Mark 1:14-15, 16:1-8
The last weeks of my grandfather’s life were traumatic for us all, and I know it was painful for him. Even as I received my first pastoral appointment, I thought of him. He could barely move without assistance. His voice was nearly inaudible. Gone were our bi-weekly phone conversations. He spent many hours of the day coughing uncontrollably and sleeping. He was pained in body, but he was still looking up and pressing on.
Many folk go to church their whole lives and fear death as the end. Americans are forever trying to stay young. Culturally, we have a rabid and morbid fear of (natural) death. We are so cut off from the seasons, from our animal kindred, from the moon and the stars and the sun. Our light is the computer screen, tablet, and phone. They are always on at our command, unlike the seasons, sun, and moon.
The cycles of life–the cyclical journey from Galilee, to Jerusalem, and back to Galilee–have been replaced by a narrative of progress, consumption, and consumerism. If you’re not progressing then you are declining. We have drugs and medicine that can extend life so that end-of-life care can and has become even more traumatic and hard for families as folks weigh quality of life decisions with the inevitability of death and the desire for connection. Just like other institutions in the contemporary world, Christian spirituality and doctrine moves much slower than the technology of today. It is not so much that we need to devolve into an “old” vs. “new,” “conservative” vs. “progressive” argument. We just need to admit that we are struggling to find meaningful language and specific faith that maps onto a geography that changes by the month. What this means is that both our spirituality/doctrine and technocracy need to be seriously evaluated.
Saying that we have eternal life in Christ does little when we are bombarded day by day with images of being young forever. Eternal is too far away from the day-to-day and religion is at its best when it mediates the “eternal” with the “temporal.” So what ends up happening is that the promise of eternal life can be manipulated by religious, social, and economic systems that “must always” grow. Eternal life is made suspect when we care more of the lights from our lithium-ion powered phones than the lights of the sun, moon, and stars.
We just need to admit that we are struggling to find meaningful language and specific faith that maps onto a geography that changes by the month.
What Christians and many others have missed is that if resurrection doesn’t touch us in our day-to-day lives, then concepts and beliefs like “eternal life” and “heaven” won’t help us deal with death (natural or otherwise) when it finally arrives. When children die “before their time” or when folks are murdered, resurrection in the day-to-day points us to the scandal of the cross and the depths of human suffering and misery. While resurrection gives hope; it also discloses the injustice and absurdity of the world. Resurrection doesn’t make things easier for us. It makes our hope more grounded and demands that we ask why this resurrection occurred in the first place.
That’s why we need the seasons and the journey back to Galilee. They allow us to experience–however piecemeal–the present in-breaking of the Kingdom/Space of God. Jesus didn’t just say the Space-Where-God-Reigns is somewhere in the future and “over there.” He also said this Space is “here and now,” this space is at hand.
There is, however, a natural fear of “generic” death. It’s a natural fear of the unknown, but my grandfather, and I know this for a fact, overcame the fear of death. He may not have wanted to die. He may have feared what would happen to his family, his friends, his church, and his community after he was gone, but he didn’t fear death. He didn’t fear death because he lived the journey of faith. He didn’t fear death because he had gone back to Galilee too many times. He had gone to the wilderness too many times. He had made the trip from Galilee to Judea and back to Galilee too many times. He had seen the power of God too many times. He had been baptized too many times. He had preached forgiveness and had been forgiven too many times. He had witnessed and felt the pain of loss and crucifixion to many times. He had seen resurrection in the day-to-day too many times. He journeyed in faith too long. His soul was encouraged. He lived his life in the seasons of life. He looked up and pressed on. With his spiritual eyes, he walked by faith and not by sight. He participated in the work of the Kingdom, and day by day, the mundane reality of resurrection became clearer and clearer to him.
I don’t say these words to glorify my grandfather or to preach his eulogy on Resurrection Sunday. I don’t say these words to claim that he was above anyone. That isn’t the point of these words. He was flawed just like everybody else, and just like everyone, he had a chance to make a decision on whether or not he was going to “run on and see what the end is gonna be.” My granddaddy wasn’t the only one who made this choice. I’m sure some of you know some folk who have made this choice. And like the countless ancestors before him, my grandfather decided that he would trust in God and “take the journey back to Galilee.” He decided to leave the empty tomb and keep on marching. In other words, his life and even his death point us to Jesus and God’s resurrecting power.
How do I know this? At his funeral, one of his close friends told a story. My grandfather was on his deathbed and his close friend of over half a century visited him. My grandfather saw him and their eyes met and both of them started crying. They both knew that his death was imminent and they would never see one another again on this side. With tears in his eyes, my grandfather cleared his throat as best he could and whispered to his friend, “This is part of the journey. It’s part of the journey.”
In the key of my ancestors, help me Lawdy!
To see his death as a part of the journey and not as the end could only mean that my grandfather had already seen the rest of his life as a journey. And as he had journeyed through various springs, summers, falls, and winters, he had continued to go to Galilee and take the trip to Jerusalem. And every trip allowed him to meet God and the power of resurrection. And again, resurrection doesn’t solve the problem of suffering, death, and injustice. It defeats death. So the reality of resurrection didn’t make his death without sorrow. So weep with those who weep. My granddaddy cried along with his friend, even though his death was not the end. So let me quote the gospel of Curtis Mayfield and tell you: “It’s ok to cry. Go ahead and cry, cuz Jesus wept. But hope and faith he kept. It’s a new day!”
I’m trying to make it plain, brothers and sisters. It’s a new day! I’m talking about seasons, and family members, and scripture, and anything else I can, to let you know, it’s a new day, death has been defeated, but we still gotta go to Galilee and there we will find Jesus.
Go back to Galilee and remake it, transform it, and recreate it! Live and Relive the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Grace and Resurrection are awaiting us there! Go back to your lives and transform your lives. Transform your relationships, transform yourselves, transform this world and become new creations right now! God’s grace is sufficient and the path to resurrection is before us. Go back home, witness the roses bloom, smell them, and watch them wither in winter and be reborn in the spring. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus has Risen! He’s not in the Tombs! Return to Galilee. This is the good news. He’s not here. He’s risen! Look up and press on!
O courage my soul!
And let us journey on!
Though the night be dark
It won’t be very long
O thanks be to God, the morning light appears
And the storm is passing over hallelujah
The storm is passing over hallelujah…
We Live On…
Look closely and see the images of new life in the mundane and how that leads us to the extraordinary.
Thank you, Granddaddy. You live on…
© 2016 M. J. Sales