My heart sank as I heard the Anchorage election results on Tuesday night, and I felt devastated that Proposition 5 was not only failing, but failing by an increasing margin. So many people in our community worked so hard on this outstanding campaign. We put our hearts and souls into it. A friend emailed me later to say,
“The Yes on Five campaign was so tastefully done, with RESPECT for the opposition and the media’s questions. What a professional and truthful campaign.”
Indeed, many of us took a deep breath and spoke out – during phone banking, in the media, at a prayer service, or in conversations with neighbors, colleagues, friends or strangers – telling the truth about our lives, something not merely theoretical or political, but about us, our families, our loves, our very selves. And with all that, it seemed inconceivable to be losing this battle for equal legal protection for all people.
Perhaps because I’m a pastor, one of my first random thoughts was that I was glad I wasn’t preaching this Sunday, because I wasn’t sure I could come up with enough hope for an Easter sermon. As a lesbian, it’s hard not to feel as though my city just voted against me, me personally – my job, my home, my safety. After being that vulnerable, this loss feels crushing.
But it occurred to me not long after this thought, that really, that’s kind of the point of Easter. Or it is for me, anyway. If the hope of Easter can’t meet me when I’m feeling crushed, when the despair seems to be winning, then it isn’t Easter. We are a people who need Easter, who need hope. And I don’t mean theology that says “we were bad, so Jesus had to die to make an angry God happy and make up for our badness, and because of that, now when we die (if we believe the right thing and say the right words and do the right stuff, not the wrong stuff), we’ll go to a shiny heaven.”
My Easter hope is that God is at work now. Here. In the midst of our suffering and our sadness and our broken-ness and our failures. Rooted in love.
It struck me as I sat in church on Good Friday, that our struggle for justice for all people, and ALL means ALL – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, any religion, any race, any age, regardless of disability – our struggle for justice and the pain of this defeat may have been much like what Jesus’ followers felt. They too had struggled and waited for generations, waiting for the Messiah – someone to lead them, save them. For years they had struggled under Roman oppression. And finally, Jesus showed up, the one they thought they’d been waiting for. And he healed the sick, taught about justice, was compassionate and welcoming to the outsiders and outcasts, and announced that a new day was at hand. God was at work. And so these followers gave everything up – left jobs, families, loved ones, everything they’d known to follow him. And now, as we recall on Good Friday, all those hopes are crushed as Jesus is unjustly arrested, tried and killed.
Every day I sit with people who are suffering. People struggling with long-term illness. Or preparing for death. Or fearing for the life or wellbeing of a child. Or struggling with the pain of caring every day for hurting people. I need a real hope. They need a real hope. The bottom line is that there is a lot of suffering in life. Period. Those of us who are Christian, who are Buddhist, Muslim, “spiritual but not religious,” or just glad to get outside when we can … we all suffer. But Harvey Milk reminds us that “Hope will never be silent.” And Martin Luther tells us that “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”
In Alaska, we joke about our four seasons being almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction. When I moved here twelve years ago, I really didn’t believe spring and summer would ever come. I couldn’t fathom how on earth this ice and snow-covered ground, bare branches, could ever turn to green. But every year, the green comes back. Death happens. But so does new life.
For me, hope looks like God still at work in the midst of the suffering. Especially at work in the midst of the suffering. That is the powerful message in the Christian tradition of Easter … that even though terrible suffering happens, even though Jesus was killed, even that couldn’t stop the love, the healing, the hope that was unfolding. Death can’t stop Jesus and his message of transformation, justice, compassion. Life is stronger than death.
So what does that mean? It can mean lots of things. It often means paying attention to small things. Someone calling to check in exactly when I needed it (or when I didn’t know I needed it). Being in the right place at the right time. Finding out that someone had a change of heart because you told the truth about your life. The reminder that the work we do makes a difference, and will continue to make a difference beyond what we can imagine. Sometimes it’s a few leaves growing from a boulder, against all odds.
But the thing is, in the end, we each have to figure out where we find our hope, because what gives hope to me may not be enough for you. And sometimes we need others to hope for us when we can’t. My friend and ministry colleague Julia Seymour reminds us that “It’s a bleak day, but resurrection is coming and it looks exactly how God wants it to look… and not how any of us define.”
The day we voted was the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of my heroes. He reminds us that, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The same friend who reminded me of these words also reminded me that on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel reminded Buffy that “We fight because the fight is worth it.”
It’s worth it. Where are you finding YOUR Easter? Where’s your hope?
About me: Susan is a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, serving as a hospital chaplain, and has mostly gotten used to being the “lesbian poster child” in her church. She finds the Sacred all kinds of places — in the mountains, in church, at a hospital bedside, in the midst of a heartfelt conversation, running along the coastal trail, in music that makes her cry and stories that make her laugh.