Am I losing my mind?
That’s what my friend Lisa asked recently. Now there’s no shortage of reasons why followers of Jesus might ask that question at this time of year. Mary Magdalene and Mary, were you losing your minds when you snuck off to see the tomb of one so shamefully executed? Or when an angel sent you running to bear an unbelievable message? Or when Jesus himself stopped you in your tracks? Nathalie, Lila and Mia, have you lost your minds when you make ancient vows to renounce Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness? People of Trinity gathered here, are you losing your minds spending a perfectly good Saturday evening listening to a seemingly endless recitation of ancient near eastern stories?
All we who call ourselves Christian are in good company if we find ourselves asking that question at Eastertide. But when Lisa asked if she were losing her mind on facebook last week, she had a very specific concern in mind. “I am trying to write an article about religious social media posts,” she commented, “and when I search, there is no Easter hashtag on Instagram.”
For those of you who may not follow social media, a hashtag is a word or phrase—preceded by a pound sign—that allows diverse users to comment on or post images related to a common topic. If this is news to you, I’d encourage you to check in with our own Arwen Myers, who is Trinity’s social media guru, in addition to being the owner of that gorgeous soprano voice. She’d probably tell you that the hashtag is useful for figuring out what people think about time-sensitive current events in the cultural or political sphere. Or, in this case, about near-term holy days or seasons. #lent, for example, turns up all sorts of sacred and profane photos and insights. So the absence of a #easter at this time of year is really is strange. Perhaps not as strange finding one’s recently deceased friend’s tomb empty, but not entirely dissimilar either. My friend Lisa—like the faithful Marys—went looking in the right place for something she had every reason to expect to find there. And Easter—hashtag Easter—wasn’t there.
But Lisa did a little investigating and found this statement posted on the Instagram website “Recent posts from #Easter are currently hidden because the community has reported content that does not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.”
Let that sink in for a moment. The content of Easter does not meet Instagram community guidelines. Now there are likely some pragmatic reasons for this to be the case; like for example that someone had posted hate speech or verifiably fake news using that hashtag. But as I pondered the peculiarity of Instagram removing posts about Easter during Holy Week, it occurred to me that there are plenty of ways in which Easter does not meet community guidelines. And not just on social media.
In a culture where fear of persecution would constrain human rights and freedom, Easter violates community guidelines by sending angels who tell us not to be afraid. In a culture where the threat of coercive violence would prevent prophets from speaking God’s truth, Easter violates community guidelines by proclaiming that we will yet find them in Galilee. Carrying on Jesus ministry in the place where it began, which we might understand as a geographic analog to all the poor and abandoned places where it seems like hope has died. In a culture where death would have the final word—and indeed silence the Word of God—Easter violates community guidelines by insisting that death no longer has dominion.
Easter doesn’t just violate dominant cultural norms, it also convenes a community around countercultural guidelines. You know what they are, because you just now reaffirmed them. Easter community guidelines are to continue the ancient teaching of the apostles—anachronistic though it may seem—and to pray and break bread together as we do this evening and every week. Easter community guidelines are to resist evil and—even in the full knowledge that we will sin—to trust the grace that always invites us to return to God. Easter community guidelines are to give voice to the Good News of Christ, seek and serve Christ, love our neighbors as ourselves, strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.
Easter community guidelines—also known as the Baptismal covenant—almost certainly won’t earn us accolades or a lot of money. Acting upon them will often put us in uncomfortable situations, and indeed they might just get us into a lot of trouble. Which, I would venture to say, is why they are community guidelines and not individual self-improvement goals. We baptize in community because it’s actually pretty danged hard to live as Easter people on our own.
Even when we are called to live our baptismal faith in lonely ways—which we will be at times—we who gather to hear these ancient stories and affirm these ancient vows are never really alone. I am reminded of my friend Ben who recently nursed an irresponsible and addicted parent to a painful death. At one particularly emotionally trying moment, a hospice nurse asked him if he was Episcopalian. He said yes, wondering aloud how she guessed. She told she had heard him speaking about the hard work of respecting the dignity of every human being. He had unintentionally spoken her language—their common language—and together they prayed his mother through her final days.
Ben chose to respect even the dignity of the parent who had betrayed his trust, just as God chose—and chooses—to respect the dignity of every one of us. No matter what we’ve done or left undone. We heard it here in this very Vigil: God respects the dignity of every one of us who have ever felt overwhelmed by a flood of bad news, or trapped by what seemed like a sea of impossibility. God respects the dignity of every one of us who have ever wondered where we’d find the wisdom to get through, or doubted that there was any life at all in the pile of useless bones that our bodies or our lives may feel like. God respects the dignity of every one of us who long to hear God rejoice over us. And God will bring us home, even those of us who may have wandered far away.
Which is another thing about Easter that, in some ironic way, resembles social media. Within the guidelines of the community baptized into Christ, there is no far away. Boundaries, geographical and otherwise, cannot contain the relentless love of God. So just as Galilee and its contemporary equivalents are not too far away for us to travel with good news, Syria and Egypt and the mountains of Afghanistan are not too far away to break our hearts. Even death itself is not too far away when we know that God has gone before us and will lead us through. We just have to be willing to hear the word “go.”
When Jesus said to the faithful Marys “go and tell my brothers,” he was not asking them to repeat six impossible things they’d believed before breakfast. He was reminding them that the community they knew—the one that God spoke into being through the beautiful waters of creation, protected through dangerous waters of the flood and exodus, and redeemed through the one whom he called beloved at the Jordan river waters— that this community had not been, and would never be, abandoned. It was the job of the woman then—just as it is ours now—to share that Good News. Because the guidelines of this community are true and trustworthy, and living into them is to live with Jesus Christ in newness of life right now. And we can stake our lives on them, just as he did.