We are in the season of Easter, Eastertide. For 50 days, we have a chance to reflect on the meaning of resurrection, in our life and in our faith. Pentecost, from both Greek and Latin means the 50th day, which celebrates the beginning of the church, when the disciples in the upper room are given the courage to leave that room and build what would become the church.
For the last two weeks, we have explored many ways of talking about resurrection and the meaning of Easter. We have explored Jesus as a political dissident. We have spoken of resurrection as the promise of Christ’s presence in our midst, whenever we break bread, whenever there is a spirit of reconciliation, of peace and justice. And we have spoken of our own resurrection, which according to Paul amounts to a personal transformation.
But today I want to tackle another metaphor, another way of talking about resurrection. And it comes to us in this statement: God does not like tombs.
We have the story of Jesus and the empty tomb. We have the story of Lazarus as Jesus called him out of his tomb. Lazarus, is often considered the patron saint of LGBT folks who have been called out of our own tombs. And who need their friends to help unravel all the layers that we were entombed with.
God doesn’t like tombs. The God we meet in the person of Jesus didn’t like death. As Jesus says in Mark 12:27 “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living”. The political significance of this claim, if believed, would amount to a dramatic challenge in how our society organizes itself.
Starting this week, Arkansas is doing something that’s never been done in the U.S. The execution of seven death row inmates over the span of 11 days. The scheduled spate of executions comes after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in March that one of the state’s execution drugs was set to expire by the end of April.
President Kadyrov of Chechnya has called for the elimination of all gay man from the Republic by the start of Ramadan and has set up concentration camp towards that end. So far, at least 100 men have been detained and tortured.
And you heard of the Mother of all Bombs? MOAB for short.
Recently dropped on the caves of ISIS in Afghanistan.The MOAB is a 30-foot, 21,000 pound devastation device, used in combat for the first time recently. The Afghan government officials said the blast killed up to 36 members of ISIS. But that is not likely to be the only impact of a bomb that weighs as much as half a dozen cars.
The bomb was around during the Iraq War, but the U.S. avoided it because it has a gigantic blast radius. When we think “blast radius,” we think of people killed or injured who weren’t in the immediate area. And the MOAB is definitely capable of killing people outside the immediate area. But it’s also capable of knocking out power in nearby neighborhoods, damaging an area’s water supply, and shattering glass for a mile in every direction.
Most bombs are a mix of “fuel” – to drive the explosion – and an oxidizer that the fuel can burn with. The Mother of All Bombs- Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) is different. It’s a thermobaric weapon, meaning that it can use the oxygen in the air at the detonation site. Because there’s no oxidizer, the bomb can carry more of the explosive fuel component.
Normal bombs explode out from a small area. Thermobaric bombs like the MOAB scatter the explosive fuel like an aerosol, making it possible for them to ignite the surrounding atmosphere. “What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told the newspaper Air Force Times. “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”
Fox News when showing the video footage of the bomb drop, played Toby Keith’s Red White and Blue “When you hear mother freedom start ringin’ her bell, And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you, Brought to you courtesy of the red white and blue.”
“That video’s black and white but that is what freedom looks like, that’s the red white and blue,” said Ainsley Earhardt, co-host of “Fox & Friends”. It’s one of my favorite things in the 16 years I’ve been here at Fox News is watching bombs drop on bad guys,” said Geraldo Rivera.
When you see terrifying displays of violence and you are cheerful, this suggests a whole way of looking at the world, a narrative of how the world works. And it works by us killing one another to accomplish some end or another. But it is the killing itself which seems to be intoxicating, not just the end that would be accomplished.
We don’t have to wonder how the Romans could have dreamed up the idea of crucifixion. Because all we have to do is look at current events and the way that violence and killing is considered acceptable, even celebrated.
Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the missile strike in Syria was the right decision; 31 percent disagree. But when asked if the missile strikes would be effective against Assad 62 percent said the strikes would not be effective in affecting change. 30% believed they would be. So we have Americans 1) agreeing with the missile strikes 2) but not because they would accomplish any particular end. Which means we have support for missile strikes just because they are missile strikes.
If we were to imagine the resurrection as God’s yes to life and God’s rejection of our instruments of death, then a few things follow. First, the reorganization of our society from death to life. A poll number like that could never happen if we treated life seriously. There could never be a knee jerk reaction in support of missile strikes, a sanguine attitude about the death penalty, or any other policy that takes life.
Secondly, we should look for resurrection whenever we see the movement towards life. Signs of resurrection abound. Muslim youth surrounded churches in Jordan to protect them during their Easter celebrations as a response to the bombing of churches on Palm Sunday. That is a resurrection response to the instruments of death.
A brave Russian journalist who uncovered the Chechnya crises has had her voice amplified by Amnesty International, so much so that even our UN Representative Nicki Haley and the British government are trying to call Russia and Chechnya to account. A new underground railroad is being developed to get gay men out of Chechnya.
But it is important to continue to raise these issues. Silence and denial feed into death. Naming these things, make for life, for resurrection. When Lori Walke asked us to register our views, make a public declaration of our commitment, she was asking us to do something quite powerful. Because resurrection does not just happen on its own. It should be called for, in the same way Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb.
But I also think despite that the poll numbers, despite the public cheers for violence, folks. when confronted with this issue, for themselves, for their families, friends, neighbors, choose life. They want it for themselves and when confronted with the horrors of violence, they clearly reject it.
Which is why the instruments of death often act in secret, often do not want a public debate. This is why so much of our military spending is buried, not in the defense budget but spread throughout the budget in ways that do not make clear our dependence on such spending.
This is why they hide behind the anonymity of public opinion polls, “what the people want.” When it comes to missile strikes, usually in far off places, that have no direct connection to our own lives. Or black site prisons, blocked off from human rights groups around the world, or in detention centers where immigrants are denied access to lawyers. The witness of life begins by first bringing these practices to light, to name them, to make them into a public discussion.
When the early church celebrated Easter this was not an attempt to focus on death or to focus on violence for its own sake. In telling the story it was the beginning of undermining it. Their story telling undermined the power of crucifixion by bringing it to light.
And as they told the story, the meaning began to change. It became a story of resurrection. Whereby God’s judgement on the situation was different than Rome. Instead of death having the final say, Roman’s preferred method, life had the final say. Instead of humiliation of the victim and terror to onlookers, a vindication, even a people’s salvation could be at hand.
“God you are the life of all that lives, energy that fills the earth, vitality that brings to birth, impetus in making whole whatever is bruised or broken. In you we grow to know the truth that sets all creation free. You are the song the whole earth sings,the promise liberation brings, now and forever.”- Celebrating God’s Presence United Church of Canada
Dwight Welch is the pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma