(I took these photos when I visited the Heidelberg Project in Detroit in 2013. Begun partly as a political protest, the Heidelberg Project is revitalizing the blighted neighbourhood of McDougall-Hunt. I was fascinated by this community’s efforts to change their city. )
In her message for Passover, Rabbi Sharon Brous recalls the wisdom of a friend who taught her to challenge the narrative of a story, whether Scripture or the story of her life. She shares three questions we can ask ourselves when we contemplate our own narratives.
We begin by asking ourselves, “When have I been a victim in my life? Can I name one specific moment where I was the victim?” We have all experienced times when we were the victim of a circumstance or of another’s actions. It is important to recognize these moments because they hold a truth about that experience. However, we must not stop there. We need to continue and ask the next question. Looking at the same story, we ask ourselves, “How was I the hero of the story?” Oftentimes, in challenging circumstances, we have been both victim and hero. We have suffered because of external conditions but we have also been graced with agency and the ability to act and take responsibility for ourselves. It is important to acknowledge these moments in our lives, too. And finally, we look again at the story, and we ask, “What did I learn?” We see that in all stories, we may be victims and we may be heroes, but we are also learners. We are always disciples seeking truth. Rabbi Brous says we are “learners on a timeless journey from narrowness to great expansive possibility”.
The Resurrection opens us to great expansive possibility. Pope Francis, in his homily for the Easter Vigil, makes this clear. He suggests that in our lives we often come up against the stone that blocks the tomb. He says, “At times it seems that everything comes up against a stone”. In the readings for the Vigil, we are reminded of the stones that mark salvation history: the beauty of creation but also of the reality of sin, the liberation of the Israelites but also their infidelity to God, the promises of the prophets and the indifference of the people. The stones that mark salvation history mirror the stones that mark our own lives.
In the Resurrection, however, the narrative is changed. The stone is rolled away. And all because of a simple question that is asked of the women who go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. A simple question, one we need to ask ourselves, day after day: Why do you seek the living among the dead?
This is the question that changes the narrative. From failure to victory. From victim to hero. From victim to hero to disciple. Jesus is not dead, he is risen. Why do you seek the living among the dead? This question calls us (and calls me very loudly!) to look carefully at our own lives and ask the questions: In what ways am I looking for the living among the dead? Do I even realize that this is what I am doing?
Waking up this morning to news of the bombing in Sri Lanka was devastating. To learn of innocent lives taken and senseless violence that destroys families and communities does not square with Easter joy. It is not easy to encounter the violence that exists in the world, in our cities, and even in our homes. Where is the Risen Christ in a violent world? There are no easy answers.
In the Easter season, however, not only are we being asked to challenge the narrative of our lives, but to do so within the hope of the Resurrection. I experienced this hope profoundly in the Easter Vigil celebration last night. I was reminded that I, and all of us, have been given the Light of the World. Symbolized in the stark beauty of the Easter candle alit with new flame, I saw that the flame is undiminished no matter how it is divided. In fact, the more it is divided (symbolized in the tapers we lit last night), the flame glows all the more brightly and vividly. We take the hope of the Risen Christ, the flame of the Light of the World, out into the world with us and we challenge the narrative of the violence of our world. It is not an easy task but we are disciples who learn along the way, who journey from narrowness to expansiveness.
I’d like to end this blog post with excerpts from the Exsultet, that ancient prayer of the Easter Proclamation. It never ceases to give me goosebumps when I hear it chanted. It proclaims the victory of Christ, the victory of the light over darkness. May it give us the hope our world so desperately needs.
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred,
and brings down the mighty.
O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed
to those of earth,
and divine to the human.