Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 4, 2021
“Life After Crucifixion”
John 20: 14-18 – New Revised Standard Version
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[a] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her..
At a recent Lunch and Lectionary, Susan told a story that one year she visited a large church in Houston for Easter. She sat next to a friendly woman and her 6-year-old son. The boy had a remarkably good singing voice and sang each hymn with gusto, even if he didn’t exactly know all the words. When they sang “Up from the Grave He Arose,” instead of “with a mighty triumph o’er his foes,” when Jesus came up from the grave, he arose “with a lot of dirt between his toes.”
And you know what, theologically, that is a much more sound teaching. Jesus’ life had much less to do with any kind of triumph, except for love, than walking alongside suffering humanity, in the dirt, muck, and mud of our lives. Indeed, Jesus would have had very dirty toes. And that’s true both in his life as well as in his resurrection. How do we know? The scars on his back and the nail wounds in his hands and feet were not healed during his time in the tomb. When he emerged, he still had the marks of violence against him. He even offered to show them to his skeptical disciples. But even though Jesus was still marked by the violence against him, violence did not have the final say. Violence did not and does not have the final say. There is life after crucifixion.
And yet, given the amount of violence in our world today, that’s almost as hard to believe as “up from the grave he arose.” As the Apostle’s Creed says, Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried.” We get that. Since last Easter, 550,000 people have died of Covid 19. And except for a nurse and Jesus in every room, most of them died alone. Each person had a name, starting with Stephen Schwartz in Seattle.
We are surrounded by Good Fridays. In 2020 alone, the crucifixions of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, and Breonna Taylor and way too many more with names we’ve never heard. Boulder has now been added to the long list of cities known for their mass shootings, among their names Officer Eric Talley and Suzanne Fountain. Some Americans are only now coming to understand, or even believe, the centuries-long Good Fridays of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Among their names in Atlanta: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Yong Ae Yue, and Suncha Kim.
As the hashtag says, we #saytheirname because we see the power in the example of Jesus himself. When Jesus said “Mary,” when he said her name outside the tomb, she recognized him. And then, what did he say? Jesus told her, “Don’t hold me back.” From there, she began to spread the good news, that there is life after crucifixion.
Yes, we know Good Friday all too well. Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. That, we certainly understand. But, “on the third day he rose again?” Of that we may not be quite so certain and struggle to wrap around our brains.
However, curiously, more people come to Easter morning worship than any other Sunday of the year. To hear a message about a concept many people find at best implausible. Or just impossible. What explains our desire to hear Christ is Risen on Easter year after year? I don’t think it’s just tradition. There’s something deeper inside that wants to hear those words and more, for example:
Bryan Stevenson has spent his life working with men, women, and children on death row. Some were unjustly accused, aided by manufactured false witness. But some did their truly heinous crimes. And of them, Bryan says, “we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” If I’m being honest, that feels almost as implausible to say as Christ is Risen, but there is more to life than crucifixion. And there is life after crucifixion.
I have a yellow sticky note on my desk with a quote. I heard it on a webinar and quickly jotted it down. “Your best hopes are as likely to come true as your worst fears.” Something about that statement in the context of our global pandemics of racism and the coronavirus struck a chord. Perhaps it too is implausible, but I really want to believe this: “Our best hopes really are just as likely to come true as our worst fears.”
Or is that just wild-eyed optimism? Is that just the white male privilege of someone for whom things have generally worked out?
I don’t want to just offer a bunch of quotes, but I do want to share one more by a Unitarian minister in the 1850s named Theodore Parker. Parker was an abolitionist dedicated to ending the enslavement of human beings and died just before the Civil War. He said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; [but] I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
We know this quote more simply as the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe bends long, but it bends toward justice.” Today is not only Easter but the anniversary of his assassination. April 4, 1968.
Dr. King used this quote many times. It too is something I both believe and something I want to believe, but at times, am not so sure. “The arc of the moral universe bends long, but it bends toward justice.” Clearly Dr. King knew it is not inevitable and requires faith. He didn’t simply quote it as an optimist. He was in the midst of and scarred by a dirty, violent battle for the soul of America that still rages today.
In that battle, he was always grounded and guided by his faith in the crucified risen Christ. As well, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King said, “I have an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of [human]mankind.” Such faith gives us courage. “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born."
The Dr. King scarred by violence was not naive. But somehow, he always believed in an America that was better than the one in which he lived – not because of inevitability, but because of faith. A real faith that knows real pain. Pain like Good Friday crucifixions and Holy Saturdays full of waiting:
But, remember, on the third day, Jesus told Mary, “Don’t hold me back.” Go and tell everyone that there is life after crucifixion. And so that’s why:
Then, unburdened by mere intellectual assent, we can put that truth into action, alongside the Jesus who when he came up from the grave, arose “with a lot of dirt between his toes.”
In his life and in his resurrection, Jesus didn’t invite us to merely believe but he invited us to get dirty walking through the muck and mud of Good Friday crucifixions alongside suffering humanity. And wait with one another through Holy Saturdays of fear and anxiety. Only then, in life after crucifixion, is our belief transformed into rejoicing that Christ is Risen. Only then is Christ Risen Indeed!
I love being the