Short answer: everything
Easter is God’s ultimate redemption. We say, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” We sing, “Death where is thy victory, grave where is thy sting?” As K.J. Ramsey recently posted, “God hangs on the hard wood of humanity’s hatred and death becomes a door.” I see this so clearly in the stories of biblical widows. Oh, I can hear the buts coming in now. For someone to be a widow, there had to be a death…and not a death with a resurrection, a bona fide dead and stay dead death. I hear ya. My first Easter after my husband died when we got to the line, “grave where is thy sting” I thought, “it’s right f-ing here, I’m feeling the sting.”
But here’s the thing. Easter isn’t about Jesus’ death. It’s about his resurrection. On Easter, the cross is no longer a symbol of oppression and death-it has been redeemed. Now the cross is our clearest symbol of freedom and love-a love beyond anything we could imagine. My life isn’t about how I have suffered but about how I have healed. The crucifixion was horrific, filled with suffering and agony. That was not the end of the story. Jesus rose again and when he rose, he rose with his scars. What a powerful reminder that this is a God that shares in our suffering and that suffering is not the end. This is what I see in the stories of biblical widows. Their suffering is not the end. Redemption abounds.
In his book Faith Seeking Understanding Daniel Migliore puts it this way, “By his resurrection from the dead, the servant Lord now appears in the radiance of his being. His way of kenosis (emptying) ends not in irredeemable tragedy but in plerosis (fullness), not in heroic death but in fullness of life.” I think of Naomi who left Bethlehem “full” and then returned “empty” after losing her husband and both sons. But even this wasn’t an irredeemable tragedy. Through Naomi’s guidance Ruth, her daughter-in -law and fellow widow ends up marrying Boaz. Life is full again. And do you know who is descended from Ruth and Boaz….David (bet ya thought I was gonna say Jesus-that’s also true but David makes a better transition).
David makes me think of Bathsheba who was thrust into a whole new world of the royal court after her husband was murdered. The Archeological Study Bible makes this note, “David’s sin of adultery and murder was the turning point in his reign. Although his repentance was genuine and God’s forgiveness immediate, his sin still had irreversible consequences.” Many of those consequences extended to Bathsheba and though she is often seen as a passive player in the narrative she makes sure David keeps his promises to her and ensures that her son Solomon becomes the next king. Her rape followed by the murder of her husband were not irredeemable tragedies. You know who else is descended from Bathsheba? Jesus. The apostle’s creed should go, “I believe in Jesus Christ His only son our lord, conceived by the holy spirit, descended from widows, born of the virgin Mary…”
Jesus, descendent of widows, was born. This makes me think of Anna, who once was wife, then a widow, then a prophet. Her husband’s death was not an irredeemable tragedy and she was still able to experience fullness of life. She met the Messiah she had prayed for, the one whose resurrection we celebrate today. Her new life, centered around the temple, gave her access to the one she had been praying for. Anna got to see her greatest hopes realized, she got to hold the answer to her deepest prayers. What fullness of life, what beautiful redemption.
Migliore also states, “The life and death of Jesus is a radiant expression of the eternally self-giving, other-affirming, community-forming love of the triune God.” Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this other-affirming love is in Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. This woman asked deep theological questions and Jesus gave her answers. She went from an outcast of her society to one who brought her whole community to Jesus. This woman was worthy to go and tell. The loss (through death, divorce, or any other means) of her five previous husbands was not an irredeemable tragedy. Jesus sees her, Jesus affirms her and she is utterly transformed by that experience. This transformation brings her to action and a new community of believers is created.
You know who else shows self-giving, other-affirming, community-forming love? It’s Dorcas (aka Tabitha). Out of her own resources, Dorcas created a thriving community of widows. She saw to their needs, cared for them, and bound them together in a loving community. Dorcas was also raised from the dead and I have to believe she was changed by that experience. Del Mastro describes it this way (imagine this is Dorcas speaking about God), “He showed me how much He loves me-can’t explain how. He just did-and told me everything I was, every breath I drew, every single minute could have been a receiving of his love and a returning of it to Him, in what I did, directly and by way of the people around me. He showed me the people and I could SEE Him in them. See him in need, see him loving me-and told I could have all that love if I had only been listening and watching for it!”
That is what the cross does for us, and that is what I will be celebrating this Easter. A love that will never let death be the end of the story. A love that will not let you suffer alone. A love that refuses to let loss have the final say. A love that redeems.