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  • Kimberly Wagner

JOHN'S RESURRECTION: DEFIANT PERSISTENCE


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In this time of pandemic and social distancing, it may not feel much like Eastertide. The resurrection may seem distant or even overly forced in the face of so much sickness, death, and struggle. So, how do we proclaim an honest resurrection in a COVID-19 Good Friday world?

As I suggest in my first post, I think three of our gospel writers—Mark, Matthew, and John—might offer guidance for how we preach resurrection throughout the Eastertide season (no matter the text) in ways that are faithful and truthful under the weight of our pandemic reality.

While the Marys arrive with the dawn in the gospel of Matthew, in the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early in the morning “while it was still dark.” While it was still dark, Mary finds the stone rolled away; while it was still dark Mary summons Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple; while it is still dark Jesus’s body is missing but the funerary linens remain. While it is still dark, the resurrection happens.[1] A new day has not yet dawned. The realities of death and grief and confusion and pain still linger. And yet, in the midst of all of this—uncertainty, doubt, even death itself—the resurrection happens. In the ultimate act of resistance, God’s live-giving power looks death in the eye and refuses to be told what to do. When nobody was watching, before anyone but Mary Magdalene was even awake, God offered the ultimate “YES” in defiance of every assault of “NO” of Good Friday.

But, God is not just defiant in this resurrection account; God is persistent. When Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and was overcome by grief, her tears seem to inhibit her from perceiving the defiant news of the resurrection. It takes two angels and a verbal sparring with the resurrected Jesus before, upon hearing her name, she finally recognizes the power of resurrection in her midst. There is a resistant persistence to this story. The resurrection is not only an act of defiance to the powers of death and evil, but also the resurrection persists even when unrecognized. The resurrected Christ tries again and again to reveal life-giving power to us, even if, in our lives, the new day has not yet dawned and we are struggling to emerge out of those hours of death, grief, and confusion.

And, perhaps, this is the kind of honest resurrection John invites us to preach in the midst of a pandemic-scarred world. We are to preach a resurrection that does not in some way disregard the struggling world, but is a word of defiance. While we are still confused and surrounded by death, while the world still seems shrouded in pain and hurt and fear, while the sun has not yet risen on a new post-pandemic day, the resurrection defies the power of death and insists on life. The resurrection takes seriously our struggle and grief and speaks a word of persistent and resistant hope. It does not erase the pain, but defies its consuming power. It does not disregard fear, but opens an opportunity for other possibilities. And the resurrection is not a one-time occurrence that you might miss if you are distracted or look away. Again and again the resurrected Christ reasserts himself, willing to spar with our grief, fear, frustration, and uncertainty. In the face of all of it, the resurrection stands in persistent defiance to death’s power, even if we need to be reminded every minute of every day.

[1] “Darkness,” of course is as symbolic as descriptive in the gospel of John. “Darkness,” for the author of John, represents confusion, uncertainty, doubt, and an incapacity to recognize God at work. This, of course, can lead to problematic dualisms in connection to race and race relations, especially in the context of the United States. For too long, dualistic light and dark imagery (light=good/holy; dark=bad/evil) has reinforced racism and white supremacy. For more on this, I would recommend Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S., specifically “Chapter 5: Decolonizing the Liturgy and the Power of Symbols.”

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