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Easter in a Good Friday World
From Broken-Hearted to Brave-Hearted
By George E. Councell
This article originally appeared in the April - May 2010 Newsletter.
Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.
Easter gives us faith to end hunger. Indeed, the struggle to end hunger is itself an enactment of the Easter proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Feeding hungry people and striving for justice for all people are activities that point to and anticipate the kingdom. Hunger belongs to a Good Friday world of sin, diminishment, and death. Ending hunger is an Easter agenda item, because in the end, Jesus wins, and—even now—Jesus rules.
The Easter story in Luke 24:13-35 offers a portrait of Easter’s impact on a Good Friday world. The lives of two of Jesus’ disciples were changed from being broken-hearted to brave-hearted. The difference? They kept company with Jesus as he broke open the Scriptures and broke the bread. In the Eucharist, we companions of Jesus are likewise strengthened to live with a new script—a script that calls for an end to hunger, a script in which “The End” is the banquet of life.
What does that look like? Consider the story of Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II. In January 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the city’s poorest ward. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
A tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges.
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—$10 or 10 days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. “Here is the $10 fine which I now remit; and furthermore, I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom 50 cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her grandchildren, 50 cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some 70 petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York city policemen, each of whom had just paid 50 cents, gave the mayor a standing ovation. (Story told by Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel.)
We, who have been given grace to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread, have a new script: to make Christ known in the breaking of bread for those who hunger. We cannot break bread at the altar of the Lord and not strive for justice for poor and hungry people. We cannot celebrate Easter and make peace with a Good Friday world. We cannot live our faith that Jesus is Lord and not be charged with turning the world upside down. May we be found guilty of that and many other apostolic acts, for Jesus’ sake.
The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey.