Rev’d Dr Jane Foulcher reflects on the meaning of Easter in the midst of trauma
What can Easter mean in the midst of a pandemic, in a fire-wasted, flood-ravaged land, when our wounds and our wounding are foremost in our minds?
Certainly, there can be no triumphant claim to victory.
While our nation has fared better than most in the pandemic, our communities are living with multiple layers of brokenness and pain. For many, the consequences of drought and fire are not over and done with, and now we add flood damage. Domestic violence has increased, with pandemic conditions making it even harder for victims to escape dangerous situations. Mental health struggles abound. Women, wounded by centuries of patriarchy, have had enough and are speaking their pain.
In something akin to a metaphor for the past year, roofs around St Mark’s in Canberra are still under repair from a destructive hailstorm more than a year ago. The gum tree outside my office is pocked with the imprint of hailstones. Repair takes time. Scars remain.
Over recent years theologians have been engaging with developments in thinking about trauma. Judith Herman’s seminal 1992 book, Trauma and Recovery, helped us to understand similarities in the experiences of those who have survived traumatic events – events that threaten one’s life or body, or bring one into close encounter with violence or death. Contemporary neuroscience has helped us understand their lasting impact on cognition, memory, emotion and body systems. The traumatic event is not neatly packed away in the past, it continues to inhabit, even “haunt”, the present, so that the survivor inhabits unsettled space.
In Spirit and Trauma, theologian Shelly Rambo conceptualises this space as a middle space, akin to Holy Saturday: there is no simple or inevitable movement from crucifixion to resurrection, from death to life. Instead, she suggests, trauma challenges us to attend to the work of the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) in this messier, unsettled space.
It is worth holding this in mind as we celebrate Easter 2021. Not surprisingly really, the deep tradition that we inhabit as Christians resources us well here. When the resurrected Jesus appears to Thomas, it is a wounded and risen Christ that he encounters (John 20:24-29). The trauma remains. (See Rambo’s Resurrecting Wounds for more.)
In the orthodox icon of the resurrection, the Anastasis, we see the hopeful image of the risen Christ drawing humanity, Eve and Adam, from the destructive power of hell into Resurrection light. “This is the will of him who sent me,” Jesus said to his disciples, “that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39). No triumphalism here, but a gathering of up all that is broken, wounded, scarred, into the abundant, transforming life of God.
This Easter, may we say “Yes” to God’s longing to draw us out of all the hells we have created and to walking in the way of the risen Christ.