April 12, 2020


Practicing Resurrection

Preacher:
Passage: Matthew 28: 1-10

Synopsis: This time of social distancing reminds us that love and social connection matter more than anything else in life. The resulting loneliness, fear, and uncertainty forces us to reconsider the preexisting barriers that isolate us. The story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who encountered Jesus when they visited his tomb on that first Easter morning, are a study in the solidarity between these two women as well as their ability to stay alert and engaged despite great tragedy. Through them, we’re able to see the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of community. 

 

This time of social distancing is a stark reminder that we’re social creatures who need each other. It reminds me of the song “I Am a Rock,” by Simon and Garfunkel that was popular in my youth. It resonated with me as a socially insecure teenager. I can still hear the lyrics:

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock, I am an island
And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries

Peter Marty, the editor of the Christian Century, claims that human relationships are our most precious natural resource. He comments, “I’m convinced that love and social connection matter more than anything else in life.”[1] During a time of crisis we instinctively seek to draw closer together and tighten our bonds with family and friends. But, as he observes:

What makes the coronavirus pandemic such a different situation . . . is that we’re actually being asked to push away from one another. Social distancing requirements physically separate people, just as quarantine measures isolate them. Both deliver stress to the very social connections we depend on.[2]

The resulting loneliness, fear and uncertainty cause us to reconsider the preexisting barriers that isolate us. We recognize the lie in the lyrics of that Simon and Garfunkel song. None of us is a rock that feels no pain or an island that never cries. Being such a rock or island is to be wrapped in a much more excruciating pain than the suffering that accompanies loving others.

Let’s relate this to the resurrection story in the Gospel of Mathew. It’s fitting that women have such a prominent place. In John’s telling of the story, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb alone but in Matthew’s version she’s accompanied by the other Mary. I like the image of such solidarity between women. They stay alert even when they’re overwhelmed with grief.

They’re the ones who go to the tomb and notice that the stone is rolled away. And they’re the first to meet their risen Lord. This is especially remarkable because of the low status of women in the ancient world. And yet the risen Jesus chose to first reveal himself to women and then commission them to go tell the other disciples. They’re the ones who stay alert and engaged.

What about us? How do we cope? Last week I participated in a Zoom conference call with Lonnie Yoder, the retired professor of pastoral counseling at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He said that we tend not to function at our best during a time like this. We will therefore want to extend lots of grace to others and especially to ourselves.

Lonnie encouraged us to name our loss and recognize our grief. Trying to stuff it and hoping it goes away never works. Find healthy coping strategies. I try to keep my routine in my church office, work in the church garden, take walks, and read books. Lonnie also encouraged us to practice spiritual disciplines and pay attention to rituals. That’s what the two women were doing when they took spices and visited Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning.

Yes it sucks. This isn’t how I anticipated ending my pastorate. But this is minor compare to the stress that others are experiencing. And it’s nothing compared to what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary experienced. My very best friend wasn’t brutally tortured and murdered several days ago. The two women are greeted by an angel who tells them to not be afraid, says that Jesus has risen and is going ahead of them to Galilee.

Galilee is their neighborhood, their home turf, the place of their daily routines. Mary Hinkle Shore makes a connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of community. She then draws out the “implications for the Spirit’s work of gathering and sanctifying the church in our own time and place as a community across differences.”[3]

She notes that nearly all of Jesus’ ministry was spent with people whose lives played out in apparently inconsequential places and events. We might expect this to change on the other side of the resurrection. However, “for the risen Lord, there’s no first century equivalent of a parade through Manhattan . . . or a photo opportunity at the White House.”[4]

The diversity of Galilee of the Gentiles made it a strategic location for launching their mission to the nations. What about us? Fairfax County is our hood, our home turf, even though most of us are not from here. White farmers used to till tobacco fields in our neighborhood with the help of slave labor. Now we’re one of the wealthiest and most diverse regions of our country. We’re a very transient community; people are constantly coming and going—me included.

How do we go about learning to better know our neighborhood, find people of peace, host and be hosted at table, and build a “thick community” of Jesus followers here in this place? Like the women on the first Easter morning, we sense that it involves resurrection even though we don’t quite know what that means.

Like them, we’re afraid yet joyful because grace isn’t cheap—it costs everything. And like them, we know that Jesus goes before us in this strange victory of God. Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, women will lead and show the way. As in this portion of a poem by Wendell Berry:

So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

As we consider what it means to practice resurrection in our neighborhood, we will want to ask ourselves if this will satisfy those two brave women who visited Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning. Those two women who remained alert and committed when all appeared to have been lost.

What are your stories or dreams of how we might practice resurrection here at Daniels Run Peace Church. It can be a big thing but, most likely, it will be small. Jesus once referred to God’s coming kingdom as a small mustard seed that grew and grew. It might be an instance of finding hope and God’s presence in a bleak situation. It might be inviting others to come join us in practicing resurrection. Such things grow and, together, they usher in the reign of God.

 

[1] Peter Marty, “From the editor/publisher,” The Christian Century (April 8, 2020): 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mary Hinkle Shore, “The Resurrection of Christ and the Creation of Community,” Journal for Preachers (Easter 2020): 3

[4] Ibid., 3-4.

 

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