It’s Easter Sunday and Dwayne is mopping the men’s bathroom floor.
I’m typing this from my office, which, as it happens, is located inside of a church. (By “office,” I mean a small corner of what used to be a chapel, and has since been converted into a makeshift theatre space. And by “church,” I mean a beautiful, massive, crumbling piece of infrastructure held together with effort and energy and smart survival, a place where, among countless other programs, hundreds of homeless people each week are fed and clothed and helped, treated as guests and welcomed without judgement).
It’s Easter Sunday, and the building is so quiet and still. I’m typing this, and Dwayne is downstairs, and my fingers hit the keyboard and I can hear his footsteps echo in the long hallway filled with folding tables and chairs. Dwayne is the guy who runs the building operations here, and he works harder than any human I know.
It’s been a long time since I believed that a human god named Jesus rose from the dead to save me for my sins. I believed that once, with every part of my being, and I don’t believe that anymore.
But I understand the appeal.
I grew up in a Catholic school that leaned in on this stuff, hard: the third floor of my elementary school had a chapel with the stations of the cross, where we would re-enact the torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus once a year, from third grade on. We’d hold candles and bow our heads and think very hard about nails in hands and feet, and thorns on heads, and about death by whip and torture. We’d think about pain and suffering in the abstract, because none of us really had any frame of reference for what pain on that level might feel like. (With any luck, most of us still don’t).
And then, like, okay: but he died and then he came back to life! So it’s all cool now, I guess! He rose from the dead! Let’s say that again: he was dead and then he was alive again! This guy who is a dude and also a god died a horrible painful agonizing brutal death, witnessed by his friends, for a variety of stupid, petty, dumb, selfish, political reasons, and these flawed, angry, human men killed Jesus in the most painful way imaginable, and then not-quite-so-dead Jesus was like HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA SUCKERS!!!!!!! CAN’T STOP ME NOW!!!!!!!!
We tell this story to second-graders and expect them to understand it. What’s more, we tell this story to second-graders and expect them to transition efficiently from “here’s a lesson in painful, horrifying ways that human beings can murder other human beings” to “Rejoice! For he is risen!”
Which sounds insane, when you put it that way.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have a hard time with stories that are rooted in pain and suffering, and end in joy and celebration. Like some kind of whiplash effect: I guess we just ignore the really horrible parts of this story, because it’s now time for celebration? Rejoice! A terrible, monstrous thing has happened, but we made it to the good part of the story, so I guess it’s all okay?
Maybe that’s the thing about Easter that I’m trying to figure out all these years later, so far away in body and in spirit from that tiny chapel room. I wonder why we can’t figure out a way to teach ourselves that we are always filled with pain and with joy. That both of those things exist simultaneously, in us, and around us. Always have. Always will.
I’m hearing Dwayne clean and prepare downstairs, and I’m thinking about the unseen labor of preparing for joy and celebration. You don’t get to go on an Easter Egg hunt or binge out on chocolate bunnies without someone, somewhere down the line, being responsible for cleaning up and taking out the trash. This isn’t even on the sorrow/joy spectrum, just adjacent and somehow also connected: Rejoice! For he is risen! And then go help your mother, because the table isn’t set and someone needs to run the vacuum cleaner.
In a few hours, this space will be filled with people laughing and hugging and clapping and singing and celebrating and worshipping. A few hours after that, it will become a place where a few dozen people will sleep on mats on the floor, because they have no other place to go. Today, someone will decorate the sanctuary with beautiful flowers. I had to step over an enormous pile of vomit to unlock the gates to the door this morning.
I wish there was a more clear and direct way of saying that. That all of it is beauty and sorrow, work and play, bumping up against each other, bundled up into a finite number of years on the planet and multiplied by the number of other people you’re bumbling along beside.
Rejoice! For the world is complicated.
Rejoice! There is space for both pain and joy.
Rejoice! There will always be work to be done, except for when you stop working to eat candy.
Rejoice, please, for a moment with me. For my world is quiet and peaceful right now in this small moment, listening to the sound of a vacuum cleaner down the hall.
Rejoice and find hope, knowing that there will be pain later too, believing and knowing that there must be space for both of those things together.