In the story of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus is said to have returned in body and made himself known to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. They were, of course, astonished that he had returned at all since the men were sure his death on the cross was the end of the road. So skeptical were they that, Thomas (as in doubting Thomas) is said to have put his finger in Jesus’ wound. The story goes on to proclaim that the message of Jesus should be preached to the world by his followers (this is known in Christianity as “The Great Commission”). The understanding is that Jesus will someday return to judge the living and the dead.
Of course, once Jesus died, we too are skeptical as to the real meaning of his message. It is in the resurrection that we move from a religion about Jesus (what early followers called “The Way”) to a religion of Jesus. There is a deeper meaning in the resurrection than whether it actually happened or not. The resurrection illustrates the power of faith, the hope for the world and the image of God made human and accessible to all. At least that is how I look at it.
After the resurrection comes the possibility of believing in a future that is far better than our present. These days that belief takes a lot of faith. While our congregation and our families are managing to find hope and meaning, the outside world seems fraught with daily struggles and hypocrisies. The expulsion of two African American legislators from the Tennessee State House for exercising their right to protest the lack of gun safety legislation, was just such a hypocrisy. The super majority of Republicans censored three Democrats for their protest in the Well of the house; Justin Pearson, Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson. The Republicans then expelled Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, both African American, from their offices and thereby disenfranchised the people in Memphis and Nashville who elected them.
Perhaps it was no accident that their expulsion happened during Holy Week leading up to Easter. While it appears that they will both be re-instated, the power of the resurrection story illustrates how this expulsion was a modern day crucifixion, a punishment by the state on the false charge of sedition. My colleague Rev. Sam Teitel, minister of our UU Church of the River in Memphis, invited Justin Pearson, who represents Memphis, to preach the Easter Sermon. Pearson along with his family (his father is a preacher and also participated in the service), preached one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard. He made a vivid connection with the Speaker of the House as Pilate and the assembled supermajority as the Empire.
The video to the sermon is linked below. His sermon starts at time stamp 1:03. It’s a long sermon but worth it all the way. I was struck by this young man’s power and purpose. I was astonished by his courage and wisdom. And, in the spirit of Dr. King, I am heartened by his call for justice, amplified by the congregation who were often on their feet clapping.
After the resurrection, hope seems possible. Our place in that possibility is to bear witness for truth and justice, and when we can, to support the cause of a better world.
With Grace and Grit, John