More Easter. More joy. More face-to-face smiles. This is what Easter felt like after two years of more challenging Easter celebrations.
In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright reflect on Easter and what it meant to them after these past 2 years. They reflect on three soundbites from members of The Diocese of Atlanta. Marycelis Otero, The Rev. Juan Sandavol, and Dr. Mary Hooper all share their insights of what Easter meant to them and the joy they witnessed. Christ is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia. Listen in for the full conversation.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright, I’m your host Melissa Rau. This is a conversation inspired by Bishop Wright’s, For Faith Weekly Devotion, sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Fatih and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description. Happy Easter, Bishop.
Rob: Happy Easter, he has risen.
Melissa: He has risen indeed.
Melissa: It’s good to be with ya.
Rob: You too.
Melissa: You didn’t write this week’s devotion. Instead, you highlighted a passage of an unknown author and it’s really about life and death. I love the first few sentences. It says, you think you have this deathing right. You think that life is a small pebble in the dark river of death. You are wrong. Death is a small pebble in the raging river of life.
So, It’s really about the juxtaposition between life and death and how it’s viewed. And so, I’m curious when you stumbled on this, was it named More Easter or did you bestow that title upon it?
Rob: No, I named it More Easter. I have been writing brief devotions for more than 20-years and someone sent me that, that I had written in 2012 or that I quoted in 2012. And I said, I’ve got to refresh this and give this to folks now. So, what I love about it is that it says exactly what we say. Life has overcome, swallowed up death in Jesus Christ. This is what Easter screams today, on Sunday. But for the next series of weeks, we are in a season of Easter, not a day of Easter. So, that season, that day, that 2,000-year ago day gave birth to a paradigm shift in a season that you and I get to enjoy, you and I get to proclaim, and you and I get to live out. So, that’s the good news. And it flips the notion that life is small and death is big. It’s the opposite. As we said last week, with Diana Butler Bass, I mean, Jesus’s crucifixion was a blip on the screen of life and life abundant. But yet, we get so hyper focused on that. So, that’s why I wanted to bring that quote back.
Melissa: Yeah. And it talks about being afraid to die. Not being afraid to die if we know what we know about life over death, that we shouldn’t be afraid to die. I am not afraid to die, I’m just afraid of how I’m going to die.
Rob: I think that is true for most folks.
Melissa: Exactly right. Anyway, you know, Bishop, given the difference between Easter of 2020 versus last year, though it was a little less restrictive, it was still bound by things. But this Easter felt a little like more of what we were used to before the pandemic.
And I know that the Diocese of Atlanta decided to get some sound clips of folks’ reaction to the joy of this Easter. So, I’m wondering if we can listen to the first sound byte.
I love this, I love this so much. She said some really cool things. She said, you know, it felt like an awakening from a deep silence and that this Easter, with the bells ringing and the gratitude for Jesus’s resurrection has marked a new season in our Parish and a renewal in faith to love like Jesus loved us. And so, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts or comments about this season of renewal of this year versus maybe previous years?
Rob: Yeah. You know me, I always got thoughts and comments. So, you never have to worry about that. So, I mean I think it is beautiful. And what’s interesting is that from over the last two years, if you will, you’ve been in a bit of a liturgy, that is the word we use in Church to talk about how we build the service out, how we build the moments of the service out, the ups and downs of it. We were fearful. We were really afraid at the very beginning. We were less afraid a year later. We had some responses but only partial, we were still uncertain, still trepidations, still reluctant, we were bound, right? And then on this year it broke open, the mask restrictions have calmed down, the vaccinations have come up, boosters have come up. We’re feeling more comfortable with one another. We know more about COVID-19 and were able to sing and sing beside one another.
And in some ways, it mirrors the lesson for this last Sunday’s Easter, which was the silence was broken by two dazzling strangers, we’ll call them angels. When the ladies came to dress Jesus’ dead body, they were looking for the living among the dead and the angels broke the silence by saying, he’s not here. The cemetery can’t confine him. So, in some ways, this Sunday’s Easter, this Easter Sunday, with less limitations, more comfort, more freedom, it felt like the genuine article. It felt like we were experiencing that moment. We got the surprise and the long-awaited hallelujah, you know, with our full throat. I guess that’s what I would really say, this felt more full throated than the last two years. We were able to really get back to saying, hey, there is some good news. I’m all in. We need it. We need it and it’s been so difficult. We’ve lost lives and livelihoods.
We are a pretty fortunate nation. We had the money, we had the medicine, and there a lot of other places that don’t have it. So, even as we say hallelujah with our full throat here, we have to be mindful of other neighbors. And maybe responsive neighbors who don’t have these benefits. But yeah, Sunday morning felt great. With the singing, flowers, bells, and all of that, and the hugs, handshakes, it felt like the real thing.
Melissa: Yeah. I have a worry though. I have a worry that it’s a mountaintop experience. And you know what people say about you know, going up the mountain and then coming down off it, that it’s just business as usual. And I do wonder if there is a way that we might capitalize, or how do we leverage that joy going forward?
Rob: Well, you know, the thing about joy is, where was there, I think a product? I think it was a hair care product that if you were turning gray, you put a little dab in your hand and combed it through your hair. It would make the gray go away and say a little dab will do you. I don’t know what the hell that product was. Yeah, my hair is turning white for sure. It is behind reversal.
But a little dab will do ya. Authentic Easter joy is like nitroglycerin. It’s an amazing force and power. So, when we have the genuine article, I mean not the performance of sort of optimism, radical optimism one Sunday a year. But actually realizing that all creation knows the real and truest song of God. And that is life, bias for love and life. So, when we get really sort of persuaded again, it is an invitation. These enigmatic moments that we’ve had in our lives, that are distant memories for some of us, which are ultimately positive where we felt loved and accepted, they don’t go away. You may have to brush the dust off of them sometimes. But they don’t go away. So, I say that is what we have to stay with and remember to keep that on the desktop of our heart, of our memories. And just realize that death doesn’t win and hatred can’t win and abuse can’t win. It has a finite season. That’s life. It doesn’t prove the absence of God. It just proves that this is a particular way that God wants to be God. And how God wants to be God is to overcome death with life. And you know, God will submit God’s elf to our inferior powers and our arrogance for a season. And then comes Easter and then comes resurrection.
We just have to make sure that we keep the main thing, the main thing. That is always the struggle for us, isn’t it? We get so distracted with the minor things and we can even major in minors, which is tragic. But to major in the majors is life wins, love wins. Full stop. And even when it doesn’t seem like that, it is still true.
What I said on Easter Sunday at the Cathedral at Saint Philip here in Atlanta, was that you know evil, hatred, and abuse, even brutal tyrants like the one we have in Russia who is trying to keep his foot on the neck of Ukraine, all tyrants come for a season and have a season. But ultimately, they know in their gut that the clock is ticking. That is the message of Easter. So, hatred, abuse, evil doesn’t disprove God, right? Neither does winter disprove spring, right? So, we just have to remember that. And I hope keep heart in that way. Because that’s what it is really about. It’s being a good steward of Easter. Easter comes. The joy animates us. Gives us buoyancy. But then, ultimately, we are the inheritors of this gift, as well as the executors of this gift, right? We have inherited it, it’s a gift, we didn’t do anything to deserve, can’t deserve it, right? But at the same time, the invitation is, if you know something that is good, why don’t you share it? And God is good. Just God is good in Easter and here we see it better than anything that you and I could have designed is God’s Easter.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Let’s listen to our next sound clip.
Melissa: All right. I love this one Bishop because I love how he goes, unbelievable.
Melissa: That with the beauty of the flowers, the music, and that this year it was something unbelievable. And that word, in and of itself, is kind of striking to me. What are your thoughts on that?
Rob: Yeah. It’s funny enough that the words mirror the words of the disciples when the women, shoutout to the women, last at the cross, first to the tune, first evangelist in the Church, shoutout to the women. The ones that kept the faith, keep the vigil, shoutout to the women. Their good news that they calm, this surprising thing, this blessed interruption, the guys wonder out loud, scripture says, if this is an idle tale. And idle meaning, is this worthless? And so, here we are where he is saying the same thing. It’s unbelievable.
And of course, it’s unbelievable to our rational, our mind, can God do this? Can God through a birthday party at funeral? I mean, how do we do this? And so, we remember that scripture says, God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. So, I’d like to say that we don’t talk nearly enough about the defiance of Easter. So, it’s unbelievable in that God would be that gently defiant. You know, we try to give God a hint, we try to murder God, we try to bury God in a tomb, we betrayed God. All these sorts of things, we flogged God. We put him on a tree and lynched him in front of his mother, right? It is unbelievable that God would just sort of gently get up out of the grave and say, good try. But I’m right here. I’m going nowhere.
It’s almost like Jesus is saying, you know, na, na, na, nan, you took your best shot. It’s almost like the devil gets a real sucker punch right in the chin. It’s like, you thought you had me? You thought you won? Great, here I am. And not only that, just to show you who I really am, I am going to go back to the room where I had my last supper and I’m going to slip through the locked door. I’m going to recollect and reconcile all the fragments of our brokenness together. I’m going to forgive those who betrayed me. I’m going to comfort those who were cowardly in the face of the trial. I am not only going to do all of that but now I’m going to say, hey, see my hands? See all of this? I’m back. Now, will you help me go forward now? I love it. It’s unbelievable. Yes, of course it’s unbelievable. And that’s what makes it so wonderful that God could do this with us.
Melissa: I love this so much. I’m reminded of the devotion that you have. I’m a Gen Xer or some might call me an exenial, right? Both of my parents are living and are very much baby boomers. I also live in an area with a high demographic of retirees. And I’ve noticed that the different of the way that some people view life and death matters. Some people want to live out the rest of their life with a sense of meaning, impact, and purpose. While others are fearful and clingy so tightly to life that they are forgetting to live it.
So, I have a question for you Bishop. What would your Easter be to both of those groups?
Rob: That is really a wonderful question. I would also add a third piece there. I would say that there are some people that are hunkered down and afraid. And then, there is another group of people that give themselves over to hedonism, of lots of different kinds. They say, let us eat, drink, and be merry, tomorrow we die. So, there is that piece.
One of the great sort of wonderfully counter-intuitive bits about resurrection, when you take the sting of death away, when that good news penetrates your heart, then you don’t have to do sort of these desperate acts of one sort or the other. You realize that death is a season in life. But ultimately it gives way to life. Ultimately, we are raindrops returning to the ocean. That is all that happens. I get the fear of pain, loneliness in those hours. I get it. I have stood at many bedsides. I have held many hands. I understand and don’t want to fear shame anybody. But what I want to say also is that I’ve stood at other bedsides and seen the genuine article of faith in people’s eyes and on their lips when they breathe their last. If you have ever seen the difference, seen the latter, I tell you, you want to be that. You want in your last moment rest in something that is real. We are not getting any more money, any more years, we are not getting any cuter. All that stuff is perishing. All of that stuff is going away. It is nice when you have it for a little while but ultimately it is temporal. And to see people really rest in their faith, not as deluded bedtime stories. You know, people that live under delusion or living out some sort of fantasy, but people who have an abiding and real rich faith. They realize that they are going to go to sleep on this side and wake up in glory. I have been fortunate. I have been at those bedsides. It freed me and helped me dislodge the fear in me to see the genuine article.
I want to be that for someone else. I want to die wonderfully. Pope John Paul who died, he declined in front of our very eyes. And in some way he gave us a great gift. We saw him in his strength, in his eloquence, and in his power. And we saw him weak and feeble. Ultimately, he went to sleep and died. He didn’t shield us from that.
Desmond did the same thing. This wonderful, beautiful man of faith and joy declined and battled cancer. He did it in front of us with all of the shaky and sad moments, and then died. He was a Prince among us. He wanted to be buried in a plain wooden pine box with no adornments. There are examples, over and over and over again, of people who are betting everything on Jesus and his resurrection. And who know that we have this life and that is the good news. We have this life and we are not to live in fear. We are to enjoy every moment, every moment is a gift. We don’t always do this well. I don’t always do that well. But nevertheless, that is our truth. And then this part of life will die. I love how we say it in our funeral liturgy. Life is not ended, life has changed. I love that beautiful Episcopalian poetry, life is not ended, life has changed. And if we can get that down into the molecules of us, I think life will look better. We don’t have to be so desperate and so sad chasing after something we can never catch. We can age gracefully.
I’m a baby boomer. I’m the last year of the baby boomers. Shoutout to the baby boomers, right? And we are coming of age here. Now, they are building 55-year old plus communities now. Good Lord, I never thought I’d live to see that. And so we are reminded all around us that the time is short. I have more out of the back window than I have in front of me now. That is a lot of us. So, you can be tragically trapped in fear of that or you can say that this is a season. How shall I live?
Melissa: We have one more clip and I love to listen to it.
Melissa: So, Bishop, before we played this clip, you were kind of talking about living life in a way that, I kept thinking of singing Hallelujah as a swan song. And she talked about what it meant for her this Easter to say when the Priest says, Hallelujah, the Lord has risen. And with that acclamation and response, it gave me goosebumps just listening to her recounting that. And I’m curious what you think about people who can live their Hallelujah from day to day.
Rob: Well, remember, funny enough we are talking about Easter. But you know, it’s funny enough we are talking about life and death, which is appropriate I suppose. And when you ask about Hallelujah’s in the face of all of this, you are quoting our funeral service. One of the most defiant things that the Priest gets to say with the ashes, the Earthly remains or the body in front of him or her, is even at the grave, we make our song, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Not just once. But defiantly. You say it one time, that’s cool. But if you keep saying it, you are making a point here. And the point we are trying to make is that even at the grave, as we go down to the dust, because that’s where we started as dust. There is something bigger than us. I think this is the other thing too, we have put ourself at the center of the wheel perhaps too much. We are all a little bit narcissistic, right? Maybe that is how we are designed. But the real work is to work yourself out of the center. And when I realize that I’m out of the center, I’m one among the Saints in light, right? And I will be one among the great cloud of witnesses. I will be one, I pray to God amongst the heavenly host, right? Then I am one of lots. I am one raindrop returning home to a big ocean.
So, it’s not just about me and my small little whatevers, it’s about me joining the mind, the heart, the plan of the universe, God, right? So, that is really enticing for me to thing about. I have lived my season like a beautiful flower. I hope that I have bloomed. I have given life to other things. And then, I go the way of all flowers. I go the way of all trees. I go that way.
But on that side of things, I am contributing also. I pray to God, to a larger life, God’s imagination. The Bible says that God’s mercy endures forever and ever, right? And so, in other words, we live now, we are alive to God in a new and interesting way. None of us know about that. So, we take that through the eyes of faith. But I want some more of that. I want to know more about that. I want to be reconciled to some people and be a part of that community. I am a party of this community here. We call that the Church Militant, the Church still at work. The Church still living out it’s calling. The Church still opposing evil and injustice. The Church still trying to close the gap between heaven and Earth. That’s the Church militant. But at some point, we will be reconciled and be called up to the Church triumphant. And that is the Church that already knows that the battle is already won. That love wins all. And so, I want to be on that part. I like the notion that we say, especially in the black Church about living with the ancestors and being enfolded and enveloped in their love and embrace, etc. That wonderful image that we use in terms of that great morning with the great family reunion on the other side. That’s not scary to me. But you are right, it’s the pain that we might endure on the way.
I think that if we tease this out, I think a lot of people will be less afraid of dying and more afraid of how they die. That’s a whole other conversation about pain and suffering and those sorts of things, right? Let us not burying the headline here. The headline is that Jesus rose. Raise Jesus from the dead and that you and I are called to live an Easter life even though we encounter Good Fridays abundantly.
So, how do we do that? We stay close to Jesus and his message. And that is, I’m a companion for you in the chaos. I’m a mentor for you in the mysteries of life. You can count on me in your terrible hours and your terrible late nights. You can count on me because I’m a God who doesn’t sort of send a memo, don’t send a fax, you know, I don’t send a text or a tweet. I’m right there with you. I know about it personally. We talk about Jesus as my friend, I can only use friends that know where I’m going and where I’ve been. Everybody else is an acquaintance. But my friends, yeah. Jesus can be my friend because he knows something about what it feels like to be left behind, left out, lost, disoriented, betrayed, you name it. That is how he can be a friend for us even in this Easter season.
Melissa: Well Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Bishop as always, we’re grateful. And listeners, we’re grateful for you for listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review, and we’ll be back with you next week.
For People, is a conversation with Bishop Rob Wright, spiritual leader to the more than 50,000 people in the 117 worshipping communities of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, on his For Faith weekly devotional.