MARK 16.01-08 EASTER
The Rev. Joe Parrish is an Episcopal priest in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which is right across the river from Manhattan. Since September 11th, he has also been serving regularly as a chaplain to the police officers, fire fighters and construction workers who are cleaning up the site of the World Trade Center disaster. He recently wrote some interesting facts about the events of that tragic day.
He says that the twin towers of the World Trade Center weighed a billion tons each. That was so much sheer weight that when they collapsed, they fell with a force that each caused an earthquake - both registering something like 2.8 on the Richter Scale.
The intensity of those quakes was so severe that the NASDAQ Building across the street from Building Two is now tilted four degrees off true vertical. But that building was comparatively lucky. That shift wasn't even enough to hinder the operation of the building's elevators.
However, the story of St. George's Greek Orthodox Church - which used to stand to the south of Building Two - is different. When that tower collapsed, it crushed St. George's as well. Prior to September 11th, St. George's had been a four story, 60 foot high landmark. When Building Two crumpled on top of it, St. George's was instantly compacted to a mere two feet in height! The pressure was so great that the church's iron safe was crumbled into dust and has never been found!
It seems to me that that is a perfect metaphor for what Jesus' followers experienced immediately after his crucifixion. These were men and women who had given up everything to follow him - their old routines, their jobs, sometimes even their families.
Quite literally, they bet their lives that Jesus was the Messiah that Israel had been praying for for so many centuries. And why not? Jesus had a deep understanding of religious matters and a great wisdom about human matters. He performed incredible miracles and touched people's lives with a sense of God's forgiveness and love. God seemed to be unmistakably at work in Jesus, so these followers wrapped their hopes and their lives up in him. Then, suddenly, he was gone. And not just as the casualty of a natural death, but the victim of a painful, cruel and humiliating execution. The result was that their faith was rocked by an equally seismic jolt. How could God have allowed anything so brutal happen to the Messiah? Had they been following the wrong person all along?
And that wasn't their only concern. At the Last Supper, they had been debating who would hold the positions of honour in Jesus' kingdom. But now they had all become hunted criminals, running for their lives. So, for example, the gospel of Mark tells the story of one young man who was seized by the arresting officers at the Garden of Gethsemane, only to escape by wiggling out of his clothes and running away, naked and terrified and ashamed.
All of the disciples had similar stories of abandonment and betrayal. Peter, James and John slept in the Garden when Jesus had asked them to pray with him during his hour of agony. Judas had turned Jesus in to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver, the traditional price for a slave. Peter had denied Jesus three times in order to save himself from arrest. In fact, all of the disciples had melted into the shadows - afraid of what might happen to them and stained by disgrace at the ease with which they had deserted their friend and master. Like St. George's Church, they all were emotionally crushed.
Then Sunday quietly dawned. With her heart compacted to dust, Mary Magdalene mechanically trudged through the darkness, hoping to offer one last expression of her love to Jesus, the man who had once healed her and who had given her a new life. But what she found was not what she had expected.
In a scene reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, Mary encountered the risen Christ. He still visibly carried the marks of his brutal death, but he was miraculously alive. More specifically, he had been re-created when the Spirit of God moved over the chaos of the crucifixion and the tomb, and brought new life into its bleak emptiness. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.
But what does that mean for those of us living some 2,000 years after that fact? At the Last Supper, Jesus said, "Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also." (John 14:19) So one thing the resurrection means is that we can safely trust our loved ones to God's care when they die, knowing that we will see them again.
But more than that, it means that the world is transformed in this life, too. It means, in the words of John Claypool, that "The worst thing is not the last thing!" In other words, no matter what the world throws at us - disappointments, broken dreams, hurts and pains, grief and fears - the end of the story will always have the joy of a resurrection, of hope and new opportunities.
When you struggle long, weary months to find a new job after being down-sized out of work, the resurrection holds out the promise of hope. When you wrestle with temptation, the resurrection assures you that you aren't alone - you have help in that struggle and forgiveness should you stumble.
When you deal with the aftershocks of a painful divorce, the resurrection holds out the assurance of a new life to come. When you plod through the wreckage of broken promises, shattered dreams, or failed relationships, the resurrection stands as a guarantee that even then, hope won't disappoint you.
You see, we serve a real God who understands the real world. The world that God created and called good has been tragically stained with the cumulative effects of human sin. But even as God grieved at what we had done, God didn't turn his back on the world. Instead, in Jesus, God offered himself to overcome the sins of the world. As Peter Marshall once put it, "Who but God could deal with all the sin of the ages...all the suffering of the flesh...all the sorrow of the heart? None but God!
"But not a God sitting on a gilded throne high up in the heavens, not some ethereal nebulous God floating about in space like a benevolent cloud...But...A God who lives and feels and understands...who has explored the vast treasuries of pain...A God who can remember the feeling of a tear trickling down the cheek..."
Jesus weeps for all who come to believe that a God of love could in any way be served by violence, and for those who retaliate in kind. And Jesus offers hope for all those who seek a way to break out of the cycle of destruction. Jesus said, "All who live by the sword will die by the sword." And he showed us another way by absorbing our hatred and anger and putting it to death. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.
There is a recent German documentary that focuses on the role of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig in helping to bring about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The people of St. Nicholas Church prayed for freedom for some 40 years.
Those prayer meetings built and built and built in attendance over the years in a mighty crescendo that climaxed on the night of October 8, 1989, when 70,000 people gathered in the streets with candles and prayers. The movie features an interview with the former East German security chief, who talks about his intention to use force to disperse that crowd and impose the will of the state.
But then he adds that when he saw the crowd that night, he was unable to do anything other than simply stare out his window in amazement. He says, "We were prepared for everything...everything except for candles and prayers." Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.
We live in a Good Friday world, where violence is seen as a genuine solution and injustice is common. But Christ rules in the midst of our Good Friday world, continually bringing us hope and new life.
Rev Parrish tells of another church affected by the collapse of the towers in NY. St. Paul's chapel is the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan. It was completed in 1766. St. Paul's chapel was noted for its prime location - directly across the street from the World Trade Centre.
On September 11th, the chapel somehow miraculously survived the destruction of the Twin Towers. None of the chapel's stained glass windows were even broken. When President Bush called for prayers and the ringing of church bells at noon on Friday, September 14th, the minister of St. Paul's called the engineers who take care of all the buildings in that parish and asked them if they could ring the bells of St. Paul's at noon.
Mike Borrero is one of those engineers. He said, "Reverend, I'm sorry, we can't possibly do that. You can't imagine what it's like down here. We just can't do that."
But about an hour later Mike was on the phone and said, "Guess what? We got in the church. Crawling up the wooden bell tower, I saw an iron bar. I picked it up and crawled to that bell, and beat on the bell 12 times, while Jim held the flashlight so I could see. When I got back down, they told me that all the police officers, all the firemen, and all the volunteers heard that bell, and when they did they took their hats off." The rescuers stood in silence, as if to say, "The Lord God reigns, even in this hell."
As one author (Mark Koenig) puts it, "...We live in a world where Good Fridays occur. But we live there after Easter. Everyday is Good Friday because God's children suffer everyday. [But] Everyday is [also] Easter because God in Christ is present everyday. Christ is alive. Christ is with us. Christ is at work.
"There is no corner of the world where Christ is absent...When we feed the hungry, visit the sick, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, house the homeless. When we pursue peace, provide opportunity, and seek to see justice done. When we seek to break down walls of prejudice and discrimination and hatred. When we pray and dream and plan and work to transform the church to include all of God's precious children. When we are loved. And when we love. Christ is there for Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.
"...Jesus who was dead and buried on Friday evening, was alive in a new way on Sunday morning and is alive forevermore. We cannot explain it. But we live it. This Easter day and every day. Love is stronger than hate. Good is stronger than evil. Life is stronger than death. God is stronger than sin. Resurrection follows crucifixion. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!" Amen.