greeted at the tomb by the angel and rejoicing in the new thing God had done. Part of me would still like to be in a world that was manageable and predictable, where I had a much greater sense of personal agency. Part of me knows that welcoming the new resurrection day involves me first letting some things die.
The Indian writer Arundhati Roy, articulates this sensation of disorientation brought on by the pandemic saying;
Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.2
On Easter Day we celebrate a gateway, a portal from death to life, after a season of letting go of what is not life-giving. To become resurrection people, the disciples had to release their old expectations and way of being and lift up their hearts to receive the good news that Jesus the Christ had indeed risen and that nothing would ever be the same again. We are invited on that same path.
The great hope I see is that this reorientation was not something that the disciples needed to conjure for themselves but rather the result of a surprising and overwhelming act of God. Resurrection happens. It is not something that we can create for ourselves. It is not the product of daily attention to the gurus…or the apps…of self-help programs. Ours is the dying, the letting go, the trusting, the releasing…and God alone is the one who gives life. It is a gift of pure grace.
If we are to be resurrection people we cannot be hanging around at the tomb, clinging to the way things used to be. It is time to lift up our heads, not to be hoping that things can return to normal now Lent is over but to recognise that some things have changed irrevocably and the Spirit is inviting us to be ready to receive what is new.
But there is no flick switch for grief and suffering. We are invited with all the honesty of the Psalmists, to cry out to God in our pain. We are also invited to hear the words of the angels, “Do not be afraid”, because the one who poured himself out for us will never leave us or forsake us. These texts tell the truth over and again that it is from the darkness that new life emerges. As bearers of that light and life, we are invited to not remain at the tomb but to go, loving the world with all the attention and care and creativity we can muster at this time of isolation. Because right now, resurrection people are just what is needed if we are to re-imagine the world as God would have it be.
1 Walter Brueggemann. Spirituality of the Psalms (Facets) (Kindle Locations 155-156). Kindle Edition.
2 Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal, The Financial Times, April 4, 2020