God of New Futures
Theologian Walter Brueggemann in reflecting on Easter offers a reflection on the resurrection as another manifestation of our God as the God of new futures in face of the old order in this way:
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate energizing for the new future. The wrenching of Friday had left only the despair of Saturday (Luke 24:21) and there was no reason to expect Sunday after that Friday. There is not any way to explain the resurrection out of the previously existing reality. The resurrection can only be received and affirmed and celebrated as the new action of God whose province is to create new futures for people and to let them be amazed in the midst of despair…The resurrection of Jesus is not to be understood in good liberal fashion as a spiritual development in the church. Nor should it be too quickly handled as an oddity in the history of God or as an isolated act of God’s power…It is a new history open to all but peculiarly received by the marginal victims of the old order.
This aspect of the nature of God has been evident throughout the history of God’s relationship with his people. We may go back to Abraham and Sarah, elderly people beyond the age of childbearing who God called to a new future as the forbears of a nation. There is Joseph who is sold into slavery by his brothers and given up for dead by his father, but for whom God opens up a new option of prosperity and the source of the provisions for the survival of his betraying brothers and the extended family. There is Moses who, with divine guidance liberates the clans of Israel from slavery in Egypt when there seemed to have been no way out of their experience of oppression. In the later experience of Israel as they were consigned to enslavement in Babylon and all seemed hopeless and despairing, the God of new futures opened the doors for them to return to their homeland.
The Friday of the crucifixion of our Lord had ended with his breathe leaving his body. The Jewish leaders, the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, and his disciples, assumed that that was the end of the story. For the disciples all they were left with was their grief, and memories of the good times and what could have been. So a dead Jesus was interred on Friday afternoon.
Mary Magdalene’s presence at the tomb three days later is also in acknowledgement of a dead Jesus, whose place of burial she goes to visit out of devotion and grief. Her distress deepens when she discovers the body of Jesus missing, and out of which response she runs to inform Peter and the others of her discovery. Peter’s quick visit to the tomb is only in response to the fact of the missing body, and which he seems to confirm as a matter of fact.
Left behind by the others at the empty tomb, Mary remains distraught and, in a state of incredulity, stares into the empty tomb and cries. So the human story ends with a death, a missing body, a grieving woman whose true identity is a matter of debate, and a few disciples who have taken note of the situation, perhaps grieving as much as their masculine identity would allow. So the human story is written and it is a narrative that ends in tragedy, death, grief and dashed hopes.
I believe that that storyline rings true for many in Jamaica today as we come to another Easter in the context of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and a nation which is witnessing a staggering murder rate. So, there are many who like Mary weep because of the loss of loves ones from the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the repressed grief because they have not been able to grieve the loss of loved ones, those who have lost their livelihood, those who are emotionally distressed by the impact of the pandemic and who ask when will this be over, even as there are those who ask, when will the bloodletting stop? Like Mary, mothers are weeping for their children whose lives have been snuffed out, as are wives, sisters and daughters. Like Peter and his company of macho peers, so are the males who may not be able or willing to acknowledge their distress.
The God of new futures is never absent from those human experiences which seem to be characterized by hopelessness, grief and death itself. So, according to St. John in chapter 20 of his gospel, the new future begins to be revealed in the presence of angels, messengers of God, who thereby signify that God is present and at work in the situation, though not recognized for who they are by Mary at the time, and so she questions them regarding the absent body of the dead Jesus. She then becomes aware of a third presence, which she assumes is the gardener, and whose first words of exchange with her are words of compassion and comfort, “Why are you weeping?” Mary again draws attention to her primary concern, the body of the dead Jesus that she perceives to be missing.
At this point the risen Jesus addresses her by name, “Mary”. All that wells up in her as she hears her name and recognized the risen Jesus, we will never know, the best we can do is cite the words given in the text, “she cried out, “Teacher”, as an act of mutual recognition. Jesus speaks to her, revealing something of the nature of his resurrected state and the future which it holds for his disciples, and then she receives a message for the disciples and leaves in obedience to that mission.
Many of us come to this Easter in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic weeping for one reason or another, something which is true not only for us as Jamaicans but across the world from the images which are beamed across our televisions on a daily basis. For those who weep this Easter or are distressed and burdened for one reason or another, there is the invitation to encounter the God of new futures who was active by the tomb of Jesus, when all seemed hopeless and defined by death, and perhaps in the process we may hear the risen Christ calling us by name, but also assuring us of victory over the situations that speak of hopelessness and death to us, and the finality of death itself.
As we come to Easter this year, I believe that some further words from biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann may shed some additional light on where we may locate our celebration as a people of faith.
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate energizing for the new future. The wrenching of Friday had left only the despair of Saturday (Luke 24:21) and there was no reason to expect Sunday after that Friday. There is not any way to explain the resurrection out of the previously existing reality. The resurrection can only be received and affirmed and celebrated as the new action of God whose province it is to create new futures for people and to let them be amazed in the midst of despair.
Have a blessed Easter!
Archbishop Howard Gregory