The older I get the more people die who I have known a long time. Each death means adjusting to a life without that person. And I raise the question of the power of death to take away someone I love and end a good life. I have no trouble with understanding intellectually everyone and everything dying. But I have questions.
In our religious tradition, Easter is the defining moment of the early Church. It is about the common experience of letting the power of death destroy. I turn to the youth for their opinions.
“What has been some of the defining moments of your life?”
One of the young adults says, “For me, it was when we took a homeless man to lunch in skid row. We had given out a lot of food and clothes but I had never eaten with one.
I took a deep breath and went up to a man sitting on the curb. “Would you like to have lunch with us? We have a little extra money.”
He looked at my dark skin and smiled. “Sure, thanks.”
Three of us went into a sandwich shop and got a burger, fries and a coke. We sat down at a booth. I noticed that others were staring at him as though he didn’t belong. So we started talking.
It didn’t take long before my distrust of the man melted. He talked about sports teams and where he used to live and what he hoped for. It didn’t take long. I was angry that I had spent so much time being distrustful and even fearful. And after that every homeless person had a face, a real face—someone like me, in fact.”
So now I speculate. Were the first Christians so scared that the wonder they experienced would disappear when Jesus died that they fell apart? Then Easter came. I am not concerned with the details but what happened to a people who shook their fist at the fear of death; who knew that death could not turn them away from the life they had chosen.
I ask again “How did this event in skid row define your life?”
“For me,” a teen replies, “it was like I really looked at a person I didn’t think much of. After that I changed. I wasn’t scared to try new things. I remember when we drove back to Arizona I was smiling and talking to people at the gas station. Even my step dad said that I had changed. I don’t know what I was so scared of before. Since then I feel like things will open up for me. So far it has. I moved to a new state, I got an apartment; I’m going to community college. It’s all good.”
So I think again about the Easter promise. What is important lasts. It lasts beyond my life. It changes me. It lifts me up beyond my immediate details. When death, the ending of a promise, happens, something new emerges. In the big picture, we are talking about a community of believers who lived transformed lives in the light of one who walked among them, showing the way.
In everyday details of the Native youth who also walk a spiritual path, they face the fear of things not lasting, of death meaning an end of something good, and a drastic change that is a challenge to things once familiar. They also know the story of the holy one who walks among us and opens doors.
They are familiar with death and life after death, even though the details of the Easter story may be a bit vague.
They know that the promise of second chances and new challenges belongs to them. They have learned to live the Easter promise.