We Will Rise Again

by Christian McIvor

Hello, College Parkers! I’m glad to be offering the sermon this week,
and while it’s on the same scripture passage we looked at last week, I’m
going to have a different focus that I hope is meaningful for you all. I
think it’s a testament to the love and strength of our community that
we’ve been able to come together in various ways over the past month
and, of course, that we’re finding ways to celebrate this Easter season
together. Although, I’d imagine I’m probably not the only one who’s
not feeling particularly celebratory at this point in time. We’re currently
in the midst of a season of pain, suffering, death, and isolation unlike
quite anything any of us have ever experienced, and the reality is that
it’s not going to be over any time soon.

I can imagine that the two Marys in today’s text may have felt similarly
as they went to see the tomb in early morning on the first day of the
week after Jesus’ death. These Marys, along with many other women,
had been with Jesus as a part of his community since the beginning of
his ministry in Galilee. And they had spent the past several days looking
on as an unjust political system exploited the fear of the masses and
allowed their closest companion to be subjected to a sham of a trial, then
sentenced to be killed on a cross. The Jesus-following community had
virtually no access to political power, and because of this they had no
recourse in preventing the suffering and death of their friend.
Approaching the tomb, the grieving Marys must have felt a certain
helplessness in facing the death they knew they had no power to prevent,
and they likely would have been fearing for their own safety.

Maybe some of us can relate, or at least understand what they were
going through. As new data continues to be released during this
COVID-19 crisis, it’s coming to light that the virus is infecting and
killing people in communities of color at disproportionately high rates in
the US. These communities are suffering because of an unjust system
that has historically exploited the fear of the masses in order to maintain
structural inequalities that have prevented them from gaining significant
access to political power, placing them at much higher risk during this
pandemic for countless reasons. In a way, members of these
communities are unfortunately experiencing the same kind of suffering
and loss as the Marys at the tomb, and they’ve been relegated to a
similar social status by the dominant white supremacist, patriarchal
culture – bypassed, forgotten, and pushed aside.

In fact, the Marys who approach the tomb are completely overlooked in
Matthew’s gospel – silent and unseen – until we hear in chapter 27 that
they’re at the cross, having witnessed the death of Jesus. And it is here
we find that these women and many others have not only been with
Jesus since Galilee, but that they’ve provided for him throughout his
ministry. The Greek verb used for “provide” here – διακονέω – can
also be translated as “to minister, serve, furnish,” or “supply,” and it’s
interesting to note that this word is never used for the 12 disciples.
These women were Jesus’ essential workers – his health care providers,
first responders, and food suppliers. Unnoticed and unappreciated as
they may have been in Matthew’s world and throughout dominant
historical interpretation, the consistent work and care of these women
was integral in allowing Jesus to carry out his ministry.

Having been with Jesus through his suffering and still grieving his unjust
death, the Marys now come to visit the tomb of their beloved friend.
And in the midst of their agony, the earth shakes and they are visited by
an angel who tells them not to be afraid, that Jesus has been raised. The
angel instructs them to “Come” and “see the place where he lay” before
then telling them to “go and tell” the disciples to meet Jesus back home
in Galilee. The Marys – these women of action – observe the angel’s
instructions and move forward on them quickly, running “with fear and
great joy” to tell the disciples. It seems that, though they’ve seen the
empty tomb and heard from the angel what has happened, they are still a
little conflicted in their feelings. Clearly, the angel’s news of Jesus’
overcoming death and their viewing of the empty tomb has brought them
hope, but they are understandably still fearful of what’s ahead. This all
seems a little hard to grasp, when suddenly Jesus meets them and says
“Χαίρετε” – “Rejoice!” The Marys fall at his feet to worship him before
Jesus tells them again to not be afraid, and to go and tell the disciples to
return home to meet him in Galilee.

I wonder what this experience must have been like for the Marys. Just
minutes before this, they were still feeling the shock and pain of Jesus’
death, and now they’re physically holding onto his feet. I imagine them
kneeling down, bent over his feet, feeling and seeing his finite being as
they worship, in awe of his physical presence.

This issue of finite, bound, restricted being is something I’ve thought
about quite a bit lately in my isolated reality. While I truly have nothing
to complain about regarding this stay-at-home period, I have been pretty
consistently aware of my existential reality, which has made me feel
pretty small at times. Sitting in front of my computer reading and
writing and watching story after story on the news about the death all
around us, it can start to seem as if things are closing in. I’ve tried to
counteract this by getting outside as much as possible, while following
responsible social distancing guidelines, of course. Thankfully, it’s been
a beautiful spring so far, and it’s been helpful to get out of the house
with my family and enjoy it when we can. But it wasn’t until a few days
ago when I was sitting out on my back deck – feeling tired, bored,
frustrated, and helpless as my mind started to wander while working on
yet another seemingly insignificant paper for a class at Wake Divinity –
that I physically changed my perspective, reclining and looking up to the
sky for once. Gazing into infinity and seeing the upper branches of the
trees in my backyard stretching toward and blooming into the openness,
I was overcome with a sense of peace and fullness in the complete
assurance that God was reaching right back. I took a few deep breaths
and, feeling the breeze on my face, I felt revived and recharged to keep
going… because the only way through this is to move forward.

I’d think that – on a much grander scale – this was what the Marys
experienced when the risen Christ spoke to them. As they bend over to
look down at and hold Jesus’ physical feet, he says, “Do not be afraid.”
The Marys hear him and look up, into the infinite, unbound life and love
of the risen Christ. They now see, hear, feel, and know in their hearts
that Christ is resurrected, freeing and breaking them out of the death that
has gripped their everyday lives. Jesus commands the Marys to go and
tell the disciples of his resurrection, and that he will meet them back at
home in Galilee. So, the Marys act and do what Jesus tells them,
renewed by their experience and showing us that in the risen Christ,
we find the courage to move forward with the hope that we will rise
again. The Marys heroically go back to their essential work,
presumably putting themselves in danger by seeking out the disciples in
Jerusalem to proclaim that they should return home.

20th century German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer tells us that
“Humanity still lives, of course, in a world of death, but it is already
beyond death, awakened to new life by God – this is Jesus Christ, this is
the whole of humanity in Christ, this is us.” And since [Jesus Christ] is
life, all of life through him is destined to be vicarious representative
action, responsibility directed toward concrete neighbors in our concrete
reality. Resurrection life is relational. We see this exemplified in the
Marys, the first witnesses of the resurrection, as they courageously move
forward on Christ’s command to lead the disciples home to encounter
new life in the risen Christ. We see this exemplified today in our health
care professionals, our first responders, our grocers, our restaurant
workers, our manufacturers, our construction and utility workers, our
social workers, our caregivers, our volunteers. Through this wave of
death, I see the new life, the love, and the hope of Christ in those who
courageously continue to go to work every day to provide for all of us,
so that we might return to our homes to encounter the risen Christ this
Easter season. Of course, this is not to suggest that all of our essential
workers identify as Christians, but I agree with 20th century existentialist
philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich when he suggests that any “act
in which courage accepts risk belongs to the dynamics of faith.” In this
sense, we might say that the faith of our essential workers is leading us
on to see the hope of new life in our Galilees.

As we find our way through this mess, let’s those of us who can stay at
home direct our responsible action toward our neighbors by doing just
that, staying at home. But let’s also remember to look for ways in which
we might responsibly support our modern day Marys – those who
provide the necessities and comforts of our society but who are
constantly overlooked and pushed to the margins. We’ve already started
to find new ways of coming together during this pandemic, and as we
continue to create our “new normal,” let’s remember to be guided by the
risen Christ who leads us – fearlessly – toward justice, compassion, and
reconciliation. Let’s create a new normal where we can come and see
the value and worth – the image of God – in all of our neighbors, so that
we might go and tell of the ways in which we might build a more just
and equitable world for all.

This Easter season, let us remember that Christ is risen and Christ lives!
And let this give us the courage to move forward together in the hope
that we will all rise again.