The Easter Vigil: Doing Good Together

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Trent Tate’s Fireflies out of the Bottle

Under the burden, the cynicism, and the pace of modern life, Passover and Holy Week interrupt us with timely “signals of transcendence” that call us to stand together, across our various political, cultural, and religious divides. We are beautiful, if broken and vulnerable beings with a profound need for liberation and resurrection—and each other.

The women who arrived looking for the dead body of Jesus on that first Sunday morning were told he was not there, that he had been raised, that he was alive and had gone on ahead of them to Galilee; there they would see him, just as he had said. Amazed and terrified, they fled from the tomb and told no one what had happened. In the original version of Mark’s Gospel, the story simply ends right there. It leaves the story open-ended, inviting the reader to wonder about and puzzle over its meaning. “He is not here, he has been raised,” we hear. He is not here; he is not where we think he is.

This is a story that tells us at the very least that God, the really real, cannot be captured by anything: not by death, not by a tomb, not by religion, not by technology, not by any philosophy of truth. God cannot be packaged and marketed for popular tastes and consumption, no matter how user-friendly and entertaining the purveyor of religion tries to make it. But because we live in a free-market world that has been constructed to satisfy our personal preferences, we begin to imagine that even God exists to satisfy our personal needs. In a world where we can customize our ring tones, our faces, our spouses, our children, and our religion, we come to expect that even God can be customized for our own purposes.

Whatever else it may be, however, this story of Jesus’ resurrection is not about maintaining our control and living with a positive attitude despite the stresses and strains of modern life. The women who encountered the empty tomb didn’t go home and take on a new attitude that things would turn out okay in the end for those who believe; they didn’t just decide to start looking on the bright side of things. No, they fled in terror and amazement and didn’t tell anyone about what they had seen. This is a story that interrupts our usual notions and expectations of the way things are supposed to be. We don’t have any control over this story, and the ending is left open.

The phrase “resurrection from the dead” literally means, “coming alive from out of dead things”. It’s the picture of one who “stands up from the midst of corpses”. It’s a coming alive, a waking up from sleep, a standing up to walk in compassion with others who are different and vulnerable. The story of the resurrection is a very particular gift to each and every one of us. It’s a gift we need. Without it, our lives can be dominated by fear of others, or intimidated by death, and this fear isolates and divides—it locks us up in our own notions and tribes, stifling our capacity to love and appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of each and every other.

This season of the resurrection is a powerful time to come together. The Front Porch offers a distinctive public celebration of the Christian tradition’s “coming alive” for all in the Austin community on Saturday evening, April 15th at 8pm, at Scholz Garten. HERE IS THE RSVP LINK. And here are just some of the artists: Sam Baker, Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Meesha Akbar, Shinyribs, Body Rock ATX with Riders Against the Storm, Jimi Calhoun, Sherry Gingras and the Djembabes, Gregory Eaton, Brant Pope, Chucky Black. There will drums, improv, slam poetry, singer-songwriters, dance, a 2nd Line jazz band, and more. Come celebrate with us and dance until midnight Easter Eve!

PASSOVER: Exodus to Freedom–Beyond the New Jim Crow

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exodusThe Hebrew slaves who escaped Egypt gave us an image, a story, and a language for expressing freedom from oppression. It depicts the passing over from death to life.

The Front Porch explored the Exodus story at its recent public celebration of Easter at Scholz’ Garten that began with this invitation: “Dear friends of the anointed, and those from every tribe and tradition who share the hope of coming alive from out of dead things: On this most holy night, we celebrate the passing over from death to life, the triumph of love over hate, and the gathering of the beloved in vigil, prayer, and communion.”  

At that event, we asked Charles Dwain Stephens (aka Chucky Black) to slam the Exodus story from the Hebrew scriptures in a poem at that service.

Chucky’s slam was a sobering reminder that slavery persists in different guises under our very noses and that we need to renew passover continually. Indeed, On Being‘s Krista Tippett’s latest conversation with Michelle Alexander shows us that Jim Crow is alive and well, shows us where the chains are, and shows us how we might rouse ourselves to Let His People Go. 

Here is the text that Chucky slammed at the Easter Vigil:

chucky blackIn the wake of Black Lives Matter, We said, “Let our people go”

And our collective voices scared the sleeping giant right out of its passive slumber

The great american pharoah was left naked in the mud

Shivering without the world it built as cover Sam said

“What’s with all the commotion 
Y’all have been free since good ole lincoln Why make a fuss now”

Sam talked real slick
but we could see ships writhe in its shadow And vultures circle the insides of his mouth

at place between the teeth that boasts chewed thing Sam Spoke to us as if he weren’t still digesting the past 400 years

As if the white house wasn’t a pyramid we built too
 We knew the grit in his speech like we knew the black of our hands

Like this pain was genetics

Like our survival was a black helix spinning towards a tired gesture We said

Pharaoh oh pharoah
Does our plight not burden yours

Does the american dream not singe everytime a black body greets dusk

Are we but a howling image left behind in your shining legacy We said

America the free
Home of the brave

Are your dreams not built upon your sins too Is it not a shifting foundation

With every step threatening your once sure footing Each day becoming sinking sand beneath your very inheritance We left the respectability at home

Because our humanity shouldn’t have to teeter on it. We made sure the whole world heard our unruly chorus

Our good bones and skin and teeth 
Being ripped back from the very land that staked it’s illegitimate claim Our mouths boasting triumph

Even During the darkest hour
And the nights when the moon denied us audience

We howled a gospel that shook fruit from tree That undid the labored knot

coughed up the red sea in our uproar 
That had the great wilderness running away on pitched lumber

Trying to forget its treachery towards man Trying to undo the bodies it hid as game

And My god was it a beautiful day This was our ten plagues of only spite

Of simply living and breathing
And that being an act of resistance all its own