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“Nevertheless: Rise, Resist, Persist” – – Rev. Mereschuk – – Easter Sunday – – April 16, 2017

“Nevertheless: Rise, Resist, Persist”

Rev. Chris Mereschuk

Luke 24:1-12

Easter Sunday

April 16, 2017

Prayer…

History, as it is said, is written by the “winners” – – the power holders and the privileged. So often, the authors of history exclude, erase, scandalize, and marginalize those people whom society has devalued, dehumanized, exploited, and oppressed. This has been true since the dawn of recorded history, and it remains true today.

Having this knowledge, we now have a responsibility to fashion ourselves some very critical reading glasses to identify and make known those missing names and hidden stories. We must attune our ears to the missing and muted voices of protest and resistance, and pick up our own pens to record a more just history.

It is essential for us to read, and listen to, and write these stories because in the face of injustice and in the face of an empire that actively suppresses voices to maintain power, these same hidden histories will reveal the people who will call us out and lead us out. They are the pioneers and prophets who model for us how to rise, resist, and persist. 

Uncovering the history of resistance reveals inspiringly ironic victories where the weapons of injustice are refashioned to dismantle injustice. The very method used by the dominating power to suppress and oppress is turned on its head, and becomes a means of empowerment. We need not delve too deeply into history to find these radical reversals. We can just as easily unfold today’s newspaper.

Think back just a couple of months ago when the US Senator for Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, attempted to voice her grave misgivings about a presidential cabinet nominee. Reading from a letter written by Coretta Scott King in 1986 regarding this same individual, Senator Warren questioned the nominee’s fitness for the position, highlighting Mrs. King’s testimony concerning the nominee’s past filled with racially-motivated actions.

The male Senate power holders were not interested in hearing either Mrs. King’s or Senator Warren’s protests, and Senator Warren was instructed several times to sit down and be quiet. Despite this, Senator Warren continued her statement, and was eventually barred from speaking for the remainder of the hearing.

In defending the decision to silence and formally rebuke Senator Warren, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

While this had the immediate intended effect of denying Senator Warren her right to speak, her message did not go unheard. These condescending words – – barked out as a shaming and silencing punishment – – have now been reappropriated and reclaimed as an inspiring and empowering rallying cry that has emboldened and amplified countless voices of protest throughout the country.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course, Senator Warren’s actions and the subsequent rebuke-turned-rallying-cry are not on par with the resurrection of Jesus. Yet to my mind, this protest of injustice in our recent history has reflections of Easter: power holders using threats to silence and intimidate opposition, with the very tool of oppression then reclaimed by the target of oppression.

Through the crucifixion and the resurrection, the shame and finality of the cross – – meant to put a complete end to Jesus’s radical message and ministry – – instead becomes a symbol of faith and liberation. By this we are called to counter desolation with hope, violence with peace, despair with joy, fear and hatred with love, and death with new life. This is what we mean when we proclaim “Christ is Risen.” This is why 2,000 years on there is such power and beauty in the resurrection.

But we cannot tell the story of Jesus’s Crucifixion or Christ’s Resurrection without also telling the story of Mary Magdalene.

While scripture gives us little-to-nothing about her past, we do know that the Mary Magdalene we encounter in the Gospels was a remarkable woman. Yet, for all of her enduring faith and devotion, her story too often gets buried through patriarchy and misogyny. So we must resurrect it.

First, let’s get this part out of the way: without a shred of scriptural evidence, patriarchal Christian history has fabricated the lie that Mary Magdalene engaged in a less-than-socially-acceptable profession. While that might somewhat strengthen the narrative of Jesus’s radical inclusion of outcasts, moreover it is meant to shame and undermine Mary Magdalene and other women, so we must cast that characterization from our minds.

While Mary Magdalene is not named among the official twelve Disciples, she was a steadfast and persistently faithful disciple of Jesus in her own right. She had been a deeply afflicted woman until her encounter with Jesus, when he cast out seven demons that tormented her. Her healing became a moment of conversion and salvation that led Mary to dedicate her life to Jesus. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Mary even financially supported Jesus and the Disciples. And in almost all cases where she is mentioned in scripture, Mary Magdalene is listed first among the band of women accompanying Jesus, indicating that she was a leader of that group. Mary Magdalene was not simply a hanger-on, but was an active and loyal disciple from the time of her healing through Jesus’s resurrection – – even more so than the official twelve Disciples. The male Disciples often misunderstood Jesus. One betrayed him, one denied him, all abandoned him in his time of need. But Mary Magdalene believed and remained.

It is remarkable that all four Gospels – – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – – consistently attest to Mary Magdalene’s presence at the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. All four Gospels place Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross and at the entrance of the empty tomb.

It was Mary Magdalene who stayed near and stayed awake while Jesus hung languishing on the cross, her presence likely bringing him comfort. It was Mary Magdalene who gathered the spices and oils to prepare Jesus’s body for ritual burial. It was Mary Magdalene who found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. It was to Mary Magdalene that the Risen Christ first appeared, commanding her to share the Good News of his resurrection, through which she became the “apostle to the apostles.”

A poet whose name has been lost to time recalls Mary’s faithfulness so beautifully:

“Not she with traitorous kiss her Master stung,

Not she denied Him with unfaithful tongue;

She, when Apostles fled, could dangers brave,

Last at the Cross, and earliest at the grave.”

Certainly, it was not easy to be a woman in first century Palestine. The fact that Mary Magdalene was free to travel with Jesus indicates that she was unmarried and did not have the socially required protection of a son, father, or other male relative, making her even more vulnerable. She likely faced threats to her physical safety and incidents of cultural shaming. Standing at the cross and going to the tomb, she put her life at risk by associating herself with this man who had been condemned for blasphemy and executed as a traitor to the empire. Even the male Disciples doubted her when she told them the news of Christ’s resurrection. Nevertheless, through all of this she was undeterred. She rose up, she resisted whatever fear and threats she faced, and she persisted in her devotion to Christ.

Just as the raising of Lazarus gave us the commandments to take away the stone that entombs us, come out away from death and toward life, and to be unbound, liberated and set free, Mary Magdalene’s faithful courage and witness and the power of the Easter story give us three new commandments:

Rise

Resist

Persist

We must rise and face the injustice before us.

We must resist the powers within us and around us that perpetuate that injustice.

And we must persist through opposition, obstacles, and oppression.

The crucifixion of Christ happened nearly 2,000 years ago. But the crucifixion of our fellow Children of God and God’s wondrous Creation continues to this day. God aches for this world. We ache for this world. Our siblings suffer for the sins of this world. But we do not lose hope. We can look to the enduring, courageous faith of Mary Magdalene, and we do not lose hope. We can look to Jesus’s life, crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation and we do not lose hope.

We do not give in to the seductive powers of fear, hatred, violence, despair, and death because – – yes, crucifixion continues to this day – – but so does resurrection. Daily, God is calling us as disciples of Jesus Christ to witness to the crucifixion and proclaim the resurrection by following the commandments to rise, resist, and persist.

My sisters, my brothers, my siblings: When identities are erased, voices are silenced, and bodies endure violence:

We must rise, resist, persist.

When millions of our fellow citizens – – likely some in this sanctuary – – are at risk of losing vital healthcare with the quick stroke of a pen:

We must rise, resist, persist.

Next time say it with me if you feel it.

When the all-consuming love of money trumps treaties, suffering, science, and common sense, and Creation is groaning even more loudly from our wanton destruction:

We must rise, resist, persist.

When elected officials are moved to drop bombs in retaliation for the murder of innocent children, but are not so moved that they’d bring their still-living siblings to the safety of our shores:

Say it with me if you believe it – –

We must rise, resist, persist.

When more bombs stamped “Made in the U.S.A” are dropped on a day when we remember Jesus’s words that all who live by sword will die by the sword:

We must rise, resist, persist.

When unfettered access to firearms is prioritized over innocent lives in our streets, schools, places of worship, and homes:

We must rise, resist, persist.

Against these injustices and so many more

Say it with me if you’ll live it – –

We must rise, resist, persist.

Christ lived to unmask and resist injustices like these.

Christ was crucified for sins like these.

Christ was raised to liberate us from ties of bondage like these.

Christ is among us now to strengthen and guide us for times like these.

On this Day of Resurrection, we are promised hope beyond all hope, life everlasting, and the peace that passes all understanding. We have received the gift of the Risen Christ.

So now with the Risen Christ around you and within you, may you listen for and amplify the voices that are shouted down and silenced.

May you be unburdened, called out, and unbound like Lazarus.

May you have the enduring faith of Mary Magdalene.

And through the liberating love of the resurrected Christ, may you:

Rise

Resist

Persist

Christ is Risen!

(Christ is Risen, indeed!)

Amen.

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