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Relentless Resurrection

Here is Bishop Mark Edington's Easter message, for those who may not have seen it.

Crucifixion 1. Don’t weep for me, Mother, As I lie in my grave. Choirs of angels hymned the glorious hour, Dissolved in flame, the heavens glowed overhead. “Why hast though forsaken me, my Father?” And “Mother, do not weep for me,” he said. 2. Magdalen sobbed and wrung her hands in anguish, The disciple whom he loved was still as stone. But no one dared to look toward the place where The Mother stood in silence, all alone. – Anna Akhmatova, from “Requiem” (trans. Stephen Capus) Anna Akhmatova’s elegiac poem “Requiem” is a story unto itself, one well known among her readers. She began writing it both a protest against Stalin’s purges of the1930s and 1940s, and as a commemoration of those who had been killed or imprisoned in the gulags at the hands of Moscow’s government. The secret police had killed her own first husband, and her son was repeatedly arrested and held in Stalin’s prison camps. Akhmatova knew well that the Soviet state would never permit the poem to be published. In fact, she was so certain she would be arrested and executed just like her husband had the poem been found that she committed the whole work to memory, burning successive drafts as she wrote them.

Even so, if it could not be published, there was little assurance the poem would endure. What if she were arrested anyway? She felt a deep responsibility to all those who were being persecuted and killed use the power of her poetry to testify against the cruelty and injustice around her; how could she make sure the poem outlived her? Akhmatova solved the problem by using something she called a “pre-Gutenberg solution.” She taught a small circle of her friends, all women, to learn the poem by heart. When she added to the poem, and even when she rewrote parts of it, she taught the new version to them, insisting that they remember it in place of the old version. Instead of writing her poem down on paper, she wrote on the hearts and the souls of her friends.

And in this way, the message of her poetry triumphed even over the power of a state armed with prison camps and executioners. It’s not difficult to see the parallels between the brutality under which Akhmatova lived and wrote, and the tragedy we see unfolding in our own day in Ukraine. We see the images of civilians being targeted by missiles. We read in the press about the neighbors turning on each other, like the purges of old. We don’t know yet who the poets are who will give voice to the thousands of innocents who have been killed, or the millions who have fled. We don’t know yet how the truth will be able to push through the layer upon layer of lies and deceits given so much perverse power by social media, to see the sunlight again.

And because of that, it is easy for us to be spiritually stuck in Good Friday right now. We see with our own eyes how fragile goodness is, how vulnerable truth can be. They do not defend themselves, at least not immediately, and not forcefully. They seem laid bare before the brute force of an invading army.

It feels like our call to walk in love, to be disciples of the one who taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, marks us down as either fools or victims.

We are tempted—tempted by despair, tempted to fight brutality with brutality of our own. Near the end of “Requiem” Akhmatova suddenly shifts from images of prison camps and the menacing power of a police state to the scene at Golgatha, and the passion of Christ; the weeping of his mother, and the shock of the beloved disciple. It is no accident that she does this. Because in that place, too, outside the gates of Jerusalem, brute force seemed to be utterly triumphant over the weakness of love; the power of a cruel state seemed utterly indifferent to suffering and sorrow.

And yet, as Akhmatova knew, that was not the end of the story. Without knowing how the evils around her would be overcome, she kept writing. Without knowing how her poem could possibly survive, she kept teaching it to her devoted friends. Today, decades later, her poem endures. It testifies to the truth of what happened. If it does not restore the lives lost, it at least redeems the truth of their suffering. And it stands as a warning to the tyrants of our own day that justice may be slow, but it is as unyielding and inexorable as the dawn that follows night.

Of course, that’s just what Akhmatova saw in the crucifixion as well. She saw a story that did not end with the weeping mother or the sorrowing disciple under a darkening sky. There is more to the story, an ending that is a new beginning, a reversal of fortune that destroys not just death but the dealers of death, and that reveals love itself as the transformative power that overcomes all.

We live these days in a Good Friday moment. So much death and destruction has been unleashed in these weeks of Lent. Just when we thought our long Covid years could not get any worse, the specter of war has again overshadowed Europe.

We cannot know how this will all end. But beyond the limit of our ability to see, we are, we must be, people of faith. We are the inheritors of those disciples who saw with their own eyes the execution of their friend on a cross, and who did not know that Easter would come. And yet, even in their despair and confusion, they believed. So must we. We cannot reach the empty tomb by any path other than the way of the cross. It is the scandal by which God confounds the power of this world, and overwhelms even the agents of death by embracing and transforming them through the work of love.

That is what Easter brings us, and we know that it waits for us, certain as the dawn, at the end of this nighttime of sorrow. See you in church,

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