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Throughout the season of Lent, many of us in our community of faith have been reading Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart to help us explore our theme “Looking for Love.” The book defines and describes the geography of the experience of being human. Chapter 11 talks about foreboding joy. It’s the experience of pushing joy away in order to protect ourselves from being blindsided by pain. So when good things happen, instead of allowing ourselves to really feel joy, we brace ourselves and start rehearsing for disaster. Rather than embrace good news, we start waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It’s the kind of mixed emotions one might have if they were to encounter an angel at an empty tomb right after experiencing a devasting loss. Our eyes and ears might be seeing and hearing good news but our insides might still be shouting caution. We might run away from that empty tomb with a mixture of fear and great joy.
This foreboding joy is the kind of mixed emotion most of us have been experiencing the last few years. Something good happens in our lives but we don’t really allow ourselves to embrace it too tightly because we never know when the next wave of covid or forest fires or mass shootings or racially targeted attacks or military invasions are going to hit. So, in times of joy, we’re learning to brace ourselves against the vulnerability of what might come next.
It’s understandable then, that we might not really trust in all this resurrection, happy, happy joy business of Easter Sunday. We might not really be convinced that in the end, or is it the beginning, love does win. It seems like love has been taking some serious hits lately.
Daring to love is a pretty brave thing to do. In fact, Brene Brown says that it’s the brokenhearted who are the bravest among us, because when we dare to love, we make ourselves vulnerable to getting hurt. No wonder the women rush from the tomb with fear and great joy. They know the courage it takes to love widely. So when they respond to the angel’s commission to go and tell the disciples about the empty tomb they go, but they go with a measure of caution. Because that’s what death and defeating times can do to a person. They can deflate our trust and confidence in God, in Jesus, in the goodness of life itself. They can make us fearful of the future.
I’m someone who enjoys music of all kinds, so I like to watch the Grammy Awards on TV if I can or if I remember when they are on. This year, I was particularly interested in watching them because there were some real winners nominated for Song of the Year: Beyonce, Adele, Harry Styles, Taylor Swift and Bonnie Raitt. We are big Bonnie Raitt fans in our house. When I sat down to watch the Grammys on February 5th we had already purchased tickets for her September concert here in Vancouver. But when it was announced that “the Grammy for Song of the Year goes to Bonnie Raitt” I was as surprised as Bonnie was. Just like that, her life took a turn towards joy.
“Just like that” is the name of Bonnie Raitt’s award winning song. The song is about real life circumstances clothed in the garb of a fictitious story about a woman named Olivia Zand. In the song, Olivia Zand’s child has died many years ago. We don’t know how. The lyrics don’t tell us but there’s an indication that Olivia is somehow to blame for her child’s death or at least she blames herself. “If I hadn’t looked away” she says “my boy might still be with me now. He’d be 25 today” Just like that, she looked away and her life took a turn towards disaster. The lyrics begin to give us a sense of what Olivia Zand’s life has been like.
It’s the next few lines that really punch me in the gut as they describe with raw honesty the geography of the human experience of grief and loss . “No knife can carve away the stain, no drink can drown regret, they say Jesus brings you peace and grace, well he ain’t found me yet.”
A day like today, when we celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection can be pretty hard for people who have had life experiences like Olivia Zand. What does it matter that Jesus did or didn’t rise from the grave for people who have no hope that their loved one is coming back from the grave or even for we who are just hoping the other shoe doesn’t drop before this pandemic is done or before we experience reconciliation or turn our planet around or before whatever disaster we are experiencing in our personal lives is over? What does resurrection mean to those of us who are thinking that Jesus and his peace and grace ain’t found us yet either?
What Olivia Zand in Bonnie Raitt’s award winning song didn’t know at the beginning of the song, what the women at the empty tomb didn’t fully know when they first left the tomb and what many of us don’t know or at least we don’t live as if we know, is that as surely as “just like that” life can take a turn for the worse and it looks like we will be forever on the losing side of life, “just like that life” can take also take a turn for joy, a turn for love. Resurrection is all about trusting and believing in that turn.
And that’s what happened to Olivia Zand when one day a stranger came looking for her to tell her that when her son lost his life, just like that his life changed. It was the gift she gave of her son’s heart, the organ donation, that saved his life.
Listen to the final verse of the song:
“Just like that your life can change. Look what the angels send. I lay my head upon his chest and I was with my boy again. I spent so long in darkness, never though the night would end but somehow grace has found me and I had to let him in.”
When I think about Olivia Zand laying her head against that man’s chest to listen for the heartbeat of her son, I’m reminded of the way that when it comes to Easter, to resurrection and the winning side of love, sometimes we have to lean in, to watch for and listen very carefully to experience it. Because resurrection doesn’t always come and love doesn’t always win with the fanfare of earthquakes and large stones rolled away from tombs and angels in dazzling white robes descending from heaven. The Risen Christ who seeks us out and finds us to remind us not to be afraid, doesn’t always show up in our lives in obvious ways and most definitely not according to our timelines.
And yet when we least expect it, just like that everything can change in our world and suddenly when we thought all life had to give us was loss after loss after loss, grace, healing, justice, love shows up, filling us with joy and calling us to celebrate with fullness of heart, without any sense of foreboding and without fear.
That’s why when, like the two Mary’s in our story and like Olivia Zand in Bonnie Raitt’s song, when resurrecting love has found us whether it be in the guise of a stranger or with such clarity we know beyond a shadow of a doubt it is the Risen Christ standing right in front of us, we need to share that good news with one another and we need to be that good news for one another and for our world. So that bit by bit or just like that, we can all trust in the goodness of life, in the promise of our Easter faith, in the ultimate victory of love.