4/21/19 - Coming Out Singing - Luke 24:1-12

Coming Out Singing

Luke 24:1-12

Emmanuel Baptist Church; Kathy Donley

April 21, 2019

For much of the year 2010, I was in ongoing conversation with the pastoral search committee, finally arriving here as your pastor in August. Earlier that year, several Emmanuelites went on a medical mission to the Dominican Republic. You arrived shortly after a devastating earthquake shook that island. Upon arrival, some of you continued as planned with your work in the Dominican and some of you went to offer help in Haiti.  That was before my time here, but I expect that when you returned, you shared stories of your experiences, what you had seen and heard and the impact it had had on you.

The stories that were told by the media were heart-breaking.  An estimated 3 million people were affected by the quake, nearly one-third of Haiti’s population. More than 160,000 died.  Morgues were overwhelmed by dead bodies.  In the poorest country in the hemisphere, resources were simply inadequate to meet the need.

In the midst of this, a man named Roger went looking for his wife, Ginette. She worked in a bank, which had completely collapsed.  The building had fallen in on top of itself. For 6 days, Roger kept vigil on that site.  For 6 days, he called her name.  For 6 days, under 30 feet of broken concrete, in total darkness, Ginette heard him and responded “I’m alive. Help me.  I’m alive.  I’m alive.”   Even though Roger never heard her, he convinced an excavator to clear piles of rubble. Finally, he found her, still alive. Then it took hours for professional rescuers to stabilize the rubble and extract her. They carefully lifted her out.  And as her body cleared the opening, she started singing!  Parched and frail, her voice still carried loudly enough to be heard through the TV camera.

Buried alive for 6 days.

Pinned down for 6 days. 

Total darkness for 6 days.

But Ginette came out singing.  And the words of her song were “Don’t be afraid.  God is here.” [1]

I can’t get over this story.  I heard it this month for the first time, and trust me, I was skeptical. But I googled it.  And I found film footage of the event and interviews with Roger and Ginette afterwards. So I believe it, but I am still astounded.

Holding on to that astonishment, maybe I can begin to tap into the wonder that the women must have felt when they reached the tomb that first Easter morning.  The four gospel accounts of the Resurrection differ in many ways, but they all agree that the stone was rolled away.  Mark reports that on the way to the tomb, the women had wondered who would move it for them. Estimates suggest that such a stone might have weighed 500-600 pounds or more, so I expect they did wonder how to get it moved.

In his poem, “Seven Stanzas at Easter” John Updike describes this tomb stone as “not papier-mâché, but the vast rock of materiality.”[2]  This is a rock of substance, a solid rock with heft and weight.  The vast rock of materiality at the entrance to the tomb marks the line between the dead and the living.

The Rev. Calum MacLeod, minister at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, suggests that in addition to being literally heavy, the stone carries symbolic weight. He says it symbolizes empire, “the Roman empire which placed the stone there after the empire killed Jesus.  And it is also a symbol of religious oppression for it was the religious authorities, the mainline church of the day, who didn’t like Jesus because he broke the rules: he healed on the Sabbath; he ate with people whom society looked down on.”  And finally, McLeod says, “For the women and the disciples, the stone symbolizes the destruction of the hope and potential that was present in the ministry of Jesus, the one whom they loved. The stone marks the end to healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted and feeding the hungry and caring for the poor and welcoming the outcast.”[3]

Like the thirty feet of rubble that trapped Ginette in Haiti, the vast rock of materiality at the entrance to the tomb marks the line between the dead and the living. It bears down, snuffing out the light of hope, suffocating passion and spirit with the frustration of oppression and injustice and the inescapable weight of the finality of death.  The rock at the entrance to tomb marks the line between the dead and the living . . . until the women discover that it is rolled away.

After 6 days, Roger found Ginette under the rubble, still trapped, but alive. Wonder, joy, relief.  He yelled, he whooped, and ran to get more help. He brought water to her.   His sense of urgency was palpable and people rushed to respond.  

After 3 days, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. And the women went back to deliver the message from the angels that Jesus has risen from the dead.  I think they ran back. I think they were probably beside themselves with wonder and joy and relief and simultaneous belief and disbelief.  The weight of the stone was lifted.  Hope and spirit and life returned. . .

Until they told the men. The men thought this story was nonsense, drivel, trash.  The men laughed at the ridiculousness of it. The Bible translators try to soften it. They say “these words seemed to them an idle tale, or empty talk, or a silly story. But the Greek word that Luke uses is direct and offensive. B.S.  That’s what he says.[4] The women deliver their amazing, urgent, joyful, wondrous news and the men say, “What a load of crap.”

If anyone should have believed them, it should have been these disciples, these who were bonded to Jesus and to each other.  If they won’t believe, who will? I wonder if the women heard the men’s ridicule and felt the weight of that stone all over again. I wonder if, in that moment, the heaviness of despair and injustice and rejection by friends just rolled right over them, threatening to crush their spirits, and suffocate their hope.

Sometimes, I think it is that moment where I spend too much of my life. That moment when the weight of poverty and addiction and sin and suffering bear down to crush life, that moment when the rubble seems to be 30 feet deep and no one has the resources to move it, to clear away the hatefulness, the nationalism, the racism and sexism and all the other brokenness of human power-mongering that keeps us trapped in the tomb. That moment when it seems like empire won and keeps on winning.  That moment when oppression  and injustice threaten to overwhelm hope and love forever.

I live too much of my life in that moment, for someone who knows the truth that that is not the whole story. The disciples’ knee-jerk verdict of B.S. is not their ultimate response. Just because someone might respond with “Fake news” when the truth is told, it does not change the truth’s veracity or its power for those who will believe.

This is what confronts us on Easter – the choice between an idle tale or deepest truth.

The vast rock between life and death has been rolled away.  That is the truth. There are forces that would diminish life and yes, they are real and strong for now, but they have been ultimately defeated by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.   Idle tale or deepest truth? We must decide.   

The stone has been rolled away.  We have a choice. We can stay on the tomb side where despair and fear and death reign.  Or we can dwell on this side of resurrection, in wonder, amazement, trust and joy.

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, pastor at Riverside Church in New York City in the 1980’s, said, “Even if the resurrection cannot be proved, it can be known, experienced, and it can be trusted. Faith anyhow is not believing without proof; it’s trusting without reservation. The resurrection faith is a willingness—on the basis of all that we have heard, all that we have observed, all that we have thought deeply about and experienced at a level far deeper than the mind ever comprehends—faith is a willingness to risk our life on the conviction that while we human beings kill God’s love we can never keep it dead and buried. Jesus Christ is risen, today, tomorrow, every day.”[5]

Resurrection faith is a willingness to risk our lives on the conviction that we cannot keep God’s love dead and buried.

I don’t know what kept Ginette alive and sane and strong for 6 days in her earthquake tomb. But I think surely it must have been resurrection faith which enabled her to come out singing.  And she was singing “Don’t be afraid.  God is here.”   

I don’t know Ginette’s song, but it brings to mind a folk song by Bob Franke which some of you might know – The Great Storm is Over.  If you don’t know the chorus, I’ll teach it to you.  It’s just two sentences repeated.

Alleluia, the great storm is over.    

Lift up your wings and fly!

I’ll sing the verses.  You join in on the chorus. And if my voice is ragged this morning, you can imagine that I’ve just come out from under 30 feet of rubble.

1. The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night,/ The little small child cried aloud in her fright,/ Hush little baby, a story I'll tell,/ Of a love that has vanquished  the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over,
Lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over,
Lift up your wings and fly!

2. Sweetness in the air and justice on the wind / There’s laughter in the house where the mourners have been/ The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes / The standards of death taken down by surprise.

3. Release for the captives, an end to the wars /  Streams in the desert, new hope for the poor,/ The little lost children will dance as they sing,/  And play with the bears and the lions in spring.

4. Hush little baby, let go of your fear,/ The lord loves his own and your mother is here,/  The child fell asleep as the lantern did burn,/ The mother sang on 'til her bridegroom's return.[6]

After 6 days buried alive, pinned down, in total darkness, she came out singing. Singing “Don’t be afraid.  God is here.”

On the third day, they went to the tomb at early dawn. The stone was rolled away and the angels said “He is not in the tomb.  He is risen.”

Sisters and brothers, the great storm is over.

Christ is risen.   Christ is risen indeed. Amen.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew3w4kaldgs

[2] https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/seven-stanzas-at-easter/

[3] The Rev. Calum MacLeod in his sermon “Roll the Stone Away”  http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2013/033113.html

[4] Anna Carter Florence, Preaching As Testimony (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) p. 119.

[5] William Sloane Coffin, The Riverside Preachers, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2010), p. 162

[6] Copyright (C) 1982 Telephone Pole Music Pub. Co. (BMI)
Recorded by Bob Franke on One Evening in Chicago, Flying Fish Records DC