Trauma, activism, and hope
Most of the organizers and activists I have met have experienced significant trauma. And that’s because the people on the forefront of the fight for liberation and justice come from the very communities they are fighting for – communities who have been excluded, marginalized, oppressed, or erased.
I’m so grateful that these incredible people have allowed me, a pastor, into their lives because many of them have experienced harm at the hands of Christians and congregations. They are rightly suspicious of, and intentionally distanced from, the Church.
A local activist, after several months of cautiously developing a relationship with me, said, “You’re okay. You’re not an asshole.”
We’ve set a low bar for ourselves, y’all.
Surrounded by these amazing humans, I couldn’t help but see the Easter story this year through the lens of activism and trauma.
Quake, rattle, and roll
The women at the tomb had undergone some shit. Unlike their male counterparts, they stayed near the cross and watched their beloved friend and teacher mercilessly tortured and publicly executed. These included a brown-skinned momma, watching her innocent brown-skinned son die a grisly death at the hands of the state.
They went home to keep their religious traditions, but I imagine they moved through that Sabbath day in a fog of shock and grief.
As soon as it was “legal” – while it was still dark out – they got up and went to the tomb to anoint the battered body of Jesus. To hold space for his death. The minute they got to the tomb, they encountered armed guards, enough to make women with a handful of spices feel unsafe.
Then, by Matthew’s account an earthquake hit. Being from southern California, let me tell you – an earthquake is no joke. You feel vulnerable, helpless, scared, uncertain of what the next seconds will bring. I had PTSD from a major earthquake for years, only at that time I didn’t have a name for it.
The earthquake is followed by a glowing guy in snow-colored clothes literally dropping from the sky, rolling back the tombstone, and plopping down on it. The guards themselves “quaked” (per the Greek) and passed out.
These poor women. They went through all of this in just a 48-hour period.
Do not be afraid?
The first words out of this shiny stranger’s mouth to these shell-shocked women were, I suppose, to provide assurance: Do not be afraid. I don’t know if I would’ve been assured. I imagine it was more disorienting than anything. Some guy I’ve never seen before rolls up to tell me not to be afraid after I’ve just watched my friend murdered, was expected to pretend everything was normal during the Sabbath, and been through a seismic event?
Not sure I would’ve been buying it.
And then. THEN. He rattles off a densely packed list of what’s up:
I know you’re looking for Jesus.
He’s not here.
He’s been raised.
Just like he said.
Come and look – see for yourselves.
But don’t linger too long.
Quickly – go tell the male disciples that he’s been raised from the dead.
And that he’ll see y’all back home in Galilee.
I’m not even sure how they processed it all. It was a lot, delivered rapid-fire. And they were to act fast. It even says they left quickly to go tell the other disciples.
It wasn’t some Pollyanna situation where their mourning and trauma responses were wiped clean and replaced with Only Good Feelings. The story says they left the tomb with fear AND great joy. Like, all mixed in there together.
And as they were running as fast as their feet could carry them, they see him. Jesus. He says in essence, “Hey.” Hey. They come near him and bow to his feet and just hold him. Hold his alive body, not his dead one. They can touch him. So confused. Tear-stained cheeks. None of it making sense, but just getting to hold him.
And he says….
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Go. Tell the guys to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.
Do not be afraid.
An unfair resilience
Holy cow, those poor women. They’d just seen Jesus and somehow now it was real but the details were all jumbled up together and for the second time they are hearing this message: do not be afraid. And they would see him – again! He was going ahead of them.
Propelled by nervous energy and hope, they ran to tell the guys. They were commissioned by Jesus to organize – to gather the people, to tell the story, and convince them to act.
Their resilience is astounding. An unfair resilience, a necessary response to the trauma that has been inflicted on them by the powerful of the world – state officials, religious officials, even male counterparts in The Work who won’t believe the women. (Luke says that the male disciples regarded the women’s report from the tomb as an “idle tale.” In fact, the Greek is closer to “bullshit.”)
It is remarkable to whom Jesus gave his first resurrected blessing and to whom he entrusted with sharing the news that not all is lost and that God can do incredible things and that with death beaten nothing ever will look the same again.
He chose the women.
Not the gatekeeping guards, not the officials of the empire, not the religious elite, but these women. These every day, invisible, and traumatized women.
Running on empty
The big, powerful guards passed out from fear. But the women – these resilient women – fairly exploded with energy and purpose, and they RAN. They were not paralyzed in place but catalyzed by the hope of what could be, by a glimpse of the future that was seemingly impossible, changed by the fact that they could see Jesus in their midst, even if just for a second. It was real.
Jesus comes to these women, who had been through some Stuff, and says, “I love you, just as you are. Even broken by humanity, I love you. I trust you. I choose you. Not the ones in power or with might. YOU.”
That’s who Jesus comes to, and heals, blesses, and strengthens.
He comes to the women and urges them on. You can do it. Keep going. I’m not going to leave you alone in this. I’m just on up ahead.
The Easter story injects something into The Work: hope and possibility.
If the people broken and wounded by the world are the ones who are doing the work of dismantling the status quo, the resurrection story says that The Work doesn’t have to be dominated by the background of fear and a present uncertainty.
The Work doesn’t have to be a constant grinding in the here and now. When we strive to upset the imbalance of oppression, God says, “I got you. I’m up ahead of you. Incredible things can happen.”
Knowing that God goes ahead makes the risk of this dismantling work possible to bear. It doesn’t magically remove the fear and the impact of trauma, but it does let us know that what we thought was inconceivable is plausible and possible, that the future we strive for is one with God in it, and that we trust that because we see glimpses of God all around us.
Let’s not rush past these moments. Let’s cherish them so that they can be what propels us into the future.
God invites us to be a part of this new future by running toward it, with each other, gathering our friends for comfort and courage. Just GO. And do. not. be. afraid.
Rev. Jenny Williams (she/her) is an ordained United Methodist pastor who believes the Church needs to reclaim her prophetic witness by speaking into issues of injustice and walking with people marginalized by Empire. Her current attempt to follow Jesus has her focusing on solidarity, not charity, particularly with queer folx and BIPOC. Read more of Jenny’s work here.
Feature Image Credit: Andrii Kobryn via pond5.com