When Believing is Hard

by susan on April 17, 2017

Words for the Journey for Resurrection Sunday based on
Matthew 28:1-10.

If ever there was a time when resurrection seems like a farce, like fake news, or like some made for TV reality show, it’s now.

Bombs dropped.
Refugees rejected.
Nations divided by war.
More gun violence, bad test results
& blows to already defeated people…
not to mention, our own doubts, cynicism, disappointments,
& experiences with a Christianity that looks nothing like Jesus.

If ever there was a time when resurrection seems like a scam,
an ancient myth, a made up fairy tale, it’s now.

It’s hard to believe.

It’s no wonder we may be ready to render this resurrection story useless,
to write it off or to get our Easter ritual worship over so we can rush on to brunch.

Let me offer some reassurance:

We are not alone in our disbelief.

While Matthew tells us two women did go to Jesus’ tomb, everyone else seems to have disappeared. Whether it was disbelief or not knowing what to believe, they are gone – either scattered, in hiding, they are outta here.

The two remaining witnesses are women & the fact that women are recorded as the first preachers of the good news is an Easter miracle in & of itself!

Sadly, one of their identities is not even clear enough or important enough to remember – “the other Mary” she is called. Little is confirmed about her – except that she dared to show up here – in this place of death.

Mary Magdalene is named. She also shows up.
We do know a few things about her.

The gospel according to Luke tells us that she is from the region of Galilee and that it was there that she had been delivered from seven demons. Whether her seven demons were symbols of severe mental illness or habits she could not kick, she had been set free, healed & delivered. And she had been journeying (literally) with Jesus ever since. She & a few other women had even been helping to fund his ministry (Luke 8:2-3).

She not only had a new identity, but also a new mission & a new community.

Luke also tells us that Mary was called “Magdalene”.

“Magdalene” could have been the name of her hometown. After all, Magdala is a town in Galilee. Luke, though, makes it sound more like a nickname – like the ones given to Jesus’ male disciples. “Magdalene” means “tower”. Towers are very visible, make great landmarks, and they also tend to stay in place when rough weather comes.

Perhaps she was a tall woman or maybe it was her persistent showing up, even in the darkness of this post-crucifixion morning, that explains her nickname.

Mary Magdalene was devoted.
She stuck around.
She believed.

While the other accounts of this story tell us women came to the tomb to annoint Jesus’ body for burial, Matthew’s account simply says these two women showed up to “see” the tomb.

They either weren’t yet ready to give up or in the face of all they had seen take place these past few days, they simply showed up because there was nowhere else they could imagine being.

They had cast their lot with Jesus – no going back now.

It’s here in this place of death,
where no one wants to go or be,
that the unimaginable happens.

First, the ground shifts beneath their feet. Then, a rumble. The Roman officers become like the dead body they were sent to guard. Then, the angel appears suddenly, out of nowhere. He rolls away the stone keeping Jesus’ dead body sealed away.

This is no hallmark card, fuzzy, feel good moment.
Terrifying things are happening in this place of death.

Even so, they are told not to be afraid. They are told that the one who had rescued them & set them free, the one they had seen crucified, is alive. He has been raised from the dead and because they dared to showed up, they would be the ones to run in fear & joy to share this world changing news.

Now, I do not think for one minute that these women left that resurrection encounter with the details straight or with a nice, neat set of beliefs to share with everyone they encountered on their way back. Nor do I think they now had a formula for their faith.

But, I do think they left convinced that something really important, something life-changing, something world-changing had happened. I think they left knowing deep in their bones that in some wild & mysterious way, the Jesus way is indeed the way that leads to life.

I think they left with a YES
to Jesus’s way – a YES
to loving enemies,
to serving, to sharing life with others,
to standing with the suffering.
to confronting injsutice!

I think they also left with a YES to their own Jesus-given identities – a YES
to being free,
to being loved,
to being chosen
& included,
to having a hope & a future!

They also left with unbeleivably good news to share & I believe these two powerful women have a message for us today.

As hard as it is to believe,
as hopeless as things seem sometimes,
keep showing up.

Show up even in – no, especially in places of death

There you will find that what Jesus began is still underway.

I visited a place of death a couple of years ago. The Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Museum is a place full of death mementos. It’s too much to take in, really.

Timelines of terrifying events,
details of concentrations camps,
dolls left behind by children hauled away
& horrible photographs you want to believe are photo-shopped.
Yet, this really happened.

I was one of the last of our group to leave, and as I walked to our tour bus, I was struck by a monument that towered above the exit path. This monument is taller than any other memorials & has been named the “Pillar of Heroism”. It stands on the highest point of Yad Vashem.

Even though it looks disturbingly like one of the smokestacks of a Nazi death camp crematorium, it is a tribute to all the men and women who persistently showed up, who risked their lives to rescue, to aid & to walk into the horrific suffering & death of their neighbors.

I left heavy, very heavy; and, also with a tinge of hope. I had seen that even there in one of the darkest places imaginable, where the worst of humanity is captured, there was a sign. There was a reminder. There was a symbol that something more powerful than death stirs us toward love & goodness, that something compels us toward care & compassion, that something draws us deeper into defending & standing in solidarity with the least of these.

Even there, there are witnesses to the Resurrection way.
There are towers that remind us to show up.

Instead of looking for all the reasons not to believe,
what if you and I began to show up even, no especially in difficult, death like places?

Like in our grief & in our anxiety,
in our failure & our disappointment,
like in our unraveled faith & our unraveling relationships.

What if instead of looking for proof of death, we looked for hope? for signs of life? for God to do what we thought was impossible?

What if we began to show up even, no especially in our neighbors’ difficult, death-like places? like in their sicknesses or their shame? like in their addictions or their aloneness? What if instead of looking for reasons to give up on people or write them off, we began to look for God in them?

Maybe we, too, would witness how even in the messiness of life in some mysterious & surprising way, God is there renewing, restoring & inviting us to enter his resurrection way of life.

This resurrection story ends with the Mary “Magdalene” & the other Mary encountering Jesus and falling at his feet. They are told to go & tell the disciples to head to Galilee. And, off they went.

It is believed that these two women helped to launch a resurrection revolution.

When it’s difficult to believe,
when our circumstances, our shifting faith or
our friends say “no way”…
Just keep showing up.

Even, no especially in places of death.

Show up & witness resurrection.

Top right artwork: “Resurrection” by Dr. P. Solomon Raj.

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