Idle tales of resurrection | Easter Sunday | 27 March 2016

Text: Luke 24:1-12

When I say “Christ is Risen” you say “Christ is Risen indeed!”

“Christ is risen!…..

“Christ is risen!…..

After a season of Lent, 40 days of wandering through the wilderness of racism’s persistence around us and within us…We need resurrection.

After confronting the devil of white privilege and its many temptations…We need resurrection.

After considering the subtle lure of colorblindness, naming and rejecting racial hierarchy…We all need resurrection.

After honoring and lamenting names of the crucified, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, after confessing our own complicity in systems and attitudes that possess and oppress, after last week’s spoken word throw down, memorized, mesmorized, Whoa, did that just happen? in a Mennonite Church?  After 40 days of wondering in the wilderness that is 21st century America…

We need, we want, we long for resurrection.

Each gospel gives a different combination of characters who first witness Jesus’ resurrection.  In John it’s Mary Magdalene who goes to the tomb alone, only to find it empty.  It Matthew, it’s Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” who go together, as the sun rose on the first day of the week.  Mark says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were the ones who went, bringing their spices to anoint the dead body that wasn’t there.

One, two, three witnesses to resurrection.

In the Torah, the testimony of one witness wasn’t enough for a criminal accusation or otherwise, but bring in two or three witnesses and you had yourself a case.  As if following its own criteria, the book of Deuteronomy states this law twice, once in chapter 17 and once in chapter 19, these two chapters each a witness to the requirement that evidence must be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Of all the gospels, Luke’s scene at the empty tomb is the most…crowded.  There’s no Jesus, but there are two beings in dazzling clothes declaring “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  The human witnesses, perplexed and terrified – understandably, return to tell the apostles.  Luke says, “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women with them who told this to the apostles.  Wait, how many?  These three and the “other women with them?”  Five?  Ten?  Twenty?  More?

But it doesn’t matter.  The law of two or three witnesses only applied to men.  Women weren’t even considered eligible, credible, reliable, for being a witness.  One, twenty, it doesn’t matter.  The official apostles hear what these women have to say, “But,” Luke says, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

An idle tale.  Resurrection is an idle tale told by illegitimate witnesses.

I confess I struggle with the notion of resurrection.  My reasons are different than those living in the pre-modern world.  My reasons are based on, well, reason.  I get hung up with questions like OK, so what is the biology of resurrection?  What’s the chemistry, the physics?  I’m at the point where I’m totally good with the resurrection of Jesus revealing a whole dimension of reality we’re presently oblivious to.  Totally good and open to that.  But I’m also willing to accept the non-literalness of this story.  The gospel writers certainly weren’t all that concerned with an exact history since their accounts are so different.

I recognize this puts me out of step with Christian orthodoxy, and I don’t always know what to do with that.  Some of you may find yourselves in a similar position, or some of you may hold the bodily resurrection of Jesus as utterly central to your Christian faith.  What we share among us, I’m fairly confident, is a conviction that we need resurrection.  We desperately need the miraculous gift of life overcoming the forces of death we see all around us.  And not just as a spiritual abstraction.  We long for resurrection to raise up and energize and animate bodies, even crucified bodies.  Especially crucified bodies.

On the evening of February 26, 2012, 17 year old African American Trayvonn Martin was walking home, returning from a 7-11 where he bought a bag of Skittles and a fruit drink.  You know this story.  He was spotted by volunteer Neighborhood Watch person George Zimmerman who called 911 reporting that he saw a “suspicious person.”  Although instructed to stay in his car, Zimmerman approached Martin, there was an altercation in which Zimmerman was injured, and Zimmerman shot Martin dead, later claiming self defense.

Here’s more of the story:  In the summer of 2013, reacting to a jury’s acquittal of Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvonn Martin, Alicia Garza wrote a Facebook post titled “A Love Note to Black People.”  As part of this letter she wrote, “Our lives matter.  Black lives matter.”  Garza’s friend Patrisse Cullors replied “#BlackLivesMatter.”  Opal Tometi soon registered her support.  These women had met earlier through a community organizing initiative.  That one Facebook “Love Note to Black People,” and the responses that followed, was the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, founded by these three black women.  Initially a social media meme, later a decentralized social movement that continues to mobilize people to insist on the value and dignity of black life.

When I say “Black Lives Matter” you say “Black Lives Matter.”

“Black Lives Matter…..

“Black Lives Matter…

Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors both queer black women.  Opal Tometi, a Nigerian-American immigrant.  One, two, three witnesses.   And the others with them who follow on social media, and gather in the streets.

Unlike the leaders of the civil rights movement, these women and many young black activists are not a part of the church.  Just this week The Atlantic published an article titled “Black Activism, Unchurched” which explores this phenomenon.  Just a few weeks earlier the Christian Century magazine had a lead article in which Duke Divinity School professor Eboni Marshall Turman declared: “Black Lives Matter is the Jesus event of the 21st century.” (March 16, 2016, p. 30)

We need resurrection.  But who can be considered a reliable witness?  Whose stories count?

In Luke’s gospel, this cohort of women who went to the tomb Easter morning also show up a little earlier.  They are the ones who had been present as Jesus’ body hung on an instrument of death.  Before they witnessed resurrection, they witnessed crucifixion.  They were witnesses to suffering, witnesses to death, and they stayed near the body and watched where it was laid.

We read these gospel texts every year, and this year, as we’ve been confronting racism, I’m especially drawn to this:  That it was those who had the horror of witnessing crucifixion who also had the honor of first witnessing resurrection.  Almost as if the qualification for being a witness to resurrection was, is? being close to suffering.  That’s how you earn not just your street cred, but your divine privilege of being a witness.  When the people you love are brutalized and beat down, and when you show up to care for their wounds, you are in the privileged position of being the first to testify to the resurgence of life and love, both with capital L’s.  It’s not the respectable of society who are the first to shout about resurrection.  Not even the official disciples.  It is the uncredentialed.

That sounds like the kind of privilege no one should have to have.  We’ve been talking about white privilege, but this is privilege flipped on its head.  It’s similar, perhaps, to those who have suffered a great loss in their personal life, or survived cancer.  Something no one should have to endure.  But when you’re close to suffering and death you see things that others don’t see.  You get entrusted with something.  You become a witness to a truth that others have either failed to see or just can’t see because of where they’re standing.  And you testify, you stand up, you tell your idle tale, your truth, what you now know to be absolutely, beautifully true.  Christ is risen!  Join the movement!  Death is swallowed up in life.

And if this is not you, if you’re the one hearing about rather than declaring resurrection, then remember Peter, one of the apostles who hears the idle tale.  Whether he was doubting these women witnesses, or pondering biology and chemistry, he does get up.  He does move.  He relocates his body and runs toward the scene of the crime.  He stoops and looks into the tomb.  And he sees.  He sees.  And, as Luke says, “then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”