Resurrection is Nonsense: A Sermon for Easter

 

A few weeks ago i wrote why the sadness of holy week matters to me;  here is why the resurrection matters to me, as it interrupts and subverts all that grief. (And while Easter is past, the good liturginerd in me assures you: Easter is a season! So indulge me?)

Luke 24:1 – 14 

24 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One[a] must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.

“Their words struck the apostles as nonsense.”

Resurrection is nonsense.

I don’t mean resurrection is not real – or even that resurrection did not happen – no, the resurrection is real, it happened, but it is nonsense.

Non-sense, non-sensical, non-sensible – resurrection does not make sense.

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Why the Unapologetic Sadness of Holy Week Matters to Me

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original art by lizzie mcmanus 

We had a death in the family this week. On my spouse’s side.

Standing in the three-hour-long receiving line, i heard it over and over: she has been promoted. She’s in a better place now. We’re sorry for us but happy for her.

These are not, inherently, terrible things to say to someone grieving. This death was sad, but it was the kind of death that was long expected and happened surrounded by family. So to tell her family that we will be okay, is not as insensitive as it was, say, when my cousins were killed before they had even graduated middle and high school. Then, it felt like people were so horrified by our wailing and so afraid it might happen to them (or our wailing reminded them of when it did happen to them) that they wanted us to hurry up and get out of sight, to get better and stop reminding them of the banality of senseless loss. Grieving people are painful to be around.

It is far easier for me to hear people’s concern and good intentions when the death felt natural, and right, and known.

I get why we default to these heavenly-happy platitudes: there is a gaping wound open for all to see and usually, wounds are for our consumptive entertainment or for tucking back into the closet. So we reach for what we have, which is our faith, and we offer it. Out of love, out of empathy, out of deep, deep care.

But if i’m honest, words like these still feel a little callous- even when it is given from the depths of care and concern.

Death is the only guarantee we have in life, and still, we do not know what to say when it comes.

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The Drive Back.

It was the ninth time i’d made the trek.

Four Augusts ago, my mother came home armed with Bugles and window-paint Crayola markers; the Bugles, because she says no road trip is complete without crunchy tornado-shaped crackers from a gas station. The markers, so i could plaster her CRV with “Mount Holyoke or Bust!” and “Go Pegasus!”

It was the first road trip to my new home in South Hadley, Massachusetts. We took I-95, with a stop-off at an Aloft hotel somewhere in New Jersey. Mom did all the driving, because i was barely 18 and really not adept at highways in New England. Further proof of my inaptitude for staying in the lines came when i realized i’d mixed up my move-in date – we were a day early. Gracious Residential Life staff handed me a key anyway, and my mother set to work arranging my furniture in spacial relation sense and i planned wall-pockets for my posters.

I remember going to the parent-daughter tea without her. I’d insisted i’d be fine if she left before all the parent orientation activities. Strapped up my red boots and Ghanaian bracelets and told myself i was brave and true like any good Mount Holyoke woman. I sat in the corner, keeping tears in my chest and falling in love with new friends all in the same cup of chai. She says now it is one of her greatest regrets – listening to me and leaving when she did.

Everything and nothing has changed since that August. I still make her mix CDs when i leave for long periods of time. I don’t record voice messages on them anymore, but they’re as carefully curated as the day i handed her my “i’m grown and going to college and trying to be cool, but damn will i miss you” CD. (I changed the title for her; something cleaner and more sophisticated in block Sharpie writing). She came over before this big drive to help me fill my van again, her spacial relations genius only paralleled by her ability to leave hidden notes among my treasures.

But the most obvious change was who i made the drive with.

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I picked Jonathan up from the Divinity School around 2:30 after an embarrassingly tearful farewell to our kittens (they were having a weekend with my mother). We made excellent time, pulling into our stop in Pennsylvania at precisely 10 PM. Our route has changed since the plastered-in-paint CRV days. I prefer the leisure of I-81, the highway clinging to Appalachian mountains and off-the-track home diners. And the decided lack of the Jersey Turnpike.

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Day two took us through rural Pennsylvania which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Trossachs in Scotland. Clearly, i wasn’t the first to think so:

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(I’ve also seen a rather gruesome-yet-compelling film that re-tells Macbeth, entitled: Scotland, PA)

Scotland felt so far and so close all at once. Mount Holyoke has been such a constant in my last three years that it seemed unfathomable to think of it changing, and yet i wondered how new it would look to me after nine months away.

Contemplating what it would be like returning to a home so beloved as a woman so changed sat with me for the drive. I loved my time abroad, still ache a little when i think about how beautiful Edinburgh must be in the (assuredly rain-splattered) fall. Missing my friends across the pond, missing my friends scattered across America. It had been a long summer. A summer of tremendous loss in my family, but also a summer spent with the man i’d committed to spending the rest of my life to. More transition than i thought possible in nine months away from school.

But there are some things that never seem to change. With New England temperatures come New England donuts – and our first Dunkin’ Donuts run! (I’m aware they do exist in the South, just in disappointingly small quantities!).

IMG_4730Clambering off of I-86 in Hartford onto I-91 remained a nightmare (the tunnel!) but my hands were steady on the wheel, the route still ingrained. We were staying with friends with Amherst for the night, but i insisted on taking the long way round. I wanted to drive past it, a tease, to see the campus from the roadside before moving in the next day.

My posters have changed since first year – all save one. I keep them all stored in the same long green bin, but the only recurring character is Rosie the Riveter – a poster i bought on my middle-school field trip to Washington, D.C. She’s crumpled on every corner and it takes some ten thumbtacks to hold her up, but it wouldn’t live in a room without her. Some days just need that muscle-bearing woman to get me through.

Jonathan was an asthma-saver unloading the van while i flittered with where to put what. The lack of A/C in our dorms rarely poses a problem past the fifth of September, but move-in day is always a humidity fest of misery and stale air.

And yet, all my tummy-knots were coming unraveled one thread at a time. It had been a fat nine months of change, but the campus was as beautiful as that first drive four Augusts ago. When mom and i pulled up to a building i didn’t yet know the name of that now i know houses the Religion department. My second home on campus. When we looked at the green and the lake and the Hogwarts-like library and both wondered who i’d be when i left this place. Wondered how i’d get through those first few tummy-knotting weeks.

Sometimes i still wonder. The similarities can seem minute, like the spaces between them eat away at the reminders they bear. But still, devotedly, i tack those ten pins around Rosie the Riveter. Still i look to her on those miserable Massachusetts snow days.

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And i’m learning, in that sluggish every day way, to sit with the paradox of big changes in small things. Jonathan and i are old pros at the distance, now, however begrudgingly so. And i wouldn’t trade that big change for the world. So with new Scottish flags on my wall and well-worn pens in my backpack, the semester is starting. And i’m glad to be home, if for only one more year.

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current jam: ‘from this valley’ the civil wars.

best thing: convocation!

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I Could Have Ceilidh’d All Night

It’s pronounced kay-lee, and if Appalachian clogging mated with Richard Simmons to the sound of bagpipe music, the ceilidh would be their child.

And it is wicked fun.

With less than 12 days remaining in my semester in Scotland, i’m in a panic to cross off everything on my Edinburgh Bucket List. And easily, the biggest thing i have been looking forward to was going ceilidh dancing.

I’m the most pigeon-toed ballerina you’ll ever find. But when it comes to a kind of dance that requires a sense of gusto more than talent, i am your girl. I’d heard that ceilidh, as a cultural tradition more than a fine art, was something meant to be easy to participate in. Much like the swing dances i loved dolling up for so much in high school.

So my friend Megan and i donned our billie kilts (for obvious reasons) and made our way to the University’s Chaplaincy centre. It’s still the middle of exam season for us, so we weren’t expecting the largest of crowds. True to form, the crowd was a mixture of curly-haired wee lassies and older folk in full Scottish regalia. In the corner was tucked the band and on the floor was a stomp-clapping mob of high-kicking dancers.

And it was brilliant.

Being in the context of families and University students alike enabled us to see the breadth of tradition. I learned, from a man with a robust white beard and well-worn kilt, that children in Scotland tend to learn traditional dances in late primary school. I also learned, from the same gentleman, that if you just trust your knowledgable partner to lead the steps you might find yourself being flung off the ground and spun around without warning.

And just like that, i was learning jig steps and polka-pirouettes to the thrum of the fiddle. “You can forget about gym membership!” he bellowed, frolicking around me like the considerable age gap only made him more lithe with time. I heaved a giggle-gasp, asthma-attacked but with cheeks sore from laughing.

Observing a move called "The Helicopter" wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

Observing a move called “The Helicopter” wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

It seriously was some of the most fun i’ve had in Scotland; that same delirious, verging-on-terrified delight i found in the Highlands i experienced when the dance left me so dizzy i could barely breathe. My calves are still recovering from the whole affair, but i am seriously hoping to go ceilidh dancing at least once more before my time here runs dry. It’s the best of Scotland: excellent attire, fabulous folk music, high-pulse dancing, camaraderie, and ever the element of sweeping-off-your-feet surprise.

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

And, if i said what happened next was the best part of the night, it would be a voracious lie. And mortifying. Because i broke my own rule and we totally made a midnight run to my beloved-and-despised KFC. Who doesn’t love capping off a good workout with fried chicken?

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

current jam: ‘young & beautiful’ lana del rey.

best thing: today is both j’s graduation and mother’s day in the usa! wishing i was across the pond for both of them, so grateful to have them in my life.

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The Sisterhood of the Crapping Pants.

A few days ago, i hurled myself off a (metaphorical) cliff in one of those Lifetime-movie Leap-Of-Faith moments. It kind of made me want to hurl in a definitely non-metaphorical way.

The 24 hours leading up to the Big Announcement (which, in case you haven’t heard, is that i’m being published in an anthology called Talking Taboo) involved a lot of frantic Skype calls to J, juxtaposed to dancing around my room in my underwear. Mostly to Whitney Houston. Sorry, flatmates.

My oscillating between paralytic fear and booty-shaking happiness basically boiled down to two things. One: i was tea-totally-terrified of what was about to happen. Two: i was ecstatic with possibility-itis. It’s a frightening and beautiful thing to realize a dream. It’s effing overwhelming to share that dream with the world as you know it.

The book itself asked its contributors to be vulnerable – imperfect, honest, and fierce in conviction. “Truth-tellers,” is the phrase our fabulous co-editors use. So, on a basic level of the material itself being published, i was nervous. My essay is tremendously imperfect. Imperfect because writing is a malleable and elusive art, but mainly imperfect because what i have to say centers around my own fallibility. In some ways, my elation came from a sense of release. It’s a weight off to own what everyone else already knows: we’re all imperfect, no matter how hard we may not want to be.

While i was – and am – obviously thrilled to share the news with people, i also wanted to accompany every proclamation of excitement with: “but please tread carefully! That’s my naked heart you’re going to be handling!”

And then the emails and facebook messages started to pour in with congratulations and we-believe-in-you’s. My dancing turned into hands-hiding-weepy-eyes laughter. Teachers from years ago, friends of my parents, people i never expected to take notice. It’s been humbling and beautiful and the best kind of response i could hope for, naked heart and all.

But the best part of this whole process hasn’t been the ego-boost (though let me be perfectly clear: that is really, really nice!). It’s been reading the blog posts of my co-contributors, hearing and feeding off of their excitement and buzz for the Big Day.

In a multitude of ways, this book is the perfect authorial debut for me. The essay is compact, the editors fabulous, and the book’s premise is a belief i 100% uphold. Most of all, though, there has been such a sense of community in the truth-telling from the get-go. Grace Biskie, one of my co-contributors (and one of the ladies featured on the cover of the book!)  said in her blog she felt like crapping her pants, her piece in the book was so vulnerable. I left a comment saying we could form a Sisterhood of the Crapping Pants.

I’ve known, from day one, that this writing-from-my-core was risky business. People will not universally love what i have to say – even people whom i love very, very much. But whether they toss it out with the rubbish or not, i know i’m not alone in being brave. And that is the best kind of consolation.

So, thank you. Thank you for your reads, views, comments, liked statuses. Thank you for your thoughtful and uplifting messages. Thank you most of all for the outpouring of love. It means the world.

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current jam: ‘summertime sadness’ lana del rey.

best thing: friends in all the expected and totally unexpected places.