The Streets of Nashville

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Emily and Elizabeth, Alec, Sara and Andrew, and a few more of us walked the streets of Nashville on Friday. We took the stories of Jesus’ suffering on a walk downtown, or perhaps I should say, Jesus took us on a walk on the Good Friday streets of Nashville from the garden to the governor’s headquarters and Golgotha. The long-ago stories of betrayal, denial and abandonment came close, uncomfortably close, between Broadway and Church Street.

We carried a cross all the way up to the Capitol, the final station. There we listened to a long list of names, the names of men who are currently on death row at Riverbend and we prayed. We prayed. We prayed for resurrection. We prayed for God’s word, for God’s reconciling grace to disrupt our violent ways for good. We prayed, a large wooden cross on the ground in front of us, a silent witness to God’s suffering from us and with us and for us – all of us. We should have left it there, a silent witness at the bottom of the steps of the Capitol, but we didn’t. We carried it back to the garage and loaded it on a truck and left.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary didn’t leave. They watched Joseph taking the body and wrapping it in a clean linen cloth and laying it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. They saw him rolling a great stone to the door of the tomb, and then he went away, too. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.[1] They had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee to this moment. They had seen him teaching and healing and illuminating the world around him with his grace and his compassion. When they were with him they saw the world where the poor are blessed and love embraces all, even the enemy. The way he broke bread with friends and strangers, the way he spoke of forgiveness—he had lit a fire in their hearts. He spoke of the kingdom of heaven, and when they were with him, they could see it.

Now this could be the moment when I quote C. S. Lewis who said, “To love anyone is to open oneself to heartbreak.” This could be the moment when I point out how true that is for the two Maries, and really for all of us, and certainly for God who loves the world. But this is also the moment where the story takes a very funny turn. The chief priests come to Pilate’s office with a memory that’s troubling them, “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.” And that’s what they do. They put a guard in front of it and stick a seal on the stone. Now it’s secure. Now this nonsense of God’s reign in what is after all Rome’s world is dead, buried, guarded and sealed. Ha!

But they who laugh last laugh best. The chief priests weren’t the only ones who remembered what Jesus had said. After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. They remembered Jesus’ words and they went to see and they walked into a messenger of God descending from heaven, lightning dressed in white, earth quaking and the guards of death shaking for fear and passing out. Can’t no grave hold this body down. No grave. No stone. No guard.

“I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified,” the angel said to them. “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” That’s all there is to see: the guards of death passed out on the ground like dead men and the place where he lay, empty.

Jesus who was crucified has been raised—where is he? The women don’t know whether to laugh or cry; their hearts are beating up in their throats; in their fear and joy they have nothing to hold onto but each other; they want to know where they can see him, him and not some heavenly messenger who seems to know their every thought and hope. “Go quickly and 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.’” Go quickly, like they needed an angel to tell them that—they run, their cheeks hurting from grinning, tears running down their faces, they run, each holding the other’s hand to keep their souls from bursting. They run and suddenly they see him, they see their risen friend on the way. “My God,” you want to say, and if there has ever been a moment to say it, this is it. They fall down at his feet and worship the risen Lord, still trembling between fear and joy.

“Do not be afraid,” he says and then he repeats what the angel said, with one small difference. The angel said, “Go and tell his disciples,” but Jesus says, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” The first disciples were the men who betrayed, denied, and abandoned him, and we know we belong among them, men and women. Our risen Lord makes sure we know that, no matter what we have done or left undone, we are his brothers and sisters and we are not done following. He hasn’t been raised from the dead to live in glory and never to be seen again. He didn’t burst the chains of death to save himself from the consequences of our sin but to save us, to be with us, and to go ahead of us. 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 the first day of a new creation. It is the beginning of new life for the whole world, you and me and all creatures great and small.

“Go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Why Galilee? Galilee is where it all started. Galilee is where Jesus first disrupted our daily routines with his call to follow him. Galilee is where he healed and taught and told the wondrous stories about God’s reign. Galilee is where we first saw the world where the poor are blessed and the hungry are filled and love embraces all, even the enemy, in ways we could barely imagine before Friday. Those who want to see the Risen One are sent to the Sermon on the Mount and to Jesus the Teacher. We who want to see the Risen One are sent back to the beginning of the journey, to follow him again, with a little less fear and with the joy of this day.

The first disciples went to Galilee and saw him there, on the mountain where he said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” He sent them into the world not from Jerusalem, the city where authority and power are so easily confused with might and violence, but from Galilee, from their everyday world of things to do, bills to pay and kids to raise. We who want to see the Risen One are sent back to the beginning of the journey, to follow him again, to learn from him and to serve with him. And we will again hear his parable of the last judgment where they ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

When we walked the streets of Nashville on Friday we heard stories about brothers and sisters who are hungry and thirsty and we saw them; we heard stories about strangers longing for welcome and families in need of shelter and we saw them; we heard stories about brothers and sisters who are sick and in and out of prison, and we saw them. We saw Jesus on the streets of Nashville. On my way back to the church, this has become a Good Friday tradition of mine over the past few years, I listened to Mike Farris sing like an Easter angel.

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.[2]

You knew it, didn’t you? He is waiting just for you out on the streets of Galilee.


[1] See Matthew 27:57-61

[2] Words and Music by Michael E. Farris © Gypsy7Music