I spent this past week, Holy Week, traveling with a group of UD students in Haiti. We were there with a group called CODEP, working with a rural community in the mountains outside of Léogâne. The land was beautiful, even though it has been ravaged by centuries of deforestation and natural disasters; and the people we met were equally strong and beautiful, battle-scarred by poverty and 80% unemployment, in many cases losing what little property they had to the earthquake or one of the many hurricanes to which they’ve become so vulnerable.
On Friday, we left early in the morning so that we would have time for a tour around the capital city of Port-au-Prince before we headed to the airport. If I thought I had seen poverty and destruction in the rural areas, it was nothing compared to what I saw in the city. The fault line runs right through the center of town, and with people living packed together in crumbling cinder-block buildings, the destruction from the earthquake three years ago was enormous. And still, three years later, people are living in tents in the shadow of the ruins of the National Cathedral; temporary shelters that have become permanent.
Then we turned down a wide street, and one whole side of the street was filled with people lined up watching someone coming down the road. Most of them were dressed up in white, with elegant straw hats and headscarves and old baseball caps as protection from the sun. As we got closer I could see what they were waiting for: a man dressed in white, with a brown cloth twisted around his head, shuffled under the weight of a heavy cross.
I’d heard about this kind of Good Friday procession before, especially in Latin American and majority-Catholic countries, but seeing one in person just took my breath away. I had been so worried about packing, and getting everyone on the bus, and what we were supposed to do once we got to the airport, that I hadn’t even thought about it being Good Friday. And here we were, in a city of crumbling ruins, brightly-painted businesses selling everything from mattresses to Super Glue to roasted chicken with plantains, and houses made of plywood and tattered USAID tarps, and the whole neighborhood was gathered to remember Jesus and his journey to the cross.
It seems like we haven’t been too eager to talk about the crucifixion in most of the communities I’ve been a part of. For a lot of American churches, particularly white Protestant churches, it’s much more comfortable to gloss over that part of the story. Death is messy, and state-sanctioned violent executions are even messier. Can’t Easter just be about chocolate and bunnies and marshmallow chicks?? Do we really have to deal with the whole death part? Why not just skip straight from the hosannas of Palm Sunday to the alleluias of Easter?
In places like Haiti, death and suffering seems to be an unavoidable part of life. People would ask, “Koman w’ye?” (how are you?) and look a little startled when I would answer “byen!” I didn’t understand it until we were getting ready to go, and one of our hosts, smiling, wished us a trip home that was “papli mal,” not too bad.
The expectations are a little different.
Here, it seems like we have to put on a brave face most of the time. When a spouse, or parent, or child dies, we are allowed a little window when we can be not okay in public, but at some point people are going to start expecting us to be done grieving and be back to “normal.” We don’t like to talk about our suffering, and we’re certainly not prepared most of the time to talk about the suffering of others.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have pain. We all have wounds, we all have scars in various stages of healing, but some of us hide them pretty well. It is as if we are stuck on Saturday — we’re trying to forget the grief of Good Friday, trying to hide the fear that we’ve just wasted the last three years of our lives on a foolish quest, not even daring to hope for the miracle of Sunday; just trying to convince ourselves that everything is okay.
But everything is not okay. Tragic things do happen here too, and sometimes our grand plans don’t work out and we feel like failures, and innocent people suffer here too, and relationships end, and sometimes life is just hard. But still we force ourselves to smile and say “I’m fine!” and pretend that everything is okay. But it’s not — because okay isn’t good enough.
“Okay” leaves no room for miracles. “Okay” is just barely getting by. “Okay” says, my problems aren’t worth making a fuss over. We can tolerate the violence and the injustice for the sake of getting back to normal.
But if we stay there, only letting ourselves see the acceptable, monochrome gray of okay-ness, we will never get to the miraculous burst of color that is Easter morning. It is only when we brave the stench of death and bend down to look into the tomb that we can begin to understand the truth of resurrection. We can hide, afraid, in our locked rooms, but we will not see Easter until we really see the wounds that our brother Jesus holds out to us.
That death was real, and it left real marks. And because that death was real, that resurrection can be real. Because the miracle of Easter is that even though death is real, and violence is real, and suffering is real, they’re not the end of the story. On Easter, even a wounded body is raised to glory. Even the most broken places in our lives are filled with the hope of resurrection. Even us, each one of us who carries secret shames and hurts and fears and losses, even we will be raised alive and rejoicing, carrying our scars like trophies that show the world who we are and where we’ve been.
And even to us, with our silent wounds, the tears we might cry when no one is looking, even to us the risen Jesus comes, and calls us by name. The one who walks beside us has known pain, like ours and far worse than ours, and has come through the other side more radiant than ever. Today, the world is more than okay — today, the world is rejoicing.
Kris se leve vivan! Christ is risen! Alleluia.