Archive for April, 2011

Crossing the Border

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10.

Crossing the border conjures up a variety of emotions—the Unknown–Fear–Excitement–Surprise. We see changes and differences in ourselves and others.

My husband and I live in Takoma Park, just before the border between DC and MD—and it used to be that criminals who were escaping the scene of a crime in Maryland would not be pursued by DC cops, if they got that far. So we have been witnesses to exciting car chases, even one that resulted in a car driving through the front door of our next-door neighbor!

When we think of actual border crossing, we often think of the border between Mexico and US. Border crossing there is often fearful—fear of getting caught for undocumented persons; fear of being exposed to drug wars.

I’m proud that the United Church of Christ has created Centro Romero, a center for education about the realities of the border (www.ucc.org/justice/centro-romero). They lift up the differences between a country of poverty and one of wealth. The San Diego area contains some of the wealthiest and most expensive communities in the U.S., like La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe. By contrast, immediately across the border in Tijuana, there are the fastest-growing squatter communities in North America built of cardboard and scrap materials.

The maquiladores, multinational manufacturing companies, create tremendous environmental pollution in Tijuana. There are also significant health problems, massive poverty, crime, and environmental degradation resulting from the maquiladora camps in Tijuana.

But that’s not to say that all the tragic things are happening on the Mexican side of the border:  there are 10,000 to 15,000 Mexican transnational farm workers still living in migrant worker camps across San Diego County without access to clean water. Life and death in sunny California.

The biggest border we cross is life and death; in fact, some call dying “crossing over.” Modern medical science has blurred the line between life and death—but somehow, I think we can usually tell when the spirit has taken flight and fallen into the arms of a loving God.

Occasionally, people who have crossed that border are brought back from the dead in the Emergency Room. Some of them report a sensation of looking down on their body. Then they move through a dark tunnel towards a bright white light– very much like it must be to be born, don’t you think? Relatives who have died before welcome them, then send them home to live again because it is not yet their time. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Jesus also crossed this border—but instead of his soul splitting off, leaving an earthly body to return to the elements of earth, the Bible says that Jesus was resurrected whole, body and soul together.

According to the gospel of Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary experienced a violent earthquake, because an angel had come down from heaven and rolled the giant stone back from the tomb. The angel, whose appearance was like lightening, said to the women: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” The women, afraid yet filled with joy, run to tell the disciples, but are surprised again: Jesus is waiting for them nearby. And there follows a really tender scene, where Jesus surprises them—saying “Greetings!” and they clasp his feet, and worship him. Clearly he was not only a spirit, but embodied, since they were able to hold onto his feet!

The other gospels tell the story in different ways, with different characters and details. However it is told, the story of Jesus’ crossing over is a stumbling block for many people. They think they can’t be Christians since they can’t believe in a literal resurrection. Or they may belong to a church yet tune out any “resurrection talk.” This may be because of our Western tendency to rely on the mind rather than the heart. The intellect is always looking for facts and proofs and logic, and the mind doesn’t allow us to believe that God trifles with the physical laws set in motion at the creation of the universe. I myself prefer to set all that aside, and focus on my heart, which teaches me to trust in God, and rest in unknowing.

Actually, the work of scholars like Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg and other members of the Jesus Seminar have shown that the whole story of the burial of Jesus in a tomb is not realistic, never mind the resurrection itself! From non-Christian writings of that time, they note that an important part of the shame and humiliation wreaked by the Empire on the crucified was the inability of families to bury their loved ones’ bodies. The victims, usually considered enemies of the state, were left on their crosses to be scavenged by wild dogs and birds, so that there was nothing left to honor with last rites or to bury. It’s Terrorism 101, reinforcing the total and absolute power of the dominator over the dominated, perfected by the Roman Empire and copied by countless others throughout history.

It is a fact that of all the many thousands of people crucified by the Romans, archeologists have only found one heel bone with a nail in it.

On the other hand, it seems to me that a rich man such as Joseph of Arimathea could have had the wherewithal to grease a few palms sufficiently to get the right to bury Jesus’ body in a real tomb, particularly if Jesus was not considered a major threat to the Empire.

Still, we are left with the question—even if Jesus was properly buried, was he really resurrected in body and spirit? Or did he cross over into death as all human beings do, leaving behind a body, but taking flight in spirit?

I submit to you that it doesn’t really matter whether you believe that Jesus’ body was resurrected or not; whether the women really held onto Jesus’ feet for dear life or whether they simply dreamed of meeting him. What matters, what really matters, is that we cross over into the resurrection world with him; that way of seeing and believing and acting that bears the risen Christ.

Thomas G. Long, a New Testament scholar, writes beautifully in his commentary on Matthew about the two worlds described in the gospel, one full of sadness and despair, the other one vibrant with resurrection and new life.

“Without even knowing that they had crossed the border, they left the old world, where hope is in constant danger, and might makes right, and peace has little chance, and the rich get richer, and the weak all eventually suffer under some Pontius Pilate or another, and people hatch murderous plots, and dead people stay dead, and they entered the startling and breathtaking world of resurrection and life” (Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion).

Long describes the new way things are in the light of resurrection: “The way the world used to be, if something troubling got in the way, like a call for racial justice or a worker for peace or an advocate for mercy, the world could just kill it and it would be done with. But Jesus is alive, and righteousness, mercy, and peace cannot be dismissed with a cross or a sword. We have to decide where we stand and what we will do in this new and frightening resurrection world” (Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion).

The only thing that matters is whether we take a stand on the side of new life or not. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his handful of frightened disciples were turned into fearless proclaimers of the gospel. The living Christ is calling to us to join him in this new and frightening resurrection world—perhaps to walk with him in protest against the suffering caused by polluting factories built in Tijuana to take advantage of low wages and the lack of worker protections.

During Lent some of us participated in a carbon fast organized by e-mail from the New England UCC churches, to help us look at ways to be better stewards of God’s creation. There were suggestions for individual changes, the fasting, as well as discussion topics for the church as a whole (www.facebook.com/carbonfast.) Thursday night’s Earth Day service that the eco-justice group created grew out of the carbon fast in part.

In the carbon fast devotion for Holy Saturday, they suggested that perhaps this is the time that God is inviting us to redirect the entire vocation of the Christian church, to proclaim a new moral center that results in humankind walking on the earth more lightly. Wouldn’t that be amazing? It would be as big a change as the Reformation! Maybe you hear a different call to you personally or to Sojourners UCC—there are as many callings as there are people in this room—so where will you choose to walk with the living Christ in his resurrection world?  Amen.