We know that Christ has risen from the dead because, despite all death and wound, love exists and love continues in the world. Charity is the new life of Easter.
What do I mean by that? Recently I was at a conference given by Maya Angelou. She is the Black American poetess who spoke at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
Among other things, she told the story of her childhood. When she was seven years old, one night she was raped by a neighbor. She told her grandmother, who called the police. Her assailant was arrested and put in prison.
Criminals within prisons have their own codes and one of them is that sex offenders are themselves often tortured and killed by fellow inmates. This was the case for her attacker. Soon after his arrest he was murdered by his fellow prisoners.
Her seven year-old mind and heart, already severely traumatized by the rape, was not able to deal with this. Quite naturally, she blamed herself.
The effect of this was so severe that for the next nearly 10 years she was unable to speak. She was put into special schools, seen as handicapped, retarded, abnormal—with all the psychological and social havoc this wreaked. It is hard to imagine a more wounded and broken childhood than hers.
But she recovered, learned to speak again, and eventually has become a gifted speaker, opera singer, writer and poet. More importantly, she has become a woman of rare vibrancy, zest, graciousness, style, warmth, gratefulness, faith and love—complete with an exceptional sense of humor and delight.
Looking at and listening to the Maya Angelou of today, it borders on the impossible to believe that she is the same person who endured her own childhood.
When she speaks she tells you her secret; faith. But her’s is a particular kind of faith, a faith in the resurrection. She has her own, one-line, wording for this: resiliency is the key to love.
Listening to her, I was reminded of an old Joan Baez song that I heard years ago, an old civil war song called, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The singer is telling the story of her brother, killed in the war.
It’s a beautiful song, expressing a deep melancholy that is full of a noble stoicism, but contains nothing of hope. Her young brother is dead, killed senselessly in war:
He was just eighteen
Proud and brave
When a Yankee laid him in his grave.
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up
When it’s in defeat.
Listening to Maya Angelou’s story, helped awaken in us, her listeners, the central tenet of our faith: You can raise life back up when it’s in defeat! There is resurrection and this puts all wound and death into a completely different focus. It also calls on us to move beyond our wounds and our deaths. Resiliency is the key to love.
Stories like Maya Angelou’s are proof of the resurrection, proof that the grave of Christ was empty, proof that love is more resilient than the many things that crucify it. Love and laughter go on. Charity is the new life of Easter.
I believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead because of the many Maya Angelous that I have met. I have experienced charity, love, forgiveness and resiliency. I have seen the new life of Easter.
In Maya’s story, and in our own stories, we see that dead bodies do rise from their graves, that dead voices do sing again, that abused bodies do delight again in joy, and that wounded spirits do grow strong again and forgive.
And that is the challenge of Easter, the challenge of the resurrection. It invites us to a new life, charity arid resiliency. Faith in the resurrection is the only thing that can ultimately empower us to live beyond our crucifixions, beyond being raped, beyond being muted by wound.
A friend of mine once sent me an Easter card which ended with the challenge: May you leave behind you a string of empty tombs! That is both my Easter wish and my Easter challenge for all of us.
Let our wounded, muted voices begin to sing again: Christ is risen! Life is very very good! Happy Easter!