I went to church on Friday at noon. I sat in the pew and I wasn’t paying much attention to the readings or the hymns – you probably know what I’m talking about. Not that I wasn’t participating in the service, but my mind was filled with thoughts about these two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.
They had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee. They had listened to him teach, both in small groups and in front of large crowds. They loved listening to him, because his words encouraged them to see a world where the poor are blessed, and all who mourn are comforted. They hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and when they were with him they were filled. Jesus had shown them a world where love embraces all, even the enemy. They had watched him touching and healing the sick, breaking bread with friends and strangers, and declaring God’s forgiveness. They had begun to believe that the kingdom of heaven had indeed come near, and that he embodied it. They looked at Jesus and they saw the whole creation held by grace and infused with mercy. He had planted a dream in their hearts, the dream of a redeemed world.
I went to church on Friday and I thought about these two women who were still there after Judas, Peter, James and John and all the other disciples had betrayed, denied, and forsaken Jesus. They were there when his life drained from his body. Then it was my turn to read from Matthew:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:57-61).
The funeral was over, and everybody but the two Marys had gone home, but I still had a few more lines to read.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone (Matthew 27:62-66).
Powerful interests got together to stop this nonsense once and for all. The religious and political leadership had a summit at the capital and they agreed on measures to maintain their notion of order.
When I left the church on Friday I was already smiling. “Go, make it as secure as you can,” the governor said, as though guards in the cemetery could keep the kingdom of heaven from taking over the world. When Jesus was born, King Herod had already done all he could to prevent the arrival of God’s future by brutally killing the children in and around Bethlehem. Earthly powers are easily tempted to deal death when power is at stake, but not even death can stop the life God intends for the world.
A few years ago, Anne Lamott wrote,
“I don’t have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection.”
Who can blame her? We know that we live in a Good Friday world, and who wouldn’t want to fast forward to the world to come? Lamott has a very specific vision in mind,
I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday School, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the open tomb: everlasting life and a basket full of chocolates. Now you’re talking.”
We laugh at the blending of divine promise and chocolaty sweetness into everlasting bliss, and why wouldn’t we: after the world had had its cruel way with Jesus, after so much faith, hope, and love had been buried, and after the guards of death had made the tomb as secure as they could, at the beginning of the first day, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the cemetery and they stumbled into a whole new world.
Martin Luther once said, “If I were God, I’d kick the world to pieces.” We can all relate to that anger and frustration, but when the two Marys went to see the tomb, they heard a different sound, the echoes of resurrection: there was the rumble of God kicking to pieces the walls of death, there was the thunder of God breaking the chains of fear, there was the tremor of God lifting the heavy lids that seal the end of hope. Swords and clubs, betrayals and denials, high priests and street mobs, and even death and the grave could not keep this body down.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said to the women, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” He has been raised, and with him all that he embodied. The words he spoke – now affirmed forever. The lines he crossed – now removed forever. The life he offered – now accessible forever. Death no dominion.
Jesus and the kingdom he proclaimed were not defeated by sin and its deadly empire. At the dawn of the first day, the guards of death are like dead men, and the women are apostles of life. “Go quickly,” the angel said, “tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’”
Friday night, when KK led us on the way of the cross, we practiced saying, “Surely not I, Lord.” Four little words to remind us that broken promises, betrayal and denial are very much part of who we are. We can say these words with hope rather than despair only because we live in this new day where Jesus is alive and not just an episode in history. When the women quickly left the tomb, Jesus met them and repeated what the angel had told them – with one small but most significant change. The angel said, “Go and tell his disciples,” and Jesus said, “Go and tell” – and here you could insert every name known for failure, except that Jesus was very careful not to do that, for he said, “Go and tell – my brothers.” Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead to live in glory and never to be seen again. Jesus was raised from the dead to be with us, to go ahead of us on the way, and to remind us that nothing we do or fail to do will make him love us less. He is not bound by the ending we give the story, but he rewrites the ending to include us. Jesus is at large in the world and he calls us to follow him, because the mission continues: the kingdom of heaven is near, and we live in the light of its dawn. Kindness and mercy are not lost causes in this Good Friday world, because the way of Christ doesn’t end in the tomb.
The God we worship is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, but the resurrection is not merely something spectacular that happened to Jesus. The resurrection of the crucified one is God’s judgment of the world and it is God’s word of new life for the whole world.
On Friday afternoon, I was already smiling when I thought about what Pilate said about the tomb, “Go, make it as secure as you can.” Then I smiled even more when I noticed the similarity and contrast between Pilate’s command and the command of the risen Christ, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” One command sent guards to the cemetery to keep hope buried. The other command sent women on a mission to bring forgiveness and new life to the world. Not a very difficult choice, is it?
Well, then I listened to Mike Farris on Friday afternoon, and I started humming and clapping and swaying and doing a little Easter dance – and for a moment I thought, “Oh my, am I supposed to do that? It’s only Friday, after all.” Listen to his song, Streets of Galilee.
Now he is waiting just for you, out on the streets of Galilee. We live in a Good Friday world where the guards of death make the tomb as secure as they can, but that’s all they can do. Christ is risen.
 Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005) p. 140
 Frederick Buechner in a PBS program http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week633/feature.html#right
 See Matthew 26:20-22, 33-35
O’ Mary, Mary
I know just whom you seek,
You seek for Jesus, whom they crucified last week
Now child he’s risen from the dead and now he walks the
Streets of Galilee
O’ Mary, Mary
Tell the disciples that he is free
Run Mary run
Now he is waiting just for you
Out on the streets of Galilee
Now when they got up to the mountain,
Where he said he’d be
They worshipped and adored him
And said Lord how can this be
“All power is within me”
From sea to shining sea
Now, go tell all the world about me
And tell them that I walk the Streets of Galilee
You can tell them I am alive and doing well
Out on the Streets of Galilee
- Words and Music by Michael E. Farris © Gypsy7Music