Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 16, 2017
Matthew 28: 1-10
1-4 After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.
5-6 The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.
7 “Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”
8-10 The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”
First off, it’s good to be here with you this morning. A few days ago I had a dream that I went to the Easter service at a different church and sat in the congregation before realizing in the middle, I’m supposed to be here today! And preach! I frantically went through a list of any excuse I could come up with for why I hadn’t shown up. This was all very real, but eventually I realized I was dreaming. Yet, I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of it. And the morning after I felt worn out. Have you ever had dreams like that?
On 11/9 we all woke up and prayed that the news was simply a nightmare. It had to be a dream. I mean, we hadn’t really chosen a vision of our country in which sexual assault is funny. Or that rounding up immigrants was appealing. Walls, bans… that even banning little children from Syria felt like a good thing, the right thing to do. You remember the promises. But it must, we all thought, be a dream.
Rob Calabrese woke up one morning with an idea. He created a website encouraging people to move to Cape Breton Island off the east coast of Canada – a place where he promised the only walls are those “holding up the roofs on extremely affordable houses.” He wasn’t really serious. But within 24 hours, he had received 80 inquiries. Within a week, 2,000. Number 2,121 was from a former US Marine who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. Among the inquirers were a molecular biologist, a university professor, contractors, a granite construction worker. Number 4,635 was a couple from Loveland – an attorney and a paralegal. “We don’t know what else to do.”
Alas, many of us are feeling similarly unsure, and worn out. I can feel people slowly disengaging from the struggle for an open, inclusive, just and compassionate world. Have your noticed it too – even in yourself? Giving up. Waiting it out. Of course, some cannot disengage. Fatigued victims kept awake by the constant fear of being rounded up and thrown out – with or without their children. Others who are victims of bloviating bluster, bombings, and beatings.
When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary woke up the morning after the Sabbath I can’t imagine they had actually slept, and if they had, they would only have had nightmares replaying over and over the gruesome images of Jesus being nailed to a tree and hung for public view – a method used by Rome to send a message. Not unlike the purpose for a lynching. Crucifixion was an especially cruel and effective slow motion billboard to any other agitating prophets and preachers and their followers. The disciples of Jesus got the message loud and clear. They were huddled together behind locked doors.
That is, all of Jesus’ disciples except two – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Or all but three disciples, as Mark’s Gospel adds Salome to the Marys. Luke says the third woman was Joanna, plus a whole group of “other women.” In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb alone.
But whoever and whatever the number, women marched to the tomb in grief and rebellion against Rome’s order to stay away. A small determined group of women disobeyed orders and headed to the tomb, ready to resist whatever the soldiers guarding the tomb might do to them.
And to me, that represents the faithful response to crucifixion. Not to hide behind locked doors but to wake up and walk out in bold disobedience. Defiance.
Not unlike Gloria Richardson. Have you heard of her? She was a civil rights leader in 1963 in Cambridge, Maryland – one of very few women allowed to lead. There is an iconic picture of her. A soldier is pointing a bayonet at Gloria and she simply pushes it away with an annoyed look on her face. A defiant “girl, please” as she pushed the weapon away and kept marching.
Or I think of the women who led a rebellion on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. When the men couldn’t make a decision that would come to trigger Wounded Knee 2 in 1973, women stood up and said, “We have to do this.”
It was three women responding to the death of yet another Black man by police who inspired a whole new generation of activists by simply saying Black Lives Matter.
And the resistance of the last 87 days. Axios reported this week that the largest number of people organizing, making calls and showing up are middle aged women. And they have had an impact. They are making a difference.
It makes me think of the trio of events in Seneca Falls, Stonewall and Selma. Like the women who gathered in Seneca Falls demanding to vote; like the black and Latinx drag queens and others fed up with brutality finally fighting back at Stonewall; ordinary women, like Annie Lee Cooper, and all the others who crossed the bridge in Selma and walked into a waiting mob, the response to crucifixion is not to cower behind locked doors, keeping our heads under the pillows, praying it’s only a nightmare. The response then and to crucifixions still happening today, such as
Blake Chambliss shared an article that describes “the emergence of a culture of cruelty in our country. Inhuman policies that treat the most vulnerable with contempt, forcing them to inhabit a society increasingly indifferent to human suffering.” A culture of cruelty promoted from the biggest bully pulpit of our land, encouraged with demands “get them out of here.” Lock more people up, dump 24 million people off health care, throw school lunches in the trash for the children of parents who cannot pay or fall behind. “A culture of cruelty has become the mood of our times.” Even the defense of dragging passengers off planes, until enough people said “that’s enough.”
The response to all these crucifixions and more is to act like Mary and Mary and all the other women who woke up and walked out toward waiting soldiers.
This is the spirit of Easter. This is the meaning of resurrection. Defiance. Not bunny rabbits and pretty dresses but defiance in the face of death. In the face of cruelty.
It was God’s response to crucifixion. To those who wished to silence Jesus: You kill him. I’ll raise him. God’s actions were meant to “defeat and deny the powers responsible for his death.” Resurrection was the means of God’s defiance. And so, in response, what else could we do as God’s people, followers of Christ?
But lest we think defiance is only standing in a protest line or joining a picket, we can wake up and practice acts of defiance every day. Willie James Jennings said “joy is a defiant act of resistance.” What a great line. At a time like this, “joy is a defiant act of resistance against forces [that would keep us trapped in nightmares] of despair.”
Defiant joy. Seeking out acts of treasonous love. You know, love those you are told not to love.
In the spirit of Easter defiance, we can lead an insurrection of compassion for those who “do not deserve it, for those who have not ‘earned’ it.”
With resurrection power, we can inspire some seditious gentleness among people with whom we violently disagree. We can demand a mutiny of civility.
In the face of boldly cruel, public crucifixions meant to intimate us away from action, to tire us out, to wear us out, to deprive us of hope and keep us trapped in fear… wake up! And be defiantly joyful. Rebelliously hopeful. Persistently unwilling to give up.
Like the Beatitudes say, prophets and witnesses like you and me who get into trouble and raise holy hell are blessed. Rejoice and be glad, Jesus said, for great is your reward in heaven. But as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, on earth, as it is in heaven. Not for the sake of some future reward but the reward of justice for those being crucified today, here and now.
Wake up. We are not trapped in a nightmare because we can do something. We can get up and join the women and march to the tombs of the victims of cruelty today. God’s response to those who want to deal in death was defiance by means of resurrection. You and I can use whatever gifts and graces God gave us to join that resurrection force for joy, gentleness, and justice.
One: Where hatred roars, we will sing of love.
All: Where fear stalks, we will stand with courage.
One: Where bigotry rages, we will call for justice.
All: Where pain overwhelms, we will extend comfort.
One: Where systems oppress, we will work for change.
All: Now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.
One: Because God has the last word. Christ is Risen.
All: Christ is Risen Indeed!
 Read her oral history in the compilation Generations on Fire https://books.google.com/books?id=DHoMjWXfe2AC&pg=PT73&lpg=PT73&dq=Generation+on+Fire:+Voices+of+Protest+from+the+1960s,+An+Oral+History+gloria+richardson&source=bl&ots=YcNIU3hljQ&sig=nkcLK3ozXlnBs67wpwohSLss4tg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjF6sDhhqLTAhVi0YMKHR9KAooQ6AEIQTAI#v=onepage&q=Generation%20on%20Fire%3A%20Voices%20of%20Protest%20from%20the%201960s%2C%20An%20Oral%20History%20gloria%20richardson&f=false
 This idea was first inspired to me by an article “The resurrection isn’t an argument. It’s the Christian word for defiance” by Giles Fraser in The Guardian, March 31, 2016
 Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan
 Inspired by a prayer by Carol White