If your experience in active ministry is anything like my experience in active ministry, then I am willing to bet you receive a lot of emails too. It’s tempting to delete the ones that look unnecessary and word-heavy - like newsletters and electronic bulletins - but sometimes the Holy Spirit just won't let you defer to that little trash can symbol. Yesterday the Holy Spirit got me with an Easter message from Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference. The Holy Spirit was like, “You should read this,” and I was like, “Fine.”
The whole reflection was beautiful, of course, but I am hooked on one pivotal statement which is already breathing new life into my Easter. Sister Roberta wrote, “Why was the stone rolled back? Some say it was rolled back not so Jesus could get out, but so we could get in and be assured that the tomb of death will remain empty forever.” Different parts of that excerpt may stand out to different people; the whole concept might be knocking your socks off right now; or maybe you already had this awareness and it’s nothing new. For me, I was taken back to a drawing I did at Christmastime.
I’m no professional artist. I can’t just pick up some brushes and say, “This is what I’m going to paint today.” I have to be patient and wait for something to develop. The day I drew this image, it was like my hands had suddenly discovered a magnetic force linking them to my watercolor pencils, so I picked them up and started drawing. This was the result, and I titled it “Shame”.
In reading Sister Roberta’s words again, the phrase “so we could get in and be assured” made me realize that some will not go in. Some will not be assured. Originally I thought my Christmas drawing had simply portrayed an individual unwilling to respond to God’s beckoning. Now I see it as the empty tomb from which Jesus rose, with God’s light and love inviting us in to be assured, and to be confident of Jesus’ sacrifice and victory for us. Still, some will not be assured.
Like the title of my drawing, perhaps it is shame that holds people back. Maybe it’s the inability to forgive, or ask for forgiveness; or maybe it’s a resistance to slowing down and spending time with Jesus. Whatever it is, each of us will have to battle something in order to enter that tomb and be assured. While you might theologically know that Jesus died and rose again out of love for you, what keeps you standing outside of the tomb? What has you questioning that love?
The last time I spoke with my spiritual director, she reminded me that negative self-talk is never of God. It’s a temptation from the devil to see ourselves as unworthy. I struggle with negative self-talk for a variety of reasons, but one in particular is my drive for perfection. It’s not that I truly think I can be perfect, or that I want people to think more highly of me; it’s actually out of fear. I’m afraid that if I’m not perfect, I won’t be enough. I won’t be worthy. That’s what keeps me outside of the tomb more than anything else. The fear of being a failure.
Let us not stand outside of the tomb, sisters. Each of us will be tempted to, but while we question our worthiness, Jesus does not. Jesus gave His life to tell us just how worthy we are - so let’s remind each other of that this Easter, because there are a lot of people standing on the outside and they’re going to need others who can welcome them in.