April 21, 2019 // Narr 1 Easter // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // First Congregational UCC,
Ashland, OR // “With Fear… and Great Joy”:
Matthew 28:1-10; “Descending Theology: The Resurrection” by Mary Karr, from
Sinners Welcome

[Intro]

I feel like I should come clean. After these
past six weeks of our Lenten discipline – of practicing prayer and almsgiving
and fasting in preparation to celebrate Easter (the Resurrection) – I feel like
I should come clean.
I
did not actually complete any one of the three spiritual disciplines I promised
to do during Lent. If it had been a test, I would not have gotten 100 percent.
(More like 30 percent, 55 and 85.) Anybody else? I was going to completely transform my life… and, well, it did not
quite happen that way.
Turns out Lent is… difficult. These six weeks we try
to journey with Jesus, grow our discipleship muscles, grow our faith, it’s kind
of challenging turns out. Worse even than the Whole 30 diet, from what I
understand. During these six weeks of preparation, these six weeks we’ve
journeyed with Jesus toward transformation, it can be really hard for North
American white Christians to get into Lent. When I am feeling pretty judgy, I
blame privilege for how uncomfortably far from Holy Week Jesus’ current
followers keep. (Of course, it’s all of your
privileges, not mine, I have in mind.) It is true: when the dominate voice of
Western Christianity is the white one, the colonial one, the college-educated
one, the 401K-secured one… this Holy Week story – this story of liberation that
comes from an oppressed people, a story of liberation from that oppression, and
sin, and death – can make little sense. When I actually walk through Holy Week,
letting its stories find their place in my life now, today, things get even
more complicated, though. Holy Week is hard because betrayal is hard and guilt
is hard and suffering is hard and violence is hard and death is hard and grief
is hard and most of us really would rather avoid all of the above, if we could.
Even if what is most familiar is broken, it’s the broken we know. It’s the pain
we’ve shaped our lives around. It strikes me that the Jesus in the Mary Karr
poem misses his splintered feet. To be even a little more honest, somewhere in
my unwillingness to schedule that Marie Kondo office cleanse these past six
weeks, pulses the tiny, persistent fear that things can be different, that I really
can change. Our various privileges do
make it easier to live in denial. And yet someday we will all face the
heartache and the fear the two Marys carry to the tomb this morning.
(Pause)

I.

As a storyteller, Matthew really holds the fear
and the joy together.

That’s one of the reasons why I like Matthew’s version of this story so much.This story is kind of hilarious,
actually, because on the first day at dawn, when Mary Magdalene and the other
Mary head to the tomb, there is a great earthquake. An angel of the LORD
descends and rolls back the stone and sits on it. The figure’s clothes are like
lightening. But what is so funny about this is that it’s not the earthquake and
the glowing guy descending from the sky to perch on a stone that makes the
women believe. The guards see all of that, too, and they just become like dead
men. It’s not the dramatic, miraculous, supernatural things that occur on this
morning that sends the women off down the road. The messenger says, “Do not be
afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He
has been raised, as he said. See where he lay, and then go and tell his
disciples he has been raised, and indeed, he is going on ahead of you to
Galilee,” the messenger says. “There you will see him.” There you will see him.
To be quite honest, that’s the part
that’s so hard in this moment to believe: that this Jesus, this Christ, this
presence of God in flesh, has gone on ahead, and that they will see him there.
I
stop right there and wonder what it was that made the women take those first
few steps away from the tomb. It’s not until they do that that they encounter
the Risen Christ. (Pause)

II.

The truth of this whole Holy Week story is that
the fear and the joy come together. T
he Paschal mystery is as hollow as a chocolate
Easter bunny if we don’t also tell the truth about Jesus’ passion and his
suffering. If we don’t tell the truth about Jesus’ passion and suffering, it’s
a lot harder to tell the truth about our own passion and suffering, and it’s a
lot harder to take those first few steps away from the tomb. Holy Week, this
Walk of Compassion we’ve made together through this week, is an inseparable
part of the story of celebration and new life we tell this Easter morning. It’s
funny that this glowing messenger from the sky calls Jesus “the crucified one.”
You think he would have come up with a new superhero name. Quirky Greek grammar
makes it sound like even though that action, that suffering, got completed in
the past, its consequences are rippling out and continue to affect the future.
“Jesus’ crucifixion was not a temporary episode in the career of the Son of
God, a past event nullified, transcended or exchanged at the resurrection for
heavenly glory,” one commentator writes.[i] Even as the Risen One,
Jesus bears the mark of his suffering as a mark of his personality and call
into new life. In other words, all of
this [sweep around the Stations]—the Sorrow and the Betrayal and the
Condemnation and the Denial, even the Suffering and the Burial – all of this
still lives in Jesus’ resurrected body. All of this still lives in ours.

We can
gather in this place to celebrate today
because
we have sat in the courthouse, shaking, afraid that even the law
could not or would not protect our lives.

We celebrate
today because we stood, head spinning
and stunned, as intimate friend or partner called us the worst names, then
turned on their heel and left.

We
celebrate today because we have been
through the valley that is shadowed by death and this week even laid hands on and
blessed a friend who is dying of cancer.

We
celebrate today because we stood and
wept and were simply held in the grief that our family life is a fractured and
painfully shattered version of what we so long dreamed it would be.

We
celebrate today because we’ve made
the journey through Holy Week, because we’ve felt the weight of that tombstone
and been given the chance to set it down.

We celebrate today because we faced all of this…
and then we took one step more, then two, then three, away from the tomb.
We celebrate today
because now we stand here. (Pause)

III.

And even though I flunked Lent… I realized
Easter started for me a couple weeks ago.
I didn’t realize that’s what was
happening at the time. But I was in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, hearing
speaker after speaker answer the question “Why Christian?” and it felt
something like the first day of the week was dawning. Maybe the Rev. Nancy
Frausto started it. She is an Episcopal priest in Long Beach and a DACA
recipient, who is working for immigration justice in Los Angeles. She stood in Grace
Cathedral to tell the truth about this Jesus that she follows. Despite so often
the God preached being a white guy, she stood in Grace Cathedral to tell us
that her DACA status (which needs renewed every two years) is up for renewal,
and it is unlikely to be renewed this time. Because she’s been loud. She’s been
in the papers, on the radio, in the news. Still, she stood there telling us all
that she won’t quiet down, that she believed in a Jesus “de mi color,” and that
she was going to stand right next to him to be “not an ally, but an
accomplice.”[ii]
And she wasn’t the only one on that stage. Woman after woman, (and some men), many
of them women of color, telling their story, bearing witness to why they are
Christian. Finally, Deborah Mouton, swept off the stage in a gust of Holy
Spirit power, the Resurrection in her wake. She had begun her story quoting the
African-American poet Lucille Clifton:

“Come
celebrate

with
me that everyday

something
has tried to kill me

and
has failed.” [iii]

This morning we gather to “Trust th[at] truth. And trust in
the women’s witness”[iv] as we join our words to
theirs.

IV.

Even
though I flunked Lent, I’m going to shout “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” today,
too. Because late one November night in 1988, my survival as a girl child in this
world was called into question when I suddenly became “at risk” in a middle of
the night departure from a bad living situation into what a lot of culture
thinks is worse. But somewhere in the middle of that night, between midnight
and sunrise the next day, gazing out the window of a Ford Fairmount into the
gray of an interstate rivering its way through Kentucky or Tennessee, somewhere
in that twilight hour before dawn, the Risen Christ met me on my way. It wasn’t
out loud. I didn’t see any glowing guy pop out of the sky. But I heard the Resurrection
promise again: (And now I can’t help but hear it as a Lin-Manuel Miranda tweet)

G’morning.

I’m going ahead of you.

You will see me there.

And today
I stand here.

Concl.

So if you
were just too afraid to take that one or two steps toward transformation this
Lent, here’s the Good News! Christ is Risen! And that’s now eternally true. You
did not miss your chance. And all of this that is part of you gets to be raised
up, too. (Even Easter lasts for 50 more days.) It is your limbs this power
longs to flow into, “from the sunflower center in your chest outward – as warm
water shatters at birth.”[v]

Christ is
Risen.

Christ is
Risen.

Christ is
Risen.

And we can
be changed. Alleluia! Amen.


[i]M.  Eugene Boring, “Matthew,” New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, p.
499.

[ii]
Rev. Nancy Frausto, preacher’s notes from “Why Christian?” conference address,
April 2019.

[iii]
Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me,” The Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)

[iv]
Karoline Lewis, “When Resurrection Matters,” April 15, 2019,
www.workingpreacher.org

[v]
Mary Karr, “Descending Theology: The Resurrection,” Sinners Welcome.