In seminary I took an intensive course called Leadership in an Age of Crisis. Little did I know how useful that class would be in my ministry. In the five years I’ve been a priest, I’ve seen wave after wave of crisis. And that’s exactly what the teacher said would happen: “Crisis is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere…What we have to do now is learn how to live in a broken world without being broken by it.”
How to live in a broken world without being broken by it.
These poignant words came back to me on Sunday night when I saw the breaking news story of the shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. He was killed by a police officer at a traffic stop, on his way home from the carwash. He was 20 years old. Meanwhile, less than 10 miles away, the Derek Chauvin trial grinds on as we fast approach the one-year mark since the death of George Floyd.
The question echoes: How do we live in this broken world without being broken by it?
I take this question to Jesus, who knows something firsthand about living an abundant life in spite of the brokenness around him. We meet him today in the Gospel of the Luke, in one of several post-Resurrection encounters. The set-up is the same as we heard last week: The disciples are gathered, likely discussing the life-altering events of the past days and weeks, when a resurrected Jesus enters and startles them. They’re confused and scared, likely doubting their own sanity. Are they seeing a ghost?
As one writer put it, Jesus responds to their fear by offering them the “tactile testimony of his body.” He offers them his hands and feet with their wounds as proof that he is who he says he is. And when the disciples need a bit more assurance that he’s in fact a real person, he expresses a most basic need…his hunger, and asks for something to eat.
As the author Debie Thomas said: “Simply by expressing physical hunger and accepting bodily nourishment, Jesus turns trauma into communion.” Once some comfort has been found, Jesus reiterates his teachings and purposes, and explains that the project ahead is for forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning right there where they were. He wraps up his words with a stunning final sentence: “You are witnesses of these things.”
You are witnesses of these things: Of the horror, shock, and disbelief of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And of all that will remain. I hear Jesus’ words as if he spoke them to us yesterday: We are the witnesses of his death and resurrection. We’re the witnesses to the brokenness of the world in all its painful forms. And we’re the witnesses to the hope that only God can bring to it.
As part of the crisis leadership class, we read a book called Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. In it, the author Shelly Rambo “rethinks the central claim of Christianity: that new life arises from death.” She uses Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter, to lay-out a theology that addresses the experience of living in the aftermath of trauma. Instead of focusing on toxic ideas of redemption that gloss-over our brokenness, she instead puts forth a vision of the Holy Spirit’s witness from within the depths of human suffering.
For her, “the good news of Christianity for those who experience trauma rests in the capacity to theologize [the] middle [space]. It doesn’t rest in either the event of the cross or resurrection, but instead in the movements between the two –movements that [she identifies] through the concept of witness. The good news lies in the ability of Christian theology to witness between life and death, in its ability to forge a new discourse between the two.”
What she wrote brought to mind the experience of the disciples that we heard today and also the experience of those people in Minnesota, witnessing the trauma that’s unfolding there. She said: “For those who stand in the aftermath of death, they are bound together in that unknowing. They stand as witnesses, not to truth easily or simply communicated, but to indirect truths that bind them to each other. Their lives are constituted as witnesses.”
Shelly Rambo’s exploration of Scripture and life from a lens of trauma makes such a difference for me. It helps me to answer that echoing question we began with: How do we live in this broken world without being broken by it?
Our first answer is that we look to Jesus: Who rose from the most shattered places of life and death, with the marks of his journey still on him. He rose, not in a state of perfect triumph, but with a disabled, broken body. And it’s his broken body – perfect in its imperfection – that we follow. I think of the famous line that a prison guard supposedly found scribbled on a piece of paper in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s cell shortly before his death: Only a suffering God can help. We have a God who suffered. And this is exactly the kind of God we need.
As the author Debie Thomas wrote, “the physical resurrection of Jesus is God’s definitive offering of both compassion and justice: all that has been taken, broken, mistreated, wronged, and forgotten, will be restored.” That is how we will live in this broken world without being broken by it: By proclaiming the justice and love that comes with Jesus’s physical resurrection: That the brokenness around us will not break us finally. This is how we’ll live in this world without being broken by it: By clinging to a hope rooted in the life and death of a suffering God.
This is my gasping prayer as I watch with helplessness and horror as our country reckons again with its deep-seated hate and racism: As Asian Americans struggle to feel safe. As black and brown bodies are shot senselessly again and again. As new covid variants rise. As empires fall. The world is broken. And we may very well be broken by it. But we will rise again, with wounds still visible, to be the witnesses to a love and a hope that will remain. Amen.