Pleasant Hope, I was looking forward to being with you in person last year. I am grateful that we and technology found a way for me to be with you on this most holy day though I still hope for an in person visit. Know that I am praying with and for you during the space between when I proclaim this word and when you hear it that any events that might transpire in our common life and require a word from God or her messenger will have been addressed by those in your midst that you not be left lacking the care of God in a moment of need.
Hear now the words of the gospel in…
Matthew 28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And look! There was a great earthquake, for a messenger of God, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 Its appearance was like lightning, and its clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of the messenger the guards shook and were as though dead. 5 But the messenger responded to the women and said, “Fear not; I know that you all are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, just as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and see, he is on to Galilee ahead of you; there you all will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples the news. 9 Then all of a sudden Jesus met them and said, “Shalom!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and bowed down worshipping him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Fear not; go and tell my sisters and brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Let us pray:
My prayer is Miriam’s prayer, Mother Mary’s prayer – Let it be.
Let it be with your woman-servant according to your word.
With these words
the word of God was formed in the woman of God.
On this day, as on that day,
let your word come forth again. Amen.
There are parts of the world where earthquakes are so commonplace, they are nearly an everyday phenomenon. People know how to get down and cover their heads and brace themselves and then get up and go on about their daily business. But earthquakes were not nearly as commonplace in the ancient Afro-Asiatic world as they are in California. In the scriptures of the Afro-Asiatic people who would come to be called Hebrew, “the passing over people,” referring to the passage of the death angel as well as their own passage over Jordan, for them in the Hebrew Scriptures, earthquakes are a sign that God is up to something.
One day God came down on Mount Sinai and shook it like a baby’s rattle, called the people together and gave Ten Commandments. (Deborah’s track about that day made it to the Hot 100 in Judges 5 and was remixed in psalm after psalm after psalm.) Psalm 18 says the earth rocks and rolls and the foundations of the mountains quake and shake when God’s anger is aroused from its slumber like a sleeping dragon waking, pouring smoke out of its nostrils and fire from its mouth. Over and over the psalms and the prophets say the earth quakes at the presence of God. Yet even when, as Elijah teaches us, God is not in the earthquake, earthquakes, wind and fire, accompany the presence of God. Is anybody surprised that the God and father of black baby Jesus rocks to earth, wind and fire?
Then on one Friday afternoon, the earth shook and the rocks were split and the dead rose and walked the earth. My ancestors sang, “God is trying to tell you something.” All the signs were there that bloody murderous Friday afternoon. They were as the purple prince once sang, “a sign of the times.”
Can I paint the picture? Habakkuk said:
the law fails – the legal system becomes ineffective
and justice never comes forth.
The wicked surround the righteous;
therefore, judgment, justice, comes forth perverted.
One Friday afternoon, the empire had its way with the body and blood of a Black and Asian mother’s child as it is so often wont to do. Black and Asian. We black folk love to affirm the blackness of Jesus and for good reason. The impoverished eyes of the world have been taught not to see the beauty and goodness inherent in blackness, that holy place where God dwells in thick darkness. The same folk who despise our black beauty covet our skin and our bodies, and the very soul of our blackness, our culture, our music, our style, our swag. When the world hated us for the very blackness they fetishized and tried to teach us to hate ourselves, the black church loved us and taught us to love ourselves when nobody else would and folk were hating on our skin, our hair, our lips, our noses, our thighs, our buttocks, our thickness, our swish, our sway, our juice.
Scholars have long called the people of Israel Afro-Asiatic and classified their language as Afro-Asiatic because in the River Jordan the tectonic plates of two great continents, Africa and Asia come together in that ancient baptismal stream. Though we did not all listen when Tiger tried to find a way to honor both sides of his heritage, and some laughed at him, we got better when we got to know our new vice president. Black and Asian. Trust that the same Jesus who is on the front lines of the Black Lives Movement is also with his Asian kinfolk as other folk, black folk and white folk, batter and bruise and beat them out of a concocted and calculated hatred, blaming them for a virus they did not create. And even though this latest atrocity was enacted by yet another young white man targeting women preferentially out of his corrupted sexual desire and inadequate religious formation, be sure that the conversation will soon turn to the long, complicated history of black and Asian folk in this country. We can’t afford to let the forces who know they would fall if we ever got together keep us on opposite sides. Be very clear there is nothing the white supremacist demonic empire wants more than for the black and brown children of God to be at each other’s throat.
The Friday afternoon that three mother’s children hung on crooked crosses, this Friday afternoon the Romans, the Europeans, the white folk in scripture who are not really all white because Rome conquered and colonized and conscripted folk from every place they set their greedy treacherous feet so, a Roman centurion could be African or Asian or, European – this Friday afternoon Jesus got the same justice Brianna Taylor got, Trayvon Martin got, George Floyd got. This Friday afternoon the Black Messiah got got. This Friday, the spirit whispered a word to a wise woman whose husband did not listen when she told him he better not fool with that brown man. But there are some male ears that come with a woman-sized blockage so, Pilate ignored his wife to his own peril. This Friday, Jesus was a victim of police brutality. This Friday, a brother named Simon came to help a brotha out. This Friday, they ripped the clothes off his bloody back and lynched him naked to shame him before his Mama. This Friday, they made his murder a three for one spectator event. This Friday, he used his dying breath to call out for the God who midwifed him from his mother’s womb and then crying out in death as he had once cried out in birth, he hung his head and then he died and someone would come and pierce him in his side. And when he died, the earth quaked. The rocks were split. And the dead began to rise. God was up to something on that bloody Friday.
As Jesus hung on the cross his ace boon coons – everybody can’t say that; that’s black folk talk – they were nowhere to be found; they turned out to be undercover brothers. But the women, the women were where they always are, at the place where the need was, doing what they always do, doing whatever was necessary to meet the need. This Friday the women were witnesses, a living testimony to the evil that men do. They were sentinels and signposts to the suffering of oppressed peoples. They were a visual rebuke to the villainous violence heaped on their people, their children, their sons. They were mothers and aunties who put their pennies together to bail their babies out of jail, mail them care packages and put money in their prison account and, make the trek to visit them no matter how far away and, accept the collect calls and video visitation. They were a protest posse practicing presence and a mother’s march and mothers of a movement. Perhaps they stood in silence daring their boy’s torturers and executioners to look them in the face. Perhaps they screamed in sounds for which there are no words. Perhaps one collapsed to the ground. Perhaps they stood as Mother Mary’s armor bearers bearing her up, one on each side. They stood and they stayed.
And when it was over, ah! when they thought it was over, they followed his corpse as they had followed him in life. There is a small piece in the previous chapter that I have not heard preached on much and that is that while brother Joseph of Arimathea was washing and tending to the body of Jesus, Mary and her sisters in the struggle were sitting in front of the tomb. There they sat and there they stayed as they had stood and stayed earlier in the day. They would not leave him. Theirs was a love that would not let go. This was a love that were stronger than death. This is what literary analysis would call foreshadowing, a glimpse into what’s coming next into the story, love that is stronger than death.
And then the gospel leaves us hanging. No wonder so many Christians move from Friday to Sunday without missing a beat. But Jesus missed a beat. He missed the beating of his heart on Friday afternoon. His heart stood still on Friday evening. His heart grew cold on Saturday morning. His heart began to stiffen on Saturday afternoon. By Saturday evening his heart was as hard and cold as the stone on which he lay. And all the while, in my sanctified imagination, I see his Mama hugging her arms to her chest, to the breast her son had once warmed, now imagining her precious boy lying cold in a borrowed grave. I imagine the other women weeping, pulling out their hair, tearing their garments, putting ashes on their heads, smearing them across their faces, refusing to eat, refusing to sleep, wandering around with dazed glazed eyes.
I don’t think we sit with Mary long enough. I don’t think we sit with Jesus long enough. Some of us have never even been to his grave. We brought no flowers or stones to lay in memorial. Death makes us uncomfortable. I believe that is because each death we experience vicariously brings us closer to our own deaths. And we’re not trying to go that way. At least not yet.
Come Sunday morning, early Sunday morning, early on the third day morning as the old preachers say, the women got up before dawn because there was work to do. Women don’t get to stop working because they are grieving and bereaved. Women don’t get to stop working because they are tired and can’t sleep. Women don’t get to stop working because there’s a pandemic going on. Women don’t get to stop working because their children are in zoom classrooms. Some women don’t get to stop working until the moment of their deaths. Women are the often unacknowledged and undercompensated workhorses of the world. Ninety percent of the jobs that were lost during this past year were women’s jobs and yet, women are working harder than before to provide for their families and themselves with and without jobs.
The women woke. The women walked. The women came to wash and wrap the broken bloody cold dead body of Jesus. And between the rising and falling of one foot the earth shook, the ground quaked, rocks began to split and crumble and roll downhill. And all around them, the dead were being raised. Resurrections were springing forth like Easter flowers. There was new life, renewed life, in that place of death and decay and rot and stink. There in the space between evening and morning, darkness and dawn there was an earthquake jailbreak at Hell’s gate. This is the second time in the story that the dead were raised. They were raised at the moment of Jesus’s death because the world turned so sharply on its spiritual axis that the physical ground split open and the grave loosened its grasp. And with the resurrection of Jesus, the grasp of death lost its hold more time and Jesus swag surfed through the opening, bringing his people with him, kicking the gates of hell off their hinges.
(The song says:) He rose! He rose! He rose from the dead! He rose! He rose! He rose from the dead! He rose! He rose! He rose from the dead! He rose to angels pulling back the covers from the sleep of death. He rose to the sound of a rolling stone granting him a glimpse of the glorious dawn. He rose to the sight of faithful sisters receiving their angelic ordination to go and preach the good news of the risen Christ. He rose to greet the apostle to the apostles, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary whom the evangelist didn’t bother to identify clearly. Even in this moment when the old divisions and hierarchies are broken down and scattered on the ground, some folk still cling to the old ways, the dead ways.
Jesus also rose to a world in which crooked courts and unjust judges still remained. He rose to a world in which some nations colonized and conquered other nations for their land, resources and their human resources. He rose to a world with killer cops where black and Asian lives still don’t matter equally. He rose to a world with hungry babies and bloated billionaires. He rose to a world where the beauty of the earth is being laid waste daily. He rose to a world where people use his name to tell his beloved gay and trans kin that they are not his, they are not God’s, they are not beloved. He rose to a crucified and crucifying world. It’s the same old world, but it’s singing a brand new song: He rose! He rose! He rose from the dead!
Just as his death was not the end of the story so also his resurrection is not the end. There was work to do then. And there s work to do now. And as always seems to be the case, it was the sisters’ work to do. Go and tell. Go and tell the good news. Go and tell those who do not know that Christ Jesus lives. Go and tell my kinfolk. Jesus uses a word that includes his sisters and his brothers, but you wouldn’t know it from reading bibles translated by men. Go and tell the people who are closest to me. Go and tell the people who are grieving for me. Go and tell the people who have lost hope. Go and tell the people who think it’s all over. Go and tell the people who do not know that the Savior lives. Go and tell. Go and tell this good word go and preach this good news. Go and tell. The word from heaven on the lips of the angel was the same as the word of Jesus in the earth realm, go and tell. There is good news today.
Now you might be surprised that this gospel does not tell these new apostles to preach the gospel to all the world rather, it sends them to the family in faith. That’s because we who are in the house are not yet all converted. That’s a sermon for another day. Go and tell the fam that Jesus lives. Go and tell the fam that the empire’s days are numbered. Go and tell the folks that the time of killer cops is coming to an end. Go and tell the people this pandemic will not last always. Go and tell the brokenhearted there is a balm in Gilead. Go and tell the mothers who have buried their children that there is a God who is love is stronger than death. Go and tell those brothers that in order for this church to be what God created it to be you gonna have to listen to the word of God through the sisters every once in a while. In the words of the messenger from heaven, “This is my message for you.” This Gospel is that God’s concern for the woman-born was manifested in God, Godself, becoming woman-born, for the redemption and liberation of all the woman-born from fear and from death itself.
In the name of the One who waded in the waters of Miryam’s womb, walked the way of suffering as one of the woman-born, and woke from the grasp of death in the deep darkness of the morning. Amen.
Recorded for Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD
The whole service can be seen here: