Guest Opinion: Reclaiming the Resurrection

  • by Jim Mitulski
  • Wednesday April 5, 2023
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The Reverend Jim Mitulski. Photo: Jim Mitulski
The Reverend Jim Mitulski. Photo: Jim Mitulski

"After the winter snows,

a wind of healing blows

and thorns put forth a rose

and lilies cheer us.

Life's everlasting spring

has robbed death of its sting.

Henceforth, a cry shall bring

our Master near us"

— from "Easter" by John Masefield (1929)

There is nothing like spending two winters in Duluth, Minnesota to make one appreciate the San Francisco Bay Area and all that it has to offer. I recently returned here after serving in an interim position at the largest and most progressive church in Northern Minnesota. I loved the job. The church embodied everything that is hopeful about what a religious institution can do to be a force for liberation in society. And I loved the people and their hospitality. Even their wry sense of humor grew on me over time.

I found real community in the small LGBTQ population that hosted an annual Pride Day on Labor Day weekend. I was active in the NAACP, an especially important organization in the struggle for racial justice. And I was impressed by how committed so many people who live there are to a variety of social justice issues, especially environmental causes. Indigenous Peoples' Day, the pro-choice rallies, and the Juneteenth celebration in which I participated are just a few of the ways that testify to how a community like Duluth can express itself in intersectional ways. I learned a lot while I was there, from them, and also about myself. I learned that though I had grown up in Michigan I just can't endure sustained subzero weather and endless snowfall.

When anyone who has ever lived or worked in the Bay Area relocates, they bring a gift, one that we have developed internally as a result of living in this beautiful place where the hard-won level of LGBTQ acceptance changes us. San Francisco queerness is irrepressible. In modeling resistance to oppression, we changed history here. And we survived HIV/AIDS in a way that proved useful when the world faced a new, though slightly different, epidemic in COVID. Our resilience and creativity and even the medical knowledge garnered through the AIDS years are invaluable resources. And the agency we exhibited in facing end-of-life issues is being validated in legislation that gives people far more legal choice when it comes to navigating terminal illness. Now the world is able to receive this knowledge in a way they would not have 40 years ago.

This Easter I invite you to join me in reclaiming the Resurrection. When I was in Duluth for my first winter I was embarrassed by how much my language and understanding of Easter was tied to conventional concepts of spring. I had always in my preaching made much of how new life and new beginnings were reflected in the natural world at this time of year. But living on the shores of Lake Superior and its five-month winter there is no evidence of spring there at Easter time. It forced me to redefine Easter from a shallow kind of spring festival and to really examine the many ways in which I saw resurrection — life before death as well as life after death. If we can broaden the definitions, we can experience it more fully. If we can detach it from negative experiences of church we can see resurrection as a commitment on a daily basis to live life fully, and to make sure that everyone has the same opportunities to do the same. To believe in resurrection is to believe that change is always possible.

In my tradition, the principal story we tell at this time of year is how Jesus proclaimed love and non-violent resistance and started a movement that began in reform and culminated in revolution. And he embodied a quality of love that was stronger than death, and we call that Resurrection. We need to muster that power today, to queer it in the service of liberation.

Twenty-five years ago, reclaiming resurrection meant renouncing the homophobia of religious institutions that promoted stigma against people with HIV and that sought to legislate as law their limited views on sexuality. This is still an important task. Resurrection power can also help us construct a new society that is free from white supremacy. Reparations can be another definition of resurrection. There is a real conversation now in San Francisco, and throughout California, in a way that has not been true in the past about a variety of ways that reparations could be distributed.

My best memories of Easter are still the ones from when I was pastor of the historically LGBTQ Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco in the Castro district. In the midst of AIDS, that community celebrated resurrection, along with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, on Castro Street, and the church on Eureka Street. We did not let our seemingly limitless grief, our mourning, or the political challenges that we faced overcome us. A favorite Easter song was from our own canon of sacred music, as sung by Bette Midler in "The Rose:"

"Just remember in the winter

far beneath the bitter snows.

Life's the seed that with the sun's love

In the spring becomes the rose."

That was never included in any church hymnal, but it still speaks to me. Let this Easter give full expression to an ever-expanding notion of resurrections, one that includes resilience, resistance, revolution, reparations, and reconciliation. Happy Resurrection Day!

The Reverend Jim Mitulski is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Belmont, California.

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