I hate roller coasters. I don’t hate that others love them, but they’re just not for me.

My first roller coaster was THE VIPER at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, which I could only describe as a torture device intentionally meant to merge the fear of heights with the fantasy of flying without a helmet to project volunteer subjects down a track at 60 miles per hour for two and a half minutes while G-forces punch you in the gut at what I assume are intentionally engineered points of suffering (I know because they put a camera at one of them and tried to sell me a picture of my own face looking like I swallowed a lemon). Because it was part of a church youth group activity for which I was a volunteer leader, I considered enduring those rides as a part of my Christian duty (though the idea of telling Jesus this was meant to glorify him conjures the image of him bursting out laughing at me). After the ride would come to a slow stop, I would find my shaky legs, and the adrenaline in my veins would thin out as I processed both exhilaration and relief. And then, three dreaded words would always be spoken by SOMEONE in my group: “Let’s go again!”

Roller coasters are meant to be fun. You are supposed to know you are safe, even if you forget. But not all roller coasters are voluntary.

As I approach the third Easter since the pandemic began (possibly the first Easter worship several of us will have in-person since Spring 2019!), I feel like I am coming off the worst roller coaster ride of my life, but instead of three minutes, it’s been two years. I feel beat up from taking so many punches from the ups and downs of the pandemic: hospitalizations rising and falling, restrictions tightening and then relaxing and tightening again, vaccine effectiveness climbing and waning and needing boosting, new variants emerging and passing—hope rising and falling. My footing feels shaky as if I have forgotten how to walk in public. For too long we’ve been strapped in and screaming, never really sure if we’ve actually been connected to the tracks. And, like the worst, most horrifying roller coaster incidents, people have died, and in numbers so large they are difficult to fathom, but with names and faces, we will never forget. We are at a point where WE JUST WANT TO GET OFF THIS RIDE.

What makes this point in the pandemic roller coaster particularly hard is how much has happened around us while we’ve been tied down. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color. We continue to see troubling assaults on our democracy, meant to disconnect us and our voice from the body of the larger community. We have seen a brazen rise of authoritarianism, blasphemously blessed in the name of Christ, both abroad and at home, with battlefields waging from the streets of Ukraine to local school board elections, and from the discrimination of children in sports to legislation over women’s bodies. In the air is a sense of helplessness, a struggle for control, and a fear of losing time. This has poured into our local church contexts in a variety of ways: as proxy battles in ongoing culture wars, as burdens of grief we secretly carry, as demands we make on others (and ourselves). Deep down, we want to unbuckle and be free, while also being kind of tired and cranky at the same time.

This is the kind of Holy Week I am coming into in 2022. Our experience of suffering may find a clear mirror this year in the story of the cross.

Yet, against all of this despair, the community of faith has taught me to have hope. Hope that the sun will rise and the tomb will be empty. Hope that our incarnate God is present with us now, just as God has been with us all along.

As I stagger off this current iteration of the roller coaster, I need someone to take my hand. I need to find the signs that show me where to step next. I need to find the restroom and the snack bar then find my scattered people and maybe my car keys. After this traumatic experience of sharing this wild, unsafe ride, we need touchstones of hope.

Here are some touchstones of hope I notice in the Easter story for 2022:

 Hope is in the actions of Joseph of Arimathea, who, after his wealthy contemporary Nicodemus had struggled with a tough lesson from Jesus about his relationship to wealth, was able to use his own status and access in order to secure Jesus’ body from Pilate so that Jesus could be given a more respectable burial that set the stage for the Easter miracle. When I think of the power that privileged people (like me) have to make repair for historic harm, I feel renewed conviction to encourage one another to act in righteousness.

 Hope is in the disarming of the Roman guards, who, at the mere sight of the divine at the Easter tomb, became frozen in powerlessness, their strength ineffective and their spears pointless. When I watch with ongoing horror the war in Ukraine, I remember the hope for God’s intervention that war will cease.

 Hope is in the voice of women on Easter morning, who, while surviving legacies of discrimination and disenfranchisement, are empowered to have the blessed honor of witnessing to the justice of the resurrection on Easter morning (and having earned it by their faithful discipleship!). When I see the celebrations around the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, I see celebrations of that same hope.

Hope is in a stone rolled away, that, a rock too heavy for any one of us to move, can be moved. When I think about the systems of oppression that must be lifted, I see hope that the immovable can be moved, and new ways previously thought sealed can become open. Even for those of us who are unsure of our power to do anything, I am reminded of the haiku by John Paul Lederach: “Don’t ask the mountain / to move, just take a pebble / each time you visit.

What touchstones of hope do we have to share this year with our people? What touchstones of hope do you need to hear?

It’s been a long ride, with lots and ups and downs. As we seek safe ways to unbuckle and get back on our feet, I wish you steadiness. I wish you grace. I wish you rest. I wish you hope.

Blessings on your Holy Week, and have a very Happy Easter!

Ryan
Presbytery Leader, Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery
rlandino@glpby.org / 314-409-9002

2 Comments

  • Posted April 12, 2022 4:48 pm
    by
    Diane McCullough

    Beautifully said! Thank you, Ryan. I find hope in the work of this presbytery and the coming together of people under the banner of love. We are blessed with our pastors and so glad to have you on board, Ryan, acknowledging truth and willing to walk into (even get on the roller coaster) to lead us in hope and love. Have a blessed Holy Week and Easter.

  • Posted April 12, 2022 5:04 pm
    by
    John Goodwin

    Yes!

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