Written by Lauren Plummer
O Death, where is thy sting? For folks who celebrate Easter resurrection, it’s a rallying cry on Sunday morning — at once gutsy and disconcerting. For anyone who has experienced the death of a beloved or anyone who has been paying attention in the world lately, these words feel like a slap in the face. The sting of death is everywhere. From our children dying at the hands of gunmen on any given school day, to people wasting away in prisons or without healthcare, from an unarmed man shot by police in his own backyard to those dying without housing in our streets, and each personal loss of a loved one — these deaths hurt like Hell. We ask, “How much longer?” and “How many more?” and it seems like the answer is always, “Much longer; many more.” Some of us are weeping and exhausted. Some of us are hollowed out and numb. We may be grieving publicly at vigils and marches, with our faith communities and friends, and we may be grieving quietly in that long slow sadness that lingers and circles around us in currents after death upends our world. Wherever we find ourselves, the sorrow of death around us is deep and real. The idea of finding hope in some future bodily resurrection of the faithful offers me little consolation about the suffering and injustice in the world now. The good news for me is that Love has swallowed up death and continues to do so every day that we make it so — that we have the opportunity to practice resurrection in the here and now.
Where are you finding or giving new life? Flowers are blooming, our little corner of the world has turned green again, and it feels like a miracle. I mean, like a real miracle. I’ve finally become aware that I struggle with seasonal depression, so when the early signs of spring start breaking through the ground, I feel a shroud being lifted and know hope and resurrection deep down in my body. I’ve made it to the other side again! I saw with my own eyes how dead everything was (and how dead I felt inside on some of the coldest, darkest days of January), but the mint is sprouting back, soft green sage leaves are opening, and the peach trees are bursting with pink buds. As I tend my plants, I dream about the possibilities of June and July when my hard work will bear fruit. I commune with my grandma in this season, feel her love, and continue to learn from her earthy wisdom. In this way the love she and I shared in her life (and now) and our love for the earth saves me a little every year – keeps me green and growing in places of myself that often become calloused. In spring, I return to myself as the earth is being revived, and my garden becomes a tiny site of personal resurrection.
Or take last Saturday. I stood with thousands of Nashvillians in a march organized and carried by young people. They called us together to bear witness to the atrocity of gun violence ravaging our nation and to cry out for legislation that values human life over the gun lobby’s agenda. It was imperfect, and it was breathtaking. Kids were dancing on the lawn of the courthouse, young folks drummed and lead chants, and I could see that death did not have the final word. I don’t say this in a way that assigns a sentimental meaning to the deaths of all the students and people killed by police violence or domestic terrorism. Rather, I mean to say that death and its henchmen have not silenced us but steeled our resolve. It has given us an even greater shove forward — to love louder and push harder because we are fighting for our lives, for those who have been taken, and for the world we know is possible. In this way we practice resurrection, the way the fierce, divine love of Stephon Clark’s community is making a wave that will help turn the tide that will make it more possible for black and brown folks to flourish in this place.
Is it enough to say that death is overcome because in this part of the western hemisphere flowers bloom again every spring? Because children are leading and dancing, death can’t really hurt us? Does this negate the pain of loss? Surely not. But I’m reminded of something our friend and mentor, Rev. Bill Barnes, often said: “Look for signs and wonders.” So friends, I am out here looking hard for hope these days, and what I am learning is how to create it by loving and fighting more deeply for what is good. I’m learning to pay attention to kids, to cultivate beauty, build community, and take risks for my neighbors, and it’s giving me life. I am learning that Love keeps bringing me back in big and small ways, sometimes I get to help be part of the Love that brings other people back, and this goes on forever. What I’m saying is, with the help of God’s grace, we do the work of resurrection every day, if we’ll be awake to it. The call is clear: bring back those who have been pushed out and excluded. Bring back those who have been incarcerated and deported. Restore life to the ghettos of poverty and life to the earth which is languishing under the weight of exploitation. Lift up healthy relationships and wellness in yourself and community. Love demands it. No need to wait for someday, Easter folks. The work is ours to do, and it is now.