By Scott Wright
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
In the readings for the Easter Season, Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene, early in the morning, then to his disciples gathered in the upper room, later in the evening, and he offers them a greeting of peace: “Peace be with you!”
We live in a time of great uncertainty, as the global pandemic makes its way across nations and cities, neighborhoods and homes. People are dying, and the virus does not discriminate. But we do. Because of inequality and racism, those who have underlying health conditions and little access to health care – African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants – are most at risk.
In Chicago, African Americans make up 30 percent of the population but 70 percent of those dying from the Corona virus. The way our domestic and global economy are structured, there are fault lines that exclude the poor and people of color from their rights “to the tree of life.” They are the ones who vigil at the foot of the cross, waiting for a glimpse of hope, a glimmer of resurrection.
In this time of global pandemic and a collapsing global economy, where is the peace that Jesus promises to his disciples? Where is the power of the resurrection?
Many years ago, during the civil war in El Salvador, I recall an Easter vigil where this question was raised. In a small village beside a river that marked the division between two opposing armies, among a humble people that had endured seven years of war, the Gospel reflection began:
“In our day, just as in the time of Jesus, history presents us with a question: Who has the last word in history? Will it be death or life? Who will have the last word? Will the Empires of the earth have the last word? Will the oppressive powers that condemn the poor to death have it? Will war and violence have the last word? Will death or life have it?”
These were – and are – real questions, real for us today. We do not need to look far around the globe or deep into our hearts to feel the anguish and uncertainty of those questions. We are like Thomas, in this week’s Gospel reading, who says to Jesus: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
We are quick to judge Thomas, and the tradition even gives him a name: “Doubting Thomas.” But if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, we share his doubts. Where is the power of the resurrection in our world today? When we look around the world today, we see Good Friday, not Easter Sunday, we see crucified people, not resurrected victims, we see the global pandemic and an economy in collapse.
But the Easter Season poses to us another question, another challenge, another invitation. We may not remember that it was also Thomas who said, “Let us go with him and die with him” when Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem. The power of the resurrection cannot be separated from the cost of discipleship and the suffering of the cross.
As so often happens, those who believe in the power of the resurrection are those who also bear the marks of the cross, those who bear the wounds of Christ or who stand in solidarity with the crucified of this world. Like Mary Magdalene, who stood at the foot of the cross next to Jesus’ mother, Jesus appears first to those who share in the pain of this world. In so many words, the Gospel message is: Only from the foot of the cross can we proclaim the power of the resurrection.
That was the message I heard so many years ago in El Salvador, a land of victims and martyrs, on that Easter night, surrounded by a humble people and faithful remnant. The Gospel reflection that night concluded:
“So tonight we proclaim that history is not a dark night, but one of light. It is the light that the resurrected One has poured into our history. So we continue our pilgrimage, our Easter journey. This night gives us the answer for which our hearts yearn: Neither death, nor war, nor despair has dominion; the God of life, the God of the resurrection has the final word!”
Today, there are many signs of resurrection even in the midst of the world’s passion: We see these signs every day in the generosity of those designated “essential workers,” the health professionals who risk their lives in hospitals and clinics, public servants of all kinds who provide essential services, the farmers and immigrants who grow our food and stock our grocery stores, those who drive our buses and pick up our garbage, those who go to work because they have no other option to survive.
So as we enter this holy season – grateful as well for our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers – our hope is that we may make of our Easter journey a faithful witness of solidarity with the victims of the pandemic, and a firm commitment to radically transform the underlying inequalities of our society and economy, the fault lines that condemn the poor and people of color to a less than dignified life.
Yes, we do need health care for all, and employment, housing and education for all as well. Yes, we do need to eliminate institutional racism, welcome immigrants and work for the Beloved Community. And yes, we do need to take care of our planet, rejoin the family of nations and the Paris Agreement in order to create a sustainable future for our children.
When we truly live this vision of Easter, then we may truly greet one another with that biblical Shalom that surpasses our deepest imagination, ready to embrace each other with joy – when the global pandemic passes – ready to love beyond our fears and to boldly work for a world in which no one is left behind or excluded.