Sailing Out of the Tomb - Easter Message from April 17, 2022
Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
Epworth United Methodist Church, Berkeley
It has become a tradition at Epworth to walk what is known as the Social Justice Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Each year a different route takes us through our immediate neighborhood, relating aspects of injustice in our current life to the dynamics that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. This year’s route took us down Napa to The Alameda, along The Alameda to upper Solano, then to upper Solano toward the tunnel that runs underneath Marin bypassing the complicated traffic circle that exists above it. As we walked toward the tunnel, we enacted the 13th station in which the body of Jesus down from the cross. We imagined carrying the body of Jesus to the tomb as we approached the gaping dark hole at the entrance to the tunnel.
In reality, not one of us could have carried his body alone. Jesus’ body would have been heavy, dead weight. We would have needed a community of people were we really to carry his body. Archeological remains and historical evidence from the first century suggest that Jesus of Nazareth was about 5’5”, stocky, or at least heavily muscled. On the way to the tomb, the body we would have carried would have been bloodied, bruised, showing clear evidence of the torture he’d endured. In addition to the sheer weight of his body, we would have needed support to bear what we were witnessing.
We continued walking, and then we entered the tunnel, enacting the 14th station in which Jesus is laid in the tomb. It was dark, mostly an eerie quiet, though this eeriness was occasionally disturbed by the whizzing of a car just inches from us as we walked deeper into the tunnel. It got darker and darker. Graffiti on the walls suggested a lawless and hidden place. The experience was disorienting, possibly because of the gas fumes stagnant in the air. Not a place anyone would want to stay long. But in the stations of the cross, Jesus does stay there. He is laid in the tomb, a dark and disorienting place.
This Lenten season we have sunk deep into the reality of feeling ourselves to be in in a dark and disorienting place. We have named this experience as one of being unmoored. We continue to deal with the impacts and presence of Covid. But even as we are returning in some ways to what we thought of as our “normal” lives, things are different. We remember what it was like, or at least we think we do, and those times before can seem like an innocent time. We had no idea what was coming. And now even what should be familiar feels unfamiliar.
Together during this Lenten season, we’ve sunk into the reality that life is like this: whether the dislocation is due to Covid or something else--some other kind of loss, or illness, or unmooring, life on this earth does include suffering. In God’s willingness to live a human life, we know that God in Jesus has walked that path with us. Whatever we have suffered, whatever we endure, Jesus has endured it, Jesus has felt it. Indeed, some say that the miracle of Easter is as much that God in Jesus was willing to die as that he rose.
The scripture from Luke tells us that on the first day of the week, very early in the morning the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb and they entered. Though on our stations of the cross walk we approached the tunnel imagining ourselves carrying the body of Jesus into the tomb, this is another way to approach and enter the Solano Avenue tunnel: as the women, bravely entering this dark place, longing just to be with the body of the one whom they remembered as giving them life. They remembered their innocent time with him. The dinners, the travel, the revelations, the energy of the crowds, the intimate moments, the joy.
And so the women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, entered the tomb in deep sorrow, at least partially living in the past of their memories. They were willing to go into a dark place, a dangerous place. Robbers had been known to frequent the cave tombs around Jerusalem. The women entered this place, filled with the stench of death, to try and get back to what they remembered.
But they did not find the body of Jesus. Instead, they came upon two beings clothed in dazzling white who asked them to remember something else. “Remember,” they said, trying to shake the women out of their incomplete memories. “Remember,” they said, “He told you while he was still with you in Galilee.” He will be raised on the third day. He is not here. He is risen. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?,” they said.
Memory is like that. It conveniently edits “what was” in a way that can make “what is” seem inadequate, or just simply “not,” not there, not seen, not present. Memory can cause us to miss the gifts of the now, the gifts present even in the dark and disorientation. Even in unmooring.
As our group of Epworth pilgrims came around the curve of the tunnel and began to see the hint of light on the other side, I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed the first time I walked the path. As I looked down into the roadway, I saw, in spray-painted letters a message that said, “Love thy neighbor.” And then I looked up, and on the opposite side at the mouth of the tunnel, bathed in the light of the opening, covering the wall from the bottom up to about five feet high, was a big red spray-painted heart. I had missed these signs when I walked through the tunnel before.
What’s important to note is that the tunnel hadn’t changed since I walked it a few days before. But this time I wasn’t alone and wrapped up in my own project. I was with a group of fellow sojourners. I felt connected. Because I was attuned to what they were seeing, it made me newly conscious of what I was seeing. What I was seeing were signs of resurrection. Of new life. Of something different than just feeling overcome by the deep water or the dark tunnels, or the tombs we find ourselves in.
Throughout these 40 days of Lent, we’ve talked about the violence and abuse of power and privilege that is so pervasive around us that we don’t even see it. We recognized that perhaps there was a part of us that needed an unmooring or a dislocation to wake us up and tune us in. We recognized that in the suffering that dislocation engenders, we exist in connection to a God whose being is always in dislocation, because our God is always in solidarity with those who suffer. We acknowledged that our dis-location gives way to a spiritual location that exists in relation to God’s providential grace. In that dislocation, in unmooring, we have received an invitation to an orientation of living that finds abundance even in despair, even in suffering.
And now we have arrived together at Easter. Does this mean we are somehow magically no longer unmoored? We’ve found a port? An anchor has been dropped and turbulence has given way to stability? Not exactly. This particular unmooring we are experiencing will be with us for awhile longer. Dislocations are part of life. But what we have discovered is that in these deep and turbulent waters, there is not only grace, but life because we have been in them with a dislocated God. And when we weren’t able to find God in the depths of our unmooring, we found God in each other as our companionship helped us notice signs of hope, signs of love. Light at the end of the tunnel. The stone rolled away from the tomb.
What is Easter? What is salvation? In these days of journeying together, what we have discovered is salvation is in our connections. Just like I didn’t notice the message, “Love thy neighbor” or the big red heart the first time I walked through the tunnel until I was with others, the message of Easter is only experienced in community. Easter, in itself isn’t peace. Easter in itself isn’t joy. Easter is connection, which brings peace, which brings joy. It is a continuum of life, through death, to life beyond death. Connection conquering even death.
Think again of our scripture for this morning. When Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James arrived at the tomb, the resurrection had already happened. Jesus’ departure from the tomb and his new presence among us as living energy had begun. But it didn’t become salvation until it was recognized in community. When Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James saw the stone rolled away, and heard the words of the messengers of light and life, what memory told them should have been true was reordered, resurrected, taking on new form and shape. Jesus became Christ, dislocated and present and alive. And when these women ran to tell the others, the power of the resurrection grew even more as it was shared in community and Christ grew in dislocation, becoming our cosmic Christ.
You may have noticed that the “Unmoored,” this ethereal vessel that has carried us through this season, had changed when you entered the sanctuary. The boat that offered space and presence and focus to us in the unmooring has shifted 90 degrees. It’s no longer length-ways across the chancel, it is ready to sail right out the door. As artist Clark Kellogg explained when the vessel was inaugurated, “For the mariner, being unmoored is to cast off the ropes that hold us back; to be set free.”
And this is the meaning of Easter: we are set free to sail into ever new waters. To become dislocated over and over again in order to broaden the community, to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, to find others who stand in solidarity with us, and to bear witness to a dislocated God who is light and life and hope and love for all. As much as we have wrestled with our unmoorings this season, we have done so from the comfort and safety of our own sanctuary or from our own homes. And now, we are called to climb into the boat together, to sail out of the sanctuary in the depths that still may be turbulent but have become OUR waters. We’re invited to sail into the world with our own community and share the good news of a God in Jesus Christ who is risen and now is dislocated in all people, the body of Christ in each of us. Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Amen.