A Word from DS Laura Merrill 04/26/2022

I’ve been so struck by Sunday’s news photos of this year’s Easter celebrations in Ukraine. The beautiful tradition of preparing eggs, bread, and other special foods for the Easter feast and bringing them to the church for a blessing, before sharing them with friends and family—this practice stirs my heart. I ponder what it means in the midst of war to have the food in the first place and then to take the risk to gather publicly for a blessing. Faithful Christians refused to allow the cloud of literal death to stop their celebration of life.

As a part of their resistance, according to reporters, Ukrainians also proclaimed hatred for their Russian attackers, claiming the hope of God’s victory over the grave for themselves and their country, in a literal way. In the accounts I read, Ukrainian Christians and church leaders used blunt, accusatory terms for the forces who have rained down destruction upon the nation and egregious brutality upon civilians. “Bloody,” “murderers,” “dead meat.” Bitter division is also impacting the church in Ukraine, including in both the Orthodox and our own United Methodist traditions. War does that.

I’ve also been reading Acts 9:1-20 and reflecting on Paul’s Damascus Road experience. We often use that term as shorthand for getting knocked upside the head about something, having our mind changed for us. The text starts out describing Paul as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He asked the high priest for permission to tie up any Jesus followers he found and to take them, bound, to Jerusalem.

Breathing threats and murder, tying them up? What had happened in Paul’s mind and heart to bring him to this place? Anger at what the story of Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection implied about Paul’s faith; the violent impulse he believed was a Godly response; his use of power to make war on people who disrupted the sacred status quo—something terrible was at work within him. And then suddenly, he found himself in the dirt, now unable to see in more than one way.

The scales fell from Paul’s eyes and heart upon his encounter with the persecuted Christ and Christ’s messenger, Ananias. It turned Paul’s life on its ear, and indeed, as Jesus predicted, Paul would become one of the persecuted as well.

I do not know when we will stop being like this to each other, maintaining our intentional blindness to the sacredness around us, believing that God blesses our sinful, even violent resistance to seeing in new ways. Sometimes the damage we do seems small; other times the scope is tragic. Rape and executions as legitimate tactics of war. Trans kids and their families targeted in the name of all that is holy. Churches that would rather fight on the inside than risk giving their lives away on the outside.

What is the surprising encounter that would cure our blindness and allow us to see with the eyes of love? Who are the persecuted who invite us to walk the path of new life? Where can we offer baskets of holy food, as war rages?

My prayer is that we will allow Christ to meet us in the questions and on the road, to claim our imaginations, and make us his Easter people.