Tag Archives: evil

Empty

John 20:1-10
Easter Sunday
April 12, 2020
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

Christ is risen.

We gather at the end of a Holy Week different from any other on an Easter Sunday different from any other.

Every year has unique features. Christians have observed Holy Week and Easter in periods of persecution, during armed conflict and war, and while plague ravaged the land.

Still Easter 2020; Easter in the age of COVID-19 differs widely and wildly from any Easter we and most followers of Jesus have celebrated.

No egg hunts. No visits with family. No trips to restaurants. No crowded gatherings around a table straining under the weight of a feast. No new clothes or bonnets for many of us.

IMG-0618We gather in separate places today. Our church building stands empty for the moment. It does so not out of fear. As such buildings do across our country and around the world, that temporarily empty building on the corner of 149th and 15th offers a profound witness to our faith. It proclaims that we are a people of life even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It represents an incredible act of revolutionary love, amazing grace, and spiritual solidarity. Thanks be to God.

Dr. William Brown of Columbia Theological Seminary points out that this year’s Easter celebration with a temporarily empty building may be among the most biblical Easters we have experienced.[i] The Easter proclamation of resurrection begins with the discovery of the empty tomb.

After the crucifixion, early on the first day of the week, in the darkness, John’s Gospel tells us that Mary Madgalene went to the tomb. Heart broken, soul sick, spirit sore, she made a lonely, courageous journey.

She went to see where they had placed her teacher, her friend. She went to pay her respects even after her death. She went because nothing else made sense.

At the tomb, she found the stone rolled aside. What more indignity can there be, she must have wondered? She went to get others. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” return to the tomb with her. Entering they find emptiness. No body of Jesus; only the cloths from his burial.

Each Gospel tells a slightly different version of the encounter with the empty tomb. They all share two common features. Women first. Women went to the tomb first. Women become the first to tell the good news. While the number varies from gospel to gospel, it is always small. Large numbers of followers did not cram together as close as they could on that day of resurrection. It began with a tomb emptied of death and women.

We know not how the resurrection of Jesus happened. No one witnessed God raising Jesus.

The resurrection of the followers of Jesus proved something more of a process. It did not happen in an instant. As the Rev. Denise Anderson notes, the “women who were first at the tomb to find it empty were rocked to their core. But even when they shared the news, the ones with whom they shared it weren’t instantly changed for hearing it. They hardly even believed it.”[ii]

The Rev. Anderson goes on: for the first followers of Jesus on that day of resurrection, “there was still grief. There was still despair. There was still anxiety. There was still waiting. Wondering. Worrying.”[iii] But. God had raised Jesus. God’s work had been accomplished. Christ was risen. Christ is risen.

Perhaps more starkly than have other Easters, this day reminds us that we live in the tension of believing in resurrection even as we feel keenly the impact of suffering and death. Much of what gave us balance and equilibrium in life has been smashed off kilter. We grieve. Uncertainty grips us. We find ourselves in a similar position to the women and the first followers of Jesus.

And  yet, we have the witness not only of Mary and the other women who went to the tomb. We have the witness of women through the ages … and some men, too. People who lived as Jesus calls us to live; people who loved who as Jesus called us to love. People who though stricken with grief and filled with fear, lived and loved. And in the living and in the loving, they encountered the risen Christ. As we live and as we love following Jesus, we too have encountered the risen Christ. We encounter the risen Christ now. We will encounter the risen Christ in the future.

Grief and doubt and fear do not deny the resurrection. They cannot.

Grief and doubt and fear do not indicate the absence of hope and faith and love; they are fellow travelers. They go together, as the Rev. Ben Perry notes.[iv]

Christ is risen, and we mourn for those who have died and we ache for those who are ill and we endure heartbreak for those who are abused, neglected, and forgotten.

Christ is risen, and COVID-19 grips our city and God’s world.

Christ is risen, and we can love one another.

Christ is risen, and there is work to do to ensure that all people in our society have access to safe homes, meaningful and safe work, health care, good food, and the necessities of living.

Christ is risen, and the Matthew 25 vision invites us to make sure that the least of the human family, the people pushed to the margins, receive our attention and our care.

Christ is risen, and the resurrection reminds us that the worst things are never the last things.[v]

Though we tremble at the tomb, though alleluias quaver on our lips, Christ is risen. This Easter day and every day may we know the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death;

Victory is ours through Him who loves us.[vi]

Christ is risen.

People of the empty tomb, people of the temporarily empty building,

Christ is risen!

Alleluia.

[i] https://www.ctsnet.edu/the-life-giving-emptiness-of-this-easter/

[ii] This comes from a Facebook by the Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson, coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), on April 12, 2020.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] This and the next several paragraphs are inspired by words written by the Rev. Ben Perry and posted on Facebook.

[v] Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Michael Granzen for this image.

[vi] Desmond Tutu, “Victory Is Ours” in An African Prayer Book (London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1995), p. 80.

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Easter, 2015

The world looks much the same;
horror, hatred, evil still remain.
Yet somehow, somehow all has changed.
Christ is risen!
May we experience and live
the Easter message
today and all days.

5 April 2015
Louisville, Kentucky

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Sometimes we sit in witness

The country matters. Context always matters. Each situation plays out in unique ways due to the specific circumstances in which the people find themselves and place helps shape those circumstances.

The country matters not.  What my sisters and brother told me could happen – happen exactly as they described it or happen as variations on a theme – in too many countries of the world.

We sat in our conference room and they told me of human rights abuses in their country of birth. Each of them had fled for various reasons. And while they each fled to different countries first, they all ended up in New York.

At first they told horrible, but generic stories. Stories of torture, disappearance, deprivation, separation, violation. Such stories prove hard for me to read; they prove harder still to hear – to hear from sisters and a brother who know the people, the children of God, who are ill-used and abused. But out of respect for God’s children, I refuse to turn away from such stories. I read and sit in witness. Out of respect for God’s children, I refused to turn away this afternoon. I sat in witness.

Then they told the stories of their family …

… of cousins tortured …

… of brothers killed …

… of a sister repeatedly raped and finally shot …

… one bullet to the brain.

“I have two sons,” F. said as tears dribbled down her cheeks. “I do not know where my sons are. Do you know what it is like for a mother not to know where her sons are? Not to know if they are safe? Not to know what might be happe … ?” She could not finish, did not need to finish. I do not know. I can never know. I can only imagine what it might be like for a father. I can never know her pain, her grief, her anguish. I can only sit in witness, honored that she would share it with me.

Tears flowed from eight eyes.

The stories continued until they had spent their need to talk. Pain and heartache filled the silence surrounding us.

Finally, B. spoke, “But we have hope.”

And my heart cracked again. Unconquerable love breaks our hearts as surely as does unspeakable evil.

“We have hope. And we will continue to work to change things in our country.”

More tears flowed into the silence that followed but, at least for me, hope and courage and grace now danced amid the moisture on my cheeks. I wiped away the snot that clogged my nose. And somehow I had the good sense to say nothing, but simply to sit in witness.

M. broke the silence by asking me to look for ways to support them and to pray for them, for those they love, and for their country.

I did. I will. They stood to leave. We shook hands. We hugged. They left. And I remember. I pray. I write in witness. And I wonder what more I will do. To be continued …

See you along the Trail.

As I was writing this entry, a friend posted a link on Facebook to a story that spoke to me in similar ways: ‘Comfort Woman’ Activist Still Going Strong at 89. Ms. Kim Bok-dong was forced to serve as a “comfort woman” during World War II. For years, she and other survivors lived silently with their scars. But in 1991, things changed when a Japanese government official blamed the system of “comfort women” on civilians, denying any government culpability, the women broke their silence and told their stories seeking an acknowledgement of the truth in an effort to “help other victims who go through the same atrocities.” In March 2012, Ms. Kim Bok-dong founded the Butterfly Fund to aid victims of sexual violence in Congo, Afghanistan and Uganda.

Unspeakable evil and unconquerable love break my heart once again. Thank you, Yena, for sharing this story at this time and for our brief virtual chat.

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Did Micah know?

Micah, did you know –

in order to
love kindness,
do justice,
walk humbly with God,

we have to
face evil unspeakable,
confront horror unfathomable,
carry pain unbearable?

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Only

Only by confronting the evil,
however monstrous,
however banal;

only by facing the horror,
however terrifying,
however agonizing;

only by feeling the pain,
however shallow,
however deep;

only by remembering the act,
however shocking,
however shameful;

only by acknowledging the loss,
however great,
however small;

only then
can grace
break through.

18 April 2011
Shire on the Hudson

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