On a cold January evening, my pastor held a brainstorming session with people from several ministry groups in our congregation. We were to help pull together creative ideas for worship during Lent. She started off with a theme appropriate to the season that prepares us for Easter: growth into new life—the way a plant survives underground as a seed through the dark winter, and emerges and grows in the light of spring.
But the conversation turned a corner. Suddenly we found ourselves talking about trust, and betrayals of trust. The person who shifted the topic said he was struck by great examples of trust during the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry: people trusted in the promise of a Messiah, the disciples followed Jesus into Jerusalem at a time of dangerous politics, the owner of that Palm Sunday colt loaned out a valuable animal on trust. Others responded with examples of betrayal: the disciples fell asleep in the garden, they ran and hid after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied him, the crowd chose Barabbas.
We wondered whether anyone in those stories escaped the guilt of betrayal. The women at the foot of the cross were held up as an example until we remembered the unresolved ending of the Gospel of Mark: Those same women fled from the empty tomb without sharing the news of resurrection.
What about Jesus? Were his words on the cross, “Remove this cup from me,” and “My God, why have you forsaken me?” some kind of betrayal? Or were they agonized pleas from someone facing a gruesome death, who still wanted to live?
Betrayals of trust are in the news every day. #MeToo has brought such betrayals to the fore and demands that we pay attention. Some who say #MeToo were betrayed by friends or family, some by people in positions of power and authority, some by bosses, some by strangers. All have been betrayed by a society that looked the other way, hasn’t insisted on basic standards of human decency, hasn’t wanted to bring to light what’s been going on in the dark.
For me, the abuse of girls on the USA Gymnastics team by Larry Nassar is most heart wrenching. The opportunity to tell their stories and finally be believed, in a court of law, seems to have helped many of them—now young women— begin the process of healing. “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world,” survivor Kyle Stephens said to Nassar at his trial, quoted by Julie DiCaro in the Washington Post.
But now their parents are having to face their own guilt, publicly. They are both betrayed and betrayers. DiCaro writes, “For years, young women reported Nassar’s abuse to parents, police, and school staff members, only to have their reports ignored.” There was a “seemingly endless litany of missed opportunities to stop Nassar and prevent other children from abuse.”
An unrelenting light is being focused on betrayals of trust. Its chief targets may be the Nassars and Weinsteins of the world, who thrive by building structures that take advantage of trust, but in this new reality is anyone truly free of the guilt of betrayal? We may be tempted to take refuge in cynicism. We wonder if #MeToo will fade, or go too far, and nothing will change.
Easter, however, invites us to allow our stories of trust betrayed, experiences of abuse and violence and pain, our guilt, emerge from darkness and heal in the light. Easter invites us into God’s unrelenting love.
When we give praise simply for victory over death, perhaps we put Easter in too small a box. Dare we reimagine our Easter alleluias?
Christ is risen!
He was betrayed, abused, tortured.
- He said, “Remove this cup from me.”
- He said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
- Yet he lives, and we may live too.
Christ is risen indeed!
Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren, and associate editor for Messenger. She also is an ordained minister and a graduate of Bethany Seminary and the University of La Verne, California.