For a long time, I felt like an imposter when it came to Easter. I assumed that, as a Christian, on this particular day I was to be joyful. Not happy – happy is for chocolate or the snooze button – but joyful, which is like happy but bigger and indefinably different. To make things even more challenging, I thought a real Christian’s emotions should move between Palm Sunday celebration, Good Friday sorrow, and Easter joy with mechanical precision. I assumed everyone else was on this program, and I was off to the side wondering what chip is missing in me: Why can’t I spring automatically to resurrection joy?
A while back, some of the church kids were chatting about what they wanted in their Easter baskets and one said she was really hoping for a live, rainbow-colored horse. To be fair, sometimes joy can feel just as elusive as a rainbow-colored horse; of the two, the horse could feel like the safer bet. “We’re Easter people,” Augustine reminds us, “and Alleluia is our song.” Even so, at times we’re still in the tomb. Or at least part of us is. Or someone we love is. Or the world is. And it makes one wonder, what does it mean to be an Easter person in a world full of so much complexity?
One of the gifts that disabled people, and disability theory, give to the church is a way of thinking about the complex intersections between joy, hope, pain and sorrow. Our disabled bodies do not make us heroes, nor are we tragedies, but we hold within us the truth of the human experience: pain and joy dwell together. We are Good Friday and Easter, tomb and resurrection.
Matthew’s Gospel mentions a little bit about joy, but what looms larger than exaltation in all the Easter accounts is that sense of amazement and uncertainty. Of confusion and not-knowing. And I think as Christians we lose respect for the gift of confusion at our own peril.
I’ve been working on a writing project about relationships that has taken me down some research rabbit holes, one of them being the interesting world of Christian dating guides. A characteristic of that world is a sense of either-or: a person is godly or not. They’re meant for you or not. If you’re not certain this will end in marriage, break up immediately. Dating is not meant to be fun, it’s not exploration or discovery, it’s a job. You are working your way through a set of challenges until you graduate to marriage, which, if you’ve followed the steps correctly, means a dutiful happily-ever-after. And perhaps this works for some people when it comes to relationships, but it absolutely does not translate to a life of faith.
Having a life shaped by resurrection isn’t about graduating from Good Friday to Easter. It’s not having everything neatly settled in our minds and our hearts, harboring no doubts or uncertainties. Our souls aren’t Swiss watches ticking reliably from sorrow to joy on cue, any more than a person with cerebral palsy or an intellectual disability is all possibility or all limitation. There are days, even moments, when we catch whispers of resurrection and seasons when the shadows of the tomb enshroud us.
We may proclaim the certainty of resurrection as a gathered body of faith, but the aim of that proclamation is not to minimize or cover over the real hurts that are right here among us or the hurts of the wider world. Rather, it is to recalibrate our vision so that when resurrection does find us – whether it’s today or a month or many years from now – we recognize what it is we’re looking at.