"Lightning Bolt," Pastor Kinsey
One thing I’ve appreciated, moving back to the city from small town Michigan, is the uninterrupted flow of electricity. We used to have power outages regularly in Iron County. Sometimes all it took was one sacrificial squirrel, to short out a local transformer – or at least that’s what the electric company reported! But it was the feared thunder bolt of lightning, that could take down a much larger section of the grid, when it struck out of nowhere.
That’s exactly what happened the evening our little church on the hill in Stambaugh, MI was celebrating its 90th Anniversary. The church was packed with current and former members, on a sweltering August day. People wiped their brows as they hurried up from dropping off their potluck dishes downstairs, in preparation for the dinner following the service. Harvey Gustafson, a former pastor and noted organist, was beginning his prelude on the new digital Juhannus organ. And the standing room only congregation fanned itself, and smiled nervously, as they watched the extremely dark clouds gathering through the windows, opened wide to let the breeze blow in.
When the clouds finally let loose the big heavy drops which the humid air could no longer hold, suddenly there was a flash of lightening, and simultaneously, the crack of thunder, and Harvey’s Buxtehude in B flat major was silenced! There was an audible gasp. The congregation now sat in darkness. The fans fluttered to a halt, even as people rushed to close the windows to the rain, trapping the oppressive heat inside. Kim and I began lighting candles around the sanctuary to reassure people – ‘don’t worry, this is the way the church was lit 90 years ago,’ we said. While Gary Lopez, our member who worked for the electric company, organized his friends to rig up Art Hendrickson’s RV generator to the organ, so Harvey could finish his prelude! Everything had changed in an instant, in the flash of a light from the sky – and turned our best laid plans upside-down. And no one from the little Stambaugh church on the hill, would ever forget the candle-lit 90th anniversary celebration.
And arguably, nothing has shaken the world, as much as that very first Easter morn, when two women went to the tomb of Jesus, curious, and courageous, and certainly not expecting what was about to unfold – history that is still commemorated today.
For at the grave site, a confrontation of heaven and earth was about to take place, when early on Sunday morning, as the day was “dawning,” says Matthew, out of nowhere, like a bolt out of the sky, a messenger descends to earth, looking a lot like Jesus did at his Transfiguration on the mountaintop to Peter and James and John. His clothing was as white as snow – a blinding mirage, as the eastern sun reflected off him!
This fissure of heaven and earth, rumbles and quakes the ground under their feet, as the large round stone sealing the tomb, rolled away, causing the Roman soldiers on the night shift to quake with fear, and they fell unconscious.
While the angel calmly sits atop the large stone – like it’s the most natural thing in the world – illuminating some serious candle-power now, from center stage.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – who was perhaps Jesus’ mother, but not identified here by her blood relationship, to emphasize the shift to her status as a follower and disciple, now – somehow remain conscious, through their shock.
Do not be afraid, the Messenger says to them, as if that’s going to be possible! But, there is good news to announce, coming out of this earth quaking spectacle. Angels, are God’s messengers, and the morning news from this particular one, is that the tomb is empty – Jesus has left the premises! ‘That’s why I’ve rolled back the stone,’ says the angel, so you can see! Take a look if you like. ‘Just as Jesus told you,’ he has been raised, and has gone ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him. Remember, at the Last Supper, when you took the Cup and he commanded, ‘drink of it all of you’, how you sang a hymn, and Jesus predicts that all the disciples would desert him – that’s when he said, ‘But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’
‘So go quickly now,’ said the angel, ‘and tell the 11 disciples.’
Where are those other disciples? Why are they not with Mary Magdalene and Mary, who went to the tomb to confront the Roman guard? Why do the two Mary’s seem the most engaged of all of them, in where the Passion story goes next? The 11 disciples, and other followers, are holed up in the Upper Room, presumably? Where is their faith? There courage? They were at the Last Supper and heard Jesus say for the umpteenth time that he would be raised and go ahead of them to Galilee. What are they afraid of?
What do we do, when we are fearful?
Wouldn’t it be great if there was no corruption, no sin, no death? Wouldn’t it be great if, resurrection, didn’t have to mean, there was first, a crucifixion? Wouldn’t it be great if we could live without fear, and bullying, and hate? Wouldn’t it be great if our society progressed on a nice straight upwards curve instead of having to re-fight racism, and militarism, and consumerism? Wouldn’t it be great if life was all Easter eggs and Cinnamon rolls, and there was no hunger and famine?
Mary Magdalene and mother Mary – now follower – don’t take anything for granted. They’re organized, but realistic about what they’re up against, and together gather their courage, supporting each other, not giving up on Jesus’ mission.
Where do we find our faith, and our courage? Are we tempted to sit in our rooms? Maybe watch the 5:00 News, gasp at the latest reported lightning-bolt-Tweet, before switching to Dancing with the Stars, or the Walking Dead?
Where is Jesus calling you today? To your kids school? Your neighborhood block club or town hall meeting? The local drama production?
It took some pretty mighty organization, and no small measure of support to pull it off, but the Women’s March on Washington in January, which spread to every major city, and many countries abroad, shook the very ground of our country and world! All those pink hats alone, were an amazing feat of planning! The first full day in office for the new President, was protested by millions of women who had the courage not to sit at home, but to stand up to the ‘isms’ that threatened their lives, the lives of their families, and all of us.
Faith, as Paul Tillich said, is ‘the courage to be.’ And the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morn, is God’s lightning bolt, striking at the heart of our world, turning the oppressive structures upside down. On the first Easter morn, God empowers women – who at the time of Jesus, were not even allowed to testify in court, and were stigmatized as unreliable. Of all the followers of Jesus, the two Mary’s have the leading roles in witnessing to Christ’s rising! The might of earthly empire, from Governor on down to its soldiers, is silenced! Not killed, but rendered harmless. And the history of God acting in our world is now told from a new perspective, that of the underdog, the poor, the blind, the repentant, and women.
The last enemy death, is overcome first, provisionally in God’s chosen One, but promised to all God’s creation – the realm of God has broken into our world, has come down to earth, and is starting to bloom.
What are you afraid of? Jesus is risen and has gone ahead of us to Galilee. Whose story will we believe? How will we invest our, ‘courage to be?’ How many lightning bolts will strike us, before we clear our eyes to see!
‘Do not be afraid’ – for Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!