From resistance to resurrection

  • by Jim Mitulski
  • Wednesday April 12, 2017
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Easter has a different feel for me this year – politically and personally. President Donald Trump's election has unleashed a death-dealing force that must be countered head-on with the kind of resistance that leads to resurrection. Resurrection power is capable of overwhelming death. The crucified Jesus lives it in the Easter story – when that stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty. Love and life have the final word.

Crucifixion abounds in the world right now: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison is in a hurry to execute eight people on death row before the end of the month, before the fatal injection drug the state uses expires and he can't get more. Days ago, Trump pulled the trigger on Tomahawk missiles without a strategy for peacemaking. And ISIS uses chemical weapons on the battlefield in Syria and on Coptic Christians gathered in church in Egypt. We need to see the power of love that is stronger than death, to feel it in our own bodies, and see it expressed in the world around us. That's resurrection – and it starts with resistance.

Jesus resisted. He resisted prejudice within himself when he spoke to women in public and to Samaritans, people of a different culture and religion. He resisted privilege when he challenged his own family and the religious authorities he had grown up with. He resisted antiquated customs and he ultimately resisted death. When we celebrate Easter and resurrection, we celebrate resistance.

I learned the meaning of Easter in San Francisco. I found comfort in reciting the words of Jesus – "I am the Resurrection and the Life" – at the funerals of hundreds of people when I was the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in the Castro throughout the 1980s and 1990s. I've been present at the death of so many people and each time I am convinced death is "change" and not "end." And when we used to sing the old gospel hymn "When We All Get to Heaven" at funerals, it made me cry because I knew the most important word was "All" – it's either all of us or none of us; it is true, and I believe it's true.

I also learned this powerful truth about resurrection: it happens when we stand up for ourselves, when we stand up for our dignity and pride, and when we stand together in solidarity. I was delighted with the title of Cleve Jones' new memoir "When We Rise" because it captures that nuance of resurrection that is both in the present and in the future. I so enjoyed watching the TV miniseries because it stirred so many memories. It was like an early Easter present. In fact, "We are Rising" became the title of a sermon I preached recently at MCC-San Francisco.

Some of my favorite Easter resistance-resurrection memories took place in San Francisco:

Like the years we took over the gray concrete cross on top of Mount Davidson and bathed it in rainbow colors, creating the biggest piece of queer Christian art in the world: a huge rainbow cross over the skies of San Francisco that promised a change in the AIDS epidemic. As protease medications took hold and our friends ceased dying in large numbers, this act of resistance was a victory of life over death we celebrated with vigor.

These were the years the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence fought the Archdiocese of San Francisco to gain a legal street permit to celebrate their 20th anniversary on Castro Street. Archbishop William Levada insisted it was an insult to the church to grant this permit, but we stood together and resisted this act of bullying. Levada was disdainful of our people but we successfully overcame his objections, marking a turning point in religion's ability to dictate public policy on this issue and on the human rights ordinance as well.

This was the time when former California Attorney General Dan Lungren closed down the marijuana dispensaries, leaving our friends with HIV few remedies for comfort or treatment. During the period when the cocktail was just being tested and refined, we resisted, strategically distributing medical marijuana through churches and other outlets in defiance of the law, and provided relief to those who needed it. And ultimately, we successfully got the laws changed.

We knew then that our strength lay in our resistance. Now it's time to tap into our resistance again if we want to experience resurrection in ongoing sustainable way, and not just treat it like a period piece.

Since Trump's election and with the executive orders he has instituted, increasing stigma is being attached to being a Muslim. As gay people, we know what it feels like to be the subject of scapegoating. Our immigrant and undocumented friends and neighbors are living daily with increased harassment and Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity. I remember when it was a source of pride to us when San Francisco, in general, and the Castro, in particular, became a sanctuary for people who came without documents from all around the world, fleeing family persecution and seeking treatment for HIV and refuge in the final year or two of their lives. Now is the time to join the Resistance. A proud community survived – allies and friends and those who came after have an obligation to make resurrection possible for others.

I am an HIV survivor – I don't know how but I am. On Easter I give thanks for being alive, that I resisted death somehow, through luck, faith, the love of my friends, and the support of community. This year I became a cancer survivor, too. Not as serious as some forms, but serious enough, and I know I was helped because I know how to resist. I had sworn to myself that I had not survived in order to be a bystander and watch others be crucified by the policies of the Trump administration. When I saw that the Contra Costa Sherriff David Livingston is cooperating with ICE to arrest undocumented working people I thought, "No, this calls for resistance." When state Representative Michelle DuBois (D) here in Massachusetts where I now live warned her undocumented constituents of possible ICE activity in her town of Brockton and to stay indoors to avoid entrapment, I thought, "God, give me her courage – embolden me to be a resister like her."

Easter is the story of a constantly renewing miracle of resistance, rebirth, rebellion, renewal, revolution. And this year, resurrection is about reclaiming the past victories in order to inspire new miracles in the present. The ancient Easter liturgy calls on us to affirm that "that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new."

Make Easter real for you. Find some place to proclaim out loud – in a church or somewhere spiritual for you – your gratitude for the gift of your life. And join the Resistance that leads to Resurrection. We need you! Because "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding!" (1 Corinthians 15:54-58.)

Because love and life have the final word.


Jim Mitulski is the interim senior minister of the Congregational Church of Needham UCC in Needham, Massachusetts and was the pastor of MCC and UCC churches in the San Francisco area for 25 years. To contact him, email [email protected] or follow @revmitulski on Twitter and Instagram.