In the biblical descriptions of the Easter event, the story moves straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. An entire day of grief, devastation and fear lies unspoken between the end of one paragraph, where Jesus is buried, and the beginning of the next, his resurrection two days later. Perhaps it was simply that there were no words to do justice to the empty day in the middle. We can only imagine that, for the followers of Jesus, it must have been the emptiest, most shattering experience they could ever encounter — a metaphorical hell. Tradition tells us that Jesus was in the real one.
The Christian church doesn’t worship on Easter Saturday — as God is dead, there is nothing left to worship. It gives the day over to the hardware shops and the football. But if any day in the Christian calendar resonates with the fear, sadness and desperation that so much of the world lives with at every moment, it has to be yesterday.
If we needed evidence that the world is living through a long Easter Saturday, we don’t need to look any further than the newspaper headlines last week. It’s ironic that while many churches have been preparing for Holy Week and Easter, telling a story of sacrifice and salvation that happened 2000 years ago, a holy week of another kind has been unfolding in Tibet. We heard stories last week of monks and students who have stood against injustice and oppression, even though for many it has led to their deaths. They join a long line of people through history who have given everything they have for freedom, sometimes in the name of God, and sometimes in the name of life. Occasionally, the everything they have given has been enough to change the world. Often it hasn’t. It’s difficult to imagine greater courage or faith.
For the first time in years, hope has political currency around the world. It’s defining the current US election, in stark contrast to previous elections, where platforms of fear and terror have been certain vote-winners. For the first time ever, part of me wishes I lived in the US so I could vote for hope, too. It’s seductive, we all want to join its bandwagon. It’s tempting to think that if the world is speaking of hope, then everything just might change.
British guerilla graffiti artist Banksy visited the segregation wall that separates Palestine from Israel a few years ago. In his typically subversive style, he stencilled images on to the grey concrete wall: startling vistas of tropical islands, pictures of plush armchairs seated by windows that overlooked snow-capped mountains, a silhouette of a girl holding a bunch of balloons that were carrying her to freedom above the wall. He painted an alternative world of hope and liberation on to the concrete reality of conflict and despair. As he was working, an old Palestinian man approached him, and they had this conversation:
Old man: “You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.”
Old Man: “We don’t want it to be beautiful. We hate this wall, go home.”
Our human inclination, when we come face to face with despair on a personal or global scale, is to paint over it with easy answers, and to think that because we can only see the paint, the concrete reality behind it no longer exists. It’s almost impossible to sit in the great chasm of the world’s Easter Saturday and not fill it with glib promises and wishful thinking, to layer a resurrection story on top of it. We depend on the promise of a happy ending, but when we realise that there are some stories for which there is no ending, our hope crumbles.
It sounds cynical to assume that there won’t always be a happy ending but, if that’s the case, Jesus was the ultimate cynic. “The poor will be with you always,” he said, and then he continued to fight the systems that oppressed the poor all the way to his death.
The hope that Jesus died for should only be defined by its most despairing and cynical audience: the widow and the orphan, the betrayed and the betrayer. Their hope isn’t in the world being fixed, it’s in surviving the night.
“Hope begins in the dark,” says author Anne Lamott. That’s the miracle that Christians believe was made real through the resurrection, and a truth that has been proven through history. We can’t talk ourselves or anyone else into having hope. We get there only by turning up in the darkness and doing the right thing. By choosing and honouring justice and love every time, hope has a chance to be born.
There are a few words that should always be accompanied by official warnings, if only because their misuse causes so much damage. Love is one of them, hope another. But if we are going to vote for hope, we have to be willing to do more than simply paint pictures onto concrete walls. The only way the world can survive this Easter Saturday is if we have the courage and faith it takes to wait with those who are living in hell, even if there is no certainty that they or we will survive. It seems even God knows that there is no other way.
Cheryl Lawrie is a Melbourne writer.