Original post at http://www.unfilteredwesleyan.com/kneels/2013/4/22/its-monday-get-up.html
photo by M.Angel Herrero / flickr
That was a week. By the pure volume of news about things blowing up, the flooding, the people dying, and now the earthquake, this past week will be one that is not easily forgotten. Weeks like that make me happy that I am not a part of the constant, always-on news cycle anymore. They remind me why I got rid of cable.
Yet, even while getting all my news from two-minute YouTube clips and the Chicago Tribune’s tweets, I got enough exposure to know this was going to be a week when I was going to have to prepare something else for my Sunday sermon. And, for as much as I may have liked to, I couldn’t just stand there and sigh. I had to say something different.
It didn’t start that way, though. Last Monday night, I wasn’t planning on changing my direction at all. Because we are still in the Easter season ... the season of new life.
And I could still talk about the power of resurrection that was seen in those people ripping away at the mess of scaffolding left by the two bombs that went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I could talk about the goodness that was seen in all the first responders and ordinary people that ran toward the broken windows and bodies.
On Monday night, I wasn’t planning on changing direction out of principle. Because, in too many places in the world, Monday’s events alone wouldn’t have been enough to require a change.
By Monday night, more people had been murdered by guns in Chicago than had died in Boston in the same 24 hour period.
By Monday night, more had been murdered in bombings in Iraq and Syria in 24 hours than were killed by guns in Chicago all of last year. And, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have changed direction because of either of those Mondays.
Wednesday came, and I got caught up in the industrial explosion in Texas, but wasn’t going to change direction for that. I didn’t figure people would want to hear me talk for 20 minutes about the need for us to hold the owners of that fertilizer plant accountable in the same way we would those who set off the bombs in Boston.
And then there was the storm that began that night and kept on going until well into Thursday. And then there were the floods that followed.
And I pondered changing the text we read in worship to the story of great flood in Genesis, to point to the faithfulness of Noah and family as they endured the rain and the months of wondering. I figured that would be how long we’d have to wait before anyone was identified in the Boston bombings. And I would have tasked us with remembering the good news that a rainbow is coming. Because my church loves rainbows.
But as Friday unfolded, I knew that rainbow sermon was going to have to go on the shelf. It wasn’t months. It was days. And the suspects were not hardened criminals, but children. One of them was dead along with a police officer. And with that, the genetic code in us that has craved everything from gladiatorial combat in the arena to God of War on the Playstation kicked in.
And though we were weeks out from Easter morning, I felt like I was journeying to the cross all over again. Calls for crucifixion poured down in digital waves. Rage. Vengeance. The desire for more death.
It made me ask: How fragile is our life that death can come so quickly? How fragile is our humanity that we find killing one another so desirable?
So, on Friday I knew that the illustrations and stories I had prepared on Monday would have to wait three years until the reading from the book of Acts came up again in the lectionary cycle.
But I kept the scripture. I kept it because I still believe there is a good word in this story for us. There is hope for us in this story of Tabitha and Peter. And that is because there is a lot of Jesus in this story. And Jesus is the kind of good news we need after a week like that.
That may end up making the story of Tabitha and Peter the best thing we can we can hear, because I’d say it is a story that is all about Jesus. Now you may be scratching your heads as you read this, because Jesus is never explicitly mentioned.
If you didn’t notice that, you may know, by this point in the book of Acts, Jesus has ascended into heaven and is far from anyone’s sight. This is book that is supposed to be about the Apostles. But this story is all about Jesus.
A disciple named Tabitha (whose Greek name is the rather unfortunate “Dorcas”) has died, and they send for Peter since he was nearby. They probably wanted him to come and offer a little sympathy, some care, a few comforting words. Maybe something from the 23rd Psalm. And Peter arrives in the room and all the widows are crying ... both for her and for the deaths that have left them alone. And they showed Peter some of the things she liked to sew, and they probably told stories about what was their favorite ... maybe remembering the parties to which she wore them. But then, quite rudely, Peter interrupts their grief and emotional healing and tells them all to get out of the room. And then it gets stranger.
And he says to this dead woman, like an idiot, “Tabitha, Get up!” In the Aramaic that Peter spoke, it was “Tabitha, Koum!”
This is absolute lunacy, isn’t it? If I did this at a funeral where I was officiating, I’d likely get assaulted by the family and funeral director. But this is the moment where the presence of Jesus is as thick as can be. This is the part that is all about Jesus.
“Tabitha, Koum!” The writer of Acts is intentional in letting us know that the apostles are picking up right where Jesus left off. “Get up!”
You see, in none of the gospel accounts does Jesus ever go to a funeral without disturbing the grief with new life. Never does Jesus encounter a death that he doesn’t end.
In John’s gospel, Jesus raises Lazarus. In Luke’s gospel, he raises a widow’s only son. And in Mark’s gospel (which is repeated by Matthew and Luke), he raises the daughter of a man named Jairus.
In that story, Jesus was called to Jairus’ house to heal the daughter, but upon arrival, they discovered that she had died. So there they are, the family embracing the lifeless body of their dead child, crying tears of sorrow for their little girl who was now no more. And in the middle of all this, like somebody who clearly has no sense of decorum, Jesus shouts, “Talitha, koum! ... Little child, get up!”
In his ministry, Jesus refused to let death be the answer for anyone he encountered. No matter how out of place it made him look. And the love that motivated this refusal ... this value of life ... became contagious. Death listened to him.
At the cross, God refused to let death be the answer for Jesus. And death listened. And Peter saw this. He was witness to God’s denial of the power of death. It pulled him aside. It set him to work.
So, after being a part of that, after seeing Jesus give new life to all those people, and after seeing God give new life to Jesus, there was no way that Peter is going to let death go unchallenged.
“Tabitha, Koum!” One letter is different, but the result is the same. And the power of Jesus transforms another life. Through Peter, we see the way resurrection comes among us. It disturbs our apathy. It disrupts our ways acceptance of death. Resurrection, believed and practiced does not create a space for death to be celebrated, accepted, or tolerated. It tells us to get up.
Whose bloodlust was it that infected those boys in Boston? Because somewhere along the way, they picked it up; they learned it. It was not treated. It was encouraged. So how did they contract this bloodlust? Was it from the nation they fled? Or was it from the nation in which they found asylum? Friends, it is time to get up.
Whose bloodlust continues to infect the kids on our streets that keep shooting at each other? Did they inherit that from a city that believes in resurrection? Or was it from a city that tolerates death? Sisters and brothers, Jesus says it is time to get up.
I remember my Monday disregard, and wonder if Friday would have been different had I not become so accustomed to death. I remember my Monday acceptance, and wonder if Friday would have been different had I not been silent.
And I wonder if Monday would have been different:
- if we all refused to be silent
- if we refused to be contained in the tombs of apathy
- if we let resurrection change us the way it did Peter
- if we let the love of life live in us the way it did in Jesus.
Another Monday is here. What it will hold depends on how much we, and all our sisters and brother, let the spirit of resurrection take hold of us.
This Monday depends on how our beginning-of-the-week beliefs change our end-of-the-week practices. It depends on us defying the laws of tradition and apathy. It depends on us valuing every life as if it were our own.
It is time to get up.
Children of God, the good news is that we can still get up. Jesus himself is calling us to rise above the darkness. To say to those enamored by the power of death that there is another way. Jesus was defiant of it. Peter was defiant of it. And we can be, too. That this is not who we are. We are alive, and we are to celebrate life.
It is time to get up and live, believing that peace is possible.
It is time to get up and sing with even greater conviction that new life can come.
It is time to get up and greet the spirit of violence in our homes and classrooms with a defiant love.
It is time for us all to get up and speak things that people will likely perceive as inane. Things like hope. Things like love. Hope in everyone. Love for everyone. Because wishing the death of one is inviting the death of us all; because it is defying the direction of God.
Today is Monday. May it be met by the resurrection in you.