Shaken and Stirred
In September 2008 I came to Colombia on an emergency visit to the humanitarian zones in Curvaradó. I was overwhelmed by the stories I was hearing, and my fears and concerns were far greater than my hope. As others joked during meals or in the car between visits, I could not find a way to laugh and be joyful in the midst of such difficult circumstances. An IPC member on that visit seemed to see I was struggling. He patted my shoulder, smiled and said, “It is hard. I know it is hard. But, in a culture of violence, we choose to live the resurrection.” It was then that I decided I needed to return to Colombia because I had a lot to learn here.
And I was right about that.Colombians are no strangers to death. I guess no one is really, but Colombians as well as any know about death as a weapon rendered by the powerful. You know about death that is meant as a warning sign to rabble rousers; death that is meant to silence; death that is public, humiliating, painful, and unjust. What you also know, however, is that death – even public, humiliating, painful and unjust death (or maybe even especially that) – does not have the last word.
Here we are together on Easter Sunday, as disciples were together so many years ago on this same day. Though Matthew does not speak of it, I imagine that most of the disciples were gathered together in one place (as we are today), but they, unlike us, were in mourning. They, unlike us, did not know what God had done. They, unlike us, believed that the powers-that-be had taken Jesus forever; that Rome had won, that violence had beaten love, and that hope was...pointless. And with reason – they had seen Jesus die, and everyone in the world knows that dead is dead.
Until it isn't...
Two of Jesus' followers were not with the others because they chose to go to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had been following Jesus since his time in Galilee, and they cannot bear to leave him even now. They do not go to the tomb because they expect a miracle. They do not even go to anoint Jesus with spices as is reported in Mark and Luke because the guards Pilate posted outside the tomb would have prevented them from doing so anyway. I think they just went to be near him still. Just because he was dead did not mean their love for him had died. Maybe the guards would just let them touch the big stone that closed his tomb. Maybe the warmth of the sun on that rock would help warm the cold feeling in their hearts. Maybe coming here would help them move on. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
As they walked arm in arm, leaning on one another for strength, silent - or maybe wailing (I don't know) - they felt a tremor.
How many of you have ever been in an earthquake?I have been in only one, 10 years ago, and though it lasted less than a minute, it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. I was in church at the time, and at first I wondered if I had begun to fall asleep because everything around me seemed to look the same and yet different. I knew that I was not moving, but I was moving, and I knew that the walls could not be moving, but they were moving. Everything seemed...wavy...and everything that had seemed so sturdy before now seemed remarkably fragile. There was nothing solid to hold onto, and when it was over we all knew we would never be the same.
Matthew says there was an earthquake that morning, but to be honest, I am not sure there was an actual earthquake. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to mention it, and it happens to provide a nice bookend to the earthquake at Jesus' crucifixion (which he is also the only writer to mention). What I think, is that anyone who has lived through an earthquake would immediately grasp the point that Matthew is trying to make here: when you feel the very earth beneath your feet begin to move, you know that the world can indeed change in an instant, that the former things have passed away and that nothing will ever be the same. And whether or not the earth literally moved that morning, there is no denying that the foundations of the earth were shaken that day.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!It is a claim that inspires both fear and great joy. Clearly there is fear on the part of the guards. Matthew likens them to dead men and notes they too were shaken (and not just due to moving earth). They represent the power players – the ones who had killed Jesus just days before. Once the women and the angel left you know the guards had to have gone in that tomb and looked in every nook and cranny - not only because they would be held responsible but because they know what they saw, and when the tomb was sealed the body was there. They were afraid, and notice that the angel does not tell them not to fear. They are right to be afraid because they are the first ones of the empire to get the message that just because you have the power to make things happen, it does not mean you are right. That just because you have money doesn't mean you can really silence the truth. That just because you think murder is a good solution doesn't mean that God is thwarted because God can take on death and wrench the life right out of it. They too knew the world would never be the same. So while the guards ran back to the city to tell of what they had seen, the women kept their promise and ran to tell the eleven to “get thee to Galilee.” They too were were a little afraid. Afraid it wasn't real after all. Afraid they had somehow imagined seeing him again simply because they wanted to see him so much. But they had touched Jesus. They had taken him by the feet and he had spoken to them. This was a moment of great joy. And now they ran to tell the others. They had work to do. They had to get to Galilee. They had to start over. No, they got to start over! They got to start over! They would start over. They would start over. They would do all the things they had been blubbering about for the past three days.
“Oh if Jesus were still alive, I would pray just like he taught me to. “
- “Oh if Jesus were still alive, I would fish for people.”
- “If Jesus were still alive, I would love my enemy, stop judging others, and do unto others as I would have them do unto me.”
That was then.
This is now.
But the story is the same.Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! That is the good news of this day and every day since the first Easter morning. We all ought to shake. We may not be the power players, but we have done our own share of burying Jesus, or denying him, or simply ignoring him. But not today. Not anymore. We have work to do. We have to start over. We get to start over. WE get to start over! Hallelujah! The question is, how are you going to start over? What does the good news that Jesus is alive and here with us – up from the dead, out of the tomb, raised so that we too might have new life...what does that mean for you? What does it mean for how you will live your life? How are your foundations shaking, and what fear do you need to conquer to get to Galilee and begin again? As you entered this morning, you all received a blank slip of paper, right? Show them to me. Great. Those of you who have a pen or pencil please take it out now, and those of you who do not please look around and see which brother or sister can lend one to you. I want you all to take a moment and with your heart full of the joy that comes from knowing that death could not and cannot contain God nor God's purposes for this world, I want you to write down a promise to yourself and to God. A promise about the way you will start over now that you have seen him anew. What will you do, what do you get to do, now that Jesus has beaten death? Don't worry if you are a little afraid, we probably should be. This many committed Christians could make some serious changes in this city, in Colombia, and in the world. The guards might be trembling even now... I want you to hold onto those slips of paper and bring them up with your offering because that is what it is after all, right? It is an offering to God.
****Back to Curvaradó. As we left one afternoon we were stopped by a soldier at the edge of the humanitarian zone and asked to give our names. As person after person after person said they were pastors or women religious or elders in the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, you could see the young man begin to sweat. He wrote each of our names, but his handwriting became less and less steady. Having stopped us with great confidence, he waved us on without even looking us in the eye. He was, in a word, shaken. And while we were certainly not the resurrected Christ, we were his ambassadors that day. We too came to tell people not to be afraid because they were not alone. We could not (and did not) cure their problems with that visit, but our presence did proclaim that a belief in life and life abundant is stronger than the threat of death. We might be living in a Good Friday world, but we are an Easter people.1 Or as my friend put it, “In a culture of violence, we choose to live the resurrection.” And if we do that, my friends, if we live the resurrection, the world will never be the same.
May it be so.