April 15, 2017

Sometimes an Earthquake


Text: Matthew 28:2: "And suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it."

The dust is well settled by now. I don't just mean the place in the garden in front of that hewn-out grave, where the guards came to seal up the stone and make everything secure. I'm talking about the dust that Gretchen spoke of forty days ago, the dust that we are all made up of. The dust of our lives that gets all stirred up when we live through that once-a-year moment of coming face-to-face with our mortality. We never leave that encounter quite unscathed; we end up with dirty foreheads at the very least, and a sharpened sense of our own impermanence and God's

We never leave that encounter quite unscathed; we end up with dirty foreheads at the very least, and if we're willing to risk the vulnerability of the moment we gain a sharpened sense of our own impermanence and the endlessness of God's mercy.

But then we go home, and wash our faces, and the dust settles, and things return to a different kind of death, the one that we know as deadening routine. We go back not just to our usual ways, but to our usual views, our usual stances, our usual positions, our usual camps.

It isn't just that the dust settles gently on our restored normality. It's that we stamp it down into compact ground in the absolute certainty of our perspectives. It wasn't all that long ago, as Gretchen put it then, that we were gathered together confronting, and admitting, our mortal contingency, our fallibility, and our culpability. But it wasn't long after that we were settled back into own certainties, aligning ourselves with one camp or another about any given matter of concern to us, assuring ourselves of the correctness of our own views and the foolishness, or the ignorance, or the evil, of the people who disagree with us.

The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai described that place in a short poem aptly titled "The Place Where we are Right":

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

The place Amichai is describing, that place is our tomb. It's all the places where we have done the work of pounding down the soil that should grow new possibilities into the stone of our certainties; our quiet certainty in our righteousness of our own causes, our proud certainties in the superiority of our own preferences, even our sophisticated certainty that this story could never have happened, at least not this way.

But God, the God who is absolute mercy and reconciling love, that God could not care less about our certainties. God does not care about the stone fortresses we build with such care around ourselves to defend our most fondly held ideas, or our dearest affections. That God does not come like a burrowing mole, or a tender whisper, or a farmer's plow. God comes as an earthquake, and breaks all those rocks back down into soil—so that something, thank God, can grow in us again.

That earthquake destroys even the certainty of death. And when it does, what gets raised out of that tomb is not the baby in the manger. If there is no other idea you carry out of this night, let it be this: What gets raised out of that tomb is the crucified body of Jesus, bruises, wounds, and all. It is not just the perfection of God, present in the person of Jesus, that gets restored to life; it is the whole human mess, the whole broken, sorrowing, bleeding, frail mortality, that gets redeemed, restored, and raised.

And in that resurrection all of our possibilities are restored. Because all of our brokenness, all of our wounds—those we have suffered and those we have inflicted on ourselves—all of it is redeemed and brought out of death and back to life, life that will not be refused.

This is the blessing of the earthquake for us. And it is not just for us. That earthquake opens the path of resurrection for the frailty, the imperfections, the struggles and sorrows of every human heart. And that means it is just as much for the ones we disagree with and can't understand as the ones we love and make churches with.

Earthquakes are devasating. They quickly reduce our order to chaos, and break apart the things we have spent lifetimes building. But very quickly, green shoots emerge from the rubble. Possibilities are given life out of the death of old certainties. Life that will not be refused comes forth once again. And its coming is as certain as the dawn. Amen.