Breaking the Pattern: A Sermon for Easter Sunday

medium_4334715768 MaryAnn McKibben Dana Idylwood Presbyterian Church April 20, 2014 Easter Sunday Matthew 28:1-10 

28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 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. 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 28:5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

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I have a quiz for you… let’s see whether your brains are sluggish from too much Easter candy. What is distinctive about these phrases?

Do, O God, no evil deed! Live on! Do good!

Ma is as selfless as I am.

Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Lonely Tylenol.

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.

Yes, these are all palindromes. Palindromes are words or phrases that read the same forwards or backwards. So if you read any of these phrases from right to left (and disregarding the spaces) you'll see the same phrase.

What you may not know is that this is palindrome week. All week long the dates have been the same backwards and forwards. Read them left to right or right to left, the numbers are the same:

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 4.33.06 PM

Each of these dates reads the same frontwards or backwards. 4-1-2-1-4. And the same would be true the next day. And the next and the next, all week long, April 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19. (Yes, it takes a special kind of nerd to figure this out. I’m just the kind of nerd who enjoys it.)

There’s something very satisfying about a palindrome. It’s very clever when you spot it. There’s an internal pattern to it. Whichever direction you start reading, you’ll end up with the same message. It’s like a seesaw that’s perfectly balanced. There’s this sense of perfection—a statement that’s the same no matter how you look at it.

But you will notice that palindrome week ended today, April 20. 4-20-14 is no longer a palindrome. That pattern has been broken.

And that’s not just a numerical statement. That is a theological statement.

Because today isn’t just April 20, it’s Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, the day that breaks the old pattern. All of the days leading up to this one had their own logic and coherence. The world worked a certain way, backwards, forwards, however you looked at it… but on Resurrection Sunday, everything is turned upside down.

*          *          *

It is daybreak in Jerusalem. The sun is almost ready to spill its gold on the horizon. Maybe there is a mist on the ground, but it is not yet light enough for that mist to bathe the world in a holy glow. Instead that mist hangs over the city and countryside like a shroud.

It is daybreak, after the longest and saddest sabbath Mary and her friends had ever had.

Their friend and teacher had been arrested, beaten, humiliated and executed. His body had been anointed for burial and placed in a cave. The women make their way there, knowing what they will find: a stone rolled in front of the mouth of that cave with all the finality and silence of the whole world.

And as if the stone were not enough, there are guards. The poor women can’t even grieve in privacy, they have to deal with these agents of Rome, these smirking guards, who may have been the same ones who shoved a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, the ones who divvied up his clothes two days before.

And yet the women come. In Matthew’s telling, they don’t come to anoint the body—that’s already been done. They don’t come with any purpose whatsoever.

They just come to Jesus’ grave, for the same reason that we visit cemeteries clutching tulips and hyacinths, or listen to the song that we danced to at the wedding, or make the Coca-Cola ham just like mother used to.

Because that’s what love and grief require of us.

But the women don’t have any expectation that something unexpected will happen. They know what they’ll find there. Grief, it seems, is its own sad palindrome—look at it frontwards, or backwards, it’s still the same message:

Dead is dead. The lost ones stay lost. There is no second chance. The person is gone and there’s no bringing them back.

Except. Except. Except the pattern gets broken this one time. This one time, two thousand years ago, a messenger comes and rolls up his dazzling white sleeves. This one time this ambassador from the heavens puts his shoulder against that rock and strains and grunts to move it… or maybe he just flicks it with the power of his angelic fingers. This one time he climbs atop the rock, straddles it like a child and says, “Look, Mary. Look. He’s. Not. Here.”

This one time, life stares death in the face and said, “Not today you don’t.”

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t even know what happened. But it has to be more than just the miracle of spring. It has to be more than daffodils stretching their green stalks into the air, and baby birds in nests, and caterpillars turning into butterflies.

It has to be more than that. Otherwise there’s no reason for us to be here. We’ve got better things to do with a beautiful Sunday morning. There are lawns to be mowed; there are bags of mulch stacked along the driveway, waiting to be raked over the hard soil of winter. There’s that email that’s been sitting in your inbox for far too long; you really should answer it. And hey, those checkbooks aren’t going to balance themselves.

And yet here we are. And we’re here because we don’t know how it happened, but we believe---we hope---we know (we hope)… that it’s more than just a metaphor.

Something happened that one time—resurrection happened that one time—and because it did, we look at every other death and grief and dead end and heartache and illness and loss and struggle and say, This is not the end. This is not over, not near over.

*          *          *

Several years ago I was at a church conference. It was the year after my father died and that anniversary was weighing heavily on me. One of the speakers was praying a prayer before communion, and it was going on in the way that those prayers sometimes do, until she got to this line.

Now I know, I know that what was written in her script was “Love is stronger than death.” And it is. And that’s what today is about.

But what she mistakenly said was, “Love is stranger than death.” And it is. And that’s what today is really about.

Death is death, it follows the rules. People live, then they die. Beginning and ending, it’s the logic of the world. But love, especially Easter love, is strange. It is unpredictable. Love can bring life out of death; love can move a stone away from a tomb and empty it of its contents; love can inspire a band of women to feel joy and fear. Fear and joy.

They don’t get it; they’re a little freaked out by it… but they like it, and they can’t wait to tell the others. The pattern has been broken.

*          *          *

It’s been twenty years since Hutus took up hate and weapons against their Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda, leading to a genocide that claimed some one million victims. In the two decades since those terrible events, the heartache has continued and in some cases intensified.

You can see the heartache on their faces. Pieter Hugo took these photos twenty years after the genocide.

What you see here are perpetrators standing with their victims. [Click here to view]

Yes, reconciliation has also occurred. An organization called AMI has brought together Hutus and Tutsis for counseling and training, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.

Here are some of their voices.

“Mother Mukabutera Caesarea could not have known I was involved in the crimes against her, but I told her what happened. When she granted me pardon, all the things in my heart that had made her look at me like a wicked man faded away.”

“The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

“I used to hate him. When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.”

“After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.” [source]

This is not what we expect. Hutus hated Tutsis and viciously attacked them. So of course Tutsis should hate them right back for what they did. It’s a palindrome---backwards, forwards, however you read it: hate begets hate. That’s what we expect to happen. That’s the way the world works. What goes around comes around. Someone hurts you, you hurt them right back. If your enemy has a weapon, you build a bigger one.

But love is stranger than death.

And this one time, a long time ago, the pattern got broken.

And because it happened that one time, it can happen all the time, again and again and again.


photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A Religion of Unachievement


MaryAnn McKibben Dana Idylwood Presbyterian Church March 25, 2012 Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8

“A Religion of Unachievement”

The ending of the gospel of Mark is surprising. As you will see if you are reading along in the pew Bible, there is a shorter ending and then a longer ending that come after this. But those were added later. Centuries later. The very best manuscripts we have of the gospel of Mark has it ending at verse 8, which is what I will be reading.

Listen to this:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


That’s it.

That’s the whole resurrection story according to Mark, the earliest gospel. Matthew and Luke came 10-15 years later, which means that for a decade or more, this was the final word on Jesus’ resurrection:

They went out and fled from the tomb. Terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Ah, but then come the shorter and longer endings, to rescue us from paralysis and get our heroes moving again! Yes, of course. But as I read those new endings, I’m reminded of the Harry Potter world. The great wizard Professor Dumbledore had a wonderful device in his office called a pensieve. A pensieve stored memories, that you could view like a video recording and the memories would be as vivid as the day they happened. The problem is that people can tamper with those memories when they want to forget or cover up what really happened. You can tell a memory has been altered because they are a little fuzzier, a bit more vague. They don’t have that clarity or authenticity.

Now, there is a kernel of truth in Mark’s supplemental endings. Obviously the disciples did go and tell somebody, eventually, otherwise we wouldn’t be here two thousand years later. But I read those tacked on endings and they seem a little fuzzy, a little hastily composed, a little too willing to zoom past the fear and amazement and go right to the triumph of those brave disciples who shared the good news with the whole wide world, God love ‘em!

No… I want to stay with the original ending for a while. Because that ending feels very real and true to me. Of all four gospel accounts of the resurrection, this one might just be the one for us.

If you’ve ever wanted to keep your faith a secret because of embarrassment at what other people might think, this version will suit you quite well. If you’ve ever chosen the comfort of the life you love over a life lived in risky faith to a wandering revolutionary, this is your story. If you’ve ever asked yourself WWJD and known the answer but still not done it, welcome to Mark 16:8. There’s a lot of us who’ve taken up residence in this verse, stiff with fear, shuffling around scared and muttering to ourselves.

Meanwhile we croon to one another on a beautiful spring day: Christ is risen! I do it too—it’s such a nerdy church thing, but I love the singsong response, He is risen indeed. It’s comfortable and familiar.

And then I remember.

“He is not here,” says the messenger. Jesus is OUT! What was dead is now alive again, and everything we know about endings and beginnings is for naught, and nothing will ever be the same, neither you nor I.

Darn right they were afraid.

Brian Blount says, “Fear is a natural reaction to discipleship whose content is the way of the cross. If you’re not afraid, you don’t understand.”

If he’s dead in the tomb, we can follow his teachings, and they’re beautiful and they make the world a lovelier place. But if he is alive… then there is a power that’s loose in the world that shatters the rules—a power we cannot explain, control, or understand.

And that’s scary.

The preacher Tony Campolo has talked about fear and failure. It’s his story, but it’s one we’ve heard all too often lately.

When I was in High School there was a kid who was gay.  We made fun of him.  You would say we bullied him, but we didn’t push him or hit him, we just made fun of him. Well, we did bully him.

Friday afternoons we had Phys Ed. and when we’d all go in to the showers he was afraid to go.  And when he did go in all by himself, we waited with our wet towels and when he came out we whipped him with our towels and stung his naked body.

I wasn’t there the Friday when they grabbed little Roger and dragged him into the shower room and shoved him into the corner, and as he doubled over in the fetal position, five guys urinated all over him.  He went home and he went to bed at about 10:00, his parents said.  It was about 2:00 in the morning when he got up and went into the basement of his house and he hanged himself.

It was at that point that I knew I was not a Christian.  Oh, I believed the Bible.  I believed the Apostle’s Creed word for word.  I was sound, I was solid, I was orthodox.  But if I were a Christian, I would have been Roger’s friend.

And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

*          *          *

It’s happened again like clockwork: another magazine article published the week of Easter, something designed to capitalize on people’s religious curiosity in order to sell magazines. These articles usually deal with some archaeological discovery; last year it was a set of nails that may have been those used on the cross of Christ. This year, it’s Christianity itself that is the fossil.

Newsweek’s cover article is called “Christianity in Crisis: Why we should ignore politicians, priests, and get-rich evangelists, and just follow him.” According to the author, a Catholic named Andrew Sullivan, Christianity is on the ropes: fewer people are attending church or professing faith. People claiming no religious affiliation is at an all-time high, and growing year by year.

Meanwhile the message of Christ has been coopted by political leaders: “On one side, the Republican base is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life. On the other side, the last Democratic primary had candidates profess their faith in public forums, and more recently President Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care.”

In contrast to these Christian power-grabs, Sullivan lifts up the example of St. Francis of Assisi, a man whose faith and gentleness are legendary. Francis “insisted on living utterly without power over others. As stories of his strangeness and holiness spread, more joined him and he faced a real dilemma: how to lead a group of men, and also some women, in an organization… And it tormented, wracked, and almost killed him. He had to be last, not first. He wanted to be always the ‘lesser brother,’ not the founder of an order. And so he would often go on pilgrimages and ask others to run things. Or he would sit at the feet of his brothers at communal meetings and if an issue could not be resolved without his say-so, he would whisper in the leader’s ear.”

This is the kind of humble discipleship we see in the gospel of Mark, through the lives of the women who were unwavering in their devotion to Jesus. They go to the tomb to anoint the body of their friend, and one question is on their lips: “Who will roll away the stone?”

As they gather up their spices… “Who will roll away the stone?” As they tie their coverings on their heads… “Who will roll away the stone?” As they make their way through the deserted early-morning streets, with the sunrise in their faces: “Who will roll away the stone?”

They don’t figure out ahead of time how they’ll manage it. They don’t say “Eh, that stone’s too heavy,” and decide not to go. They just gather up their supplies and trundle down the road, shoulder to shoulder. They do that one small thing they’re able to do. They go right up to the limits of their own ability. They go, knowing that they may be thwarted by a big immovable object. They go, knowing it may be a fool’s errand for them to go. But go they must. Because the anointing is theirs to do—a small, beautiful thing. They go in hope and possibility that even though they are too weak to move that stone, maybe something might budge it.

And behold… the Way opens up for them. And it’s astounding.

Andrew Sullivan concludes his article by talking about the saints of our faith.

[They] became known as saints not because of their success in fighting political battles, or winning a few news cycles, or funding an anti-abortion super PAC.

[Their] Christianity comes not from the head or the gut, but from the soul. It is as meek as it is quietly liberating. It doesn’t seek worldly recognition, or success, and it flees from power and wealth. It is the religion of unachievement.

The religion of unachievement creeps up on the moment, spices in hand, because that is what love requires. The religion of unachievement stands alongside the gay teenager and says, “That’s enough. Stop.” The religion of unachievement is in the whispering of St. Francis, or in a Birmingham jail with Dr. King, or in the church that’s opened itself to the day laborers who congregate near their building, or in a million other places where people may be afraid, but they are not fearful—afraid, but not full-of-fear.

Where will we live out this religion of unachievement? We, who crow “Christ is risen… he is risen indeed”? Because if Mark is our resurrection story, then we have to write the next section. Thanks to a quirk in the original Greek, the gospel of Mark ends with the word “for.” It is a conjunction: that bit of grammar that connects two thoughts together. The story ends in a fragment. What will the next section be?

At home this week we were talking about Easter, and my four year old said, “Jesus died on the cross because people were mad at him.” I asked, “Then what happened, James?” He said, “Jesus is alive again.” And I said, “What an amazing story.” And he said, “And it’s still not over.”

No James. No, it’s not over.

Thanks be to God.



They Did Not Understand---A Sermon for Easter

MaryAnn McKibben DanaIdylwood Presbyterian Church April 17, 2011 Easter John 20:1-18


They Did Not Understand

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look* into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,* ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

It’s happened again, like clockwork. Every year around this time there’s an article in which someone breathlessly announces some piece of Jesus-related archaeology. This year? Someone has found a pair of nails that could have been those used to nail Jesus to the cross. (It’s always amazing to me how these discoveries coincide with Easter.)

These artifacts always get used as evidence by all sorts of people to lend credence to their own points of view. “You see, this all really happened and we’ve got doodads to prove it!” some people crow triumphantly. Others sneer, “You faith people really grasp at straws. Even if the nails were used to nail Jesus to the cross, that doesn’t make him the Son of God and it certainly doesn’t mean he rose from the dead.”

At the heart of all of those statements and arguments and what’s at the heart of our even being here today is one simple question… one profound question:

Is it true?

Is it true that the body was not just stolen by grave robbers, but risen from the dead?

Is it true that the pile of linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up like a beach towel were signs that Jesus was alive?

Is it true that the man whom Mary saw in the garden with dirt under his fingernails and a smudge on his face was not the gardener, but the resurrected Christ?

Is it true? they asked on that first Easter. Is it true? we ask, 2000 years later.

We ask with the skepticism of our age: Is it true? Do people really still believe this? Can’t this holiday just be a nice cultural festival to celebrate spring? Nobody takes resurrection seriously anymore.

Or we ask with our radar attuned to the hypocrisy we see on the part of seemingly pious people: Is it true? Because the people who call themselves Christians sure don’t act like it’s true… what with their judging and hating gays and scapegoating immigrants and committing the very same sins they condemn in others.

Or we ask with all the desperation and hope we can muster, because we have loved ones struggling for life, we have despair over the state of our planet, we feel beaten down by the suffering that seems to flow to the ends of the earth: Is it true? Is death really not the end? Does the fate of this tiny planet in a remote corner of the Milky Way really matter? Is our history and our civilization heading somewhere?

…Today may be Easter but it sure looks a lot like Good Friday out there.

* * *

Mary arrives at the tomb, spices in hand, ready to anoint a dead body. She’d waited, you see, during the Jewish Sabbath (and the Passover, no less) until she could prepare the body. She went with haste, while it was still early morning, not because she expected “it” to be true, not because she knew this was the first day of a new creation, but because she had a job to do. For all she knows, it’s still Good Friday.

Mary is the first one there, and she’s the first one to see the resurrected Christ and to touch him, and to be spoken to by him. But she’s not the first person to believe the resurrection; she’s not the first to realize what has happened. That happens earlier in the story, and someone else gets that honor. Someone else “believes” the resurrection, there in verse 8, before Jesus even shows up to Mary in the garden… but we don’t know his name.

Peter runs to the tomb with a person John calls “the other disciple,” who gets there first. And this disciple does not stand at the tomb’s entrance and peer in. He does not squint into the gloom, refusing to cross that threshold. No, he goes into the tomb. And then, and only then, does he see and believe. He goes into a place of death and finds life instead.

And here’s the comforting thing, for me anyway: (verse 9) This other disciple believes, even though he has not understood the scripture up to now. Think of it. The very first person to believe in the risen Christ didn’t see the signs at all. The first believer was confused about who Jesus was and what he was all about. He didn’t get it.

When he saw Jesus turn water into wine, he didn’t get it.

When he heard Jesus proclaim a message of love and forgiveness, he didn’t get it.

When he saw Jesus break a couple loaves of bread and bless a basket of fish and feed 5,000 people, he didn’t get it.

When he heard Jesus thunder “Lazarus, come out of that tomb!” he didn’t get it.

I’m thinking that if Jesus’ disciple and constant companion believed in the resurrection without understanding the whole thing, maybe it’s OK for us not to understand it.

So let me say to you today: I don’t get it.

But if the resurrection is something we crave, if new life is something that we want to stake our life on, if a reborn creation is the master story in which we dare to live and move and have our being… we can’t just stand at the door of the tomb and analyze things. We can’t perch our glasses on our nose and survey the scene. We’ve gotta enter in. We’ve gotta bend down, get close to it, we’ve gotta see it first hand. We’ve got to enter the tomb in order to see and believe. We’ve got to be that unnamed disciple. Someone asked me this week, “Do we not know who that guy was?” Do we not know who the unnamed disciple was who believed but did not understand?

I say, we know that disciple’s name.

The disciple’s name is MaryAnn.

The disciple’s name is David.

The disciple’s name is Emily… Myrtle… Steve… Bruce.

The disciple saw and believed, but did not understand.

* * *

The disciples’ names are Luc, Christophe, Christian, Jean-Pierre, Paul. They were Trappist monks, originally from France, living in Algeria during the 1990s. Their story is the subject of a new movie called Of Gods and Men.

These monks live peacefully among the Muslim villagers, they run a clinic, they attend coming of age festivals for the children, they study the Koran as well as the Bible, they worship Christ and love one another as family. A group of Islamists, extremists, begin to terrorize the village. They systematically and brutally begin to murder all foreigners. The Muslims in the village recognize this as an utter corruption of Islam, and they are frightened. And so are the monks.

They have a choice to make: do they leave the village and return to France? Or do they stay with the people of the village, whom they love? Do they leave and go to a safer place to serve another community for the remaining years of their lives? Or do they remain committed to be the body of Christ among and with their Muslim neighbors, knowing that that commitment could lead to their deaths?

Most of the movie centers around the process of making that decision. At one point Christian tries to explain what their Trappist community is all about and he says [paraphrased], We are called to love our neighbors. We can’t do that from a distance. We are called to be intimately involved with their lives. Close to them, their joy and their pain.

We are called to be close to them.

We are called to enter into the tomb, not stand at arms’ length. We are called to enter into places of suffering, places of pain, places of mystery and darkness and perplexity. Because that’s what Jesus did. In his death he crawled inside every agony we can imagine and proclaimed that those agonies are not the end. He emerged on the other side, looking something like the gardener, disheveled, but ready to plant and cultivate a new heaven and a new earth with those willing to pick up the shovel and the plow alongside him.

As I watched the film I was stunned at the monks’ commitment to the way of Christ, especially since I knew how their story ended. I felt convicted by their faith, even as I felt grateful that I will probably never have to make such a stark choice.

But maybe the lessons of the film are not so divorced from our own experience. Because while they are wrestling with this decision, they are chopping firewood. They are putting honey into jars and selling it in the marketplace. They are digging through a box of donated shoes to find just the right size for a little girl and her mother. They are rejoicing at another shipment of medicine that comes in. They are celebrating with friends. They are washing dishes. They are singing and they are keeping silent. They are drinking wine and eating. They are doing ordinary things… ordinary things with great love. They are in the tomb, completely immersed in human experience and human suffering and human mystery and joy… not peering in from a safe distance.

So maybe while we are asking, Is it true? we might try some things.

We might try looking the person in the eye who’s holding the cardboard sign or the battered paper cup half-full of loose change.

We might put away the smartphone when our loved one is talking to us and hear what they’re saying and maybe even the message behind the words.

We might write a letter or make a phone call; we might make our voice heard in the halls of power to speak up for justice and peace for all people.

We might plant a tree that we will never see fully mature.

And we might tend to this moment as if it is the most precious thing in God’s kingdom.

We might go about our work, or our relationships, with the same great love as those monks, working to partner with God in this reborn earth that we seek to believe in even as we fail to fully understand it.

Is it true?

How does the life we live answer that question?

What do you, the unnamed disciple, say?