The best and worst thing that ever happened to me was coming out. I desperately wanted it not to be true. I was in my early 20s, on my way to becoming a priest in the Anglican Church. So many of my expectations and assumptions about what my life would be — what it should be — were undermined by the dawning awareness that I am lesbian. By far the hardest part — even harder than telling my family and facing their reactions — was my decision to leave the church. How could I stay and answer the call to ministry, when to do so would mean lying about who I am?
It felt like dying to be cut off from the spiritual connection I had always found in the church. And, it also felt like I could finally breathe. For the first time, my internal life made sense to me. I had names for my feelings, and I stopped being afraid of them. It was a confusing, tumultuous, emotionally exhausting time. I was both scared and elated, devastated and liberated. And for a while I lost myself.
Realizing I’m gay was like discovering the solid ground I thought I was standing on was no longer there. Like the cartoon character who suddenly realizes she is running in mid-air, the discovery caused me to fall — hard. I credit that fall with saving my life. It taught me compassion and humility. It taught me dependence on God. Everything I have today that is worth having has come to me as a result of that fall.
When people ask me if I believe in resurrection, I tell them it’s not really a matter of believing or not believing. It’s a matter of experiencing. Resurrection is something we go through, something that happens to us.
And it changes us, but only if we are willing to risk it. We always have the choice to say “no” to resurrection — a more tempting option than it may seem.
Being raised to new life only follows the death of what we have known, what we have been, our sense of self, our dreams, our assumptions about how life works. It is painful, difficult, unwanted. It can be devastating.
Yet only those who have experienced so profound a death can know something of the power of resurrection. It’s not that we are brought back from death to return to our former life — that life is over. Rather than undo death, resurrection overcomes it. Its power transforms us from death to new life, one that we have not ever known before. In resurrection, we are made new by the grace of God. That is awesome!
Those who choose to risk resurrection are saying “yes” to being deeply, radically and fundamentally changed. It is a new beginning in unfamiliar territory.
Perhaps strangest of all, resurrection seems to be contagious. Note the transformation that begins to take place in the lives of the disciples when they come in contact with the resurrected Christ. Those whose hope had vanished, whose vision had collapsed, who were bound by fear and despair emerge from this death-like state with new courage, new hope and a profound new vision of their role in bringing God’s realm of justice on earth.
Will we, as disciples of Jesus in our day, dare to risk resurrection too? The revelation of the history of Indian Residential Schools in Canada and our church’s role in them struck a death-blow to our identity as a church and as a nation. We are not what we thought we were. Nor can we go back to a place of innocence or ignorance. We could choose to remain trapped in our feelings of shame, grief and hopelessness. Or we could say “Yes!” to resurrection.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has opened a window in history and invited us to step through into a new relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada, based on equality, mutuality, respect and trust. Climbing through that window means shaking off the paralysis of denial and guilt, and undertaking the hard work of reconciliation and relationship-building. It won’t be easy; but it will be worth it.
The experience of resurrection, whether personal or collective, is both terrifying and profoundly life-giving. The process I went through, though agonizing, has made my life more authentic and fulfilling than I ever could have imagined possible. Together, may we dare to be made new — as individuals, as a church and as a nation — for we are, after all, an Easter people.
Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell is the 42nd Moderator of The United Church of Canada.