Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009
It’s Easter morning. We stand with the women as dawn breaks. The tomb is empty. A voice cries out “He is not here. He is risen!” It is the moment where everything changes. And if you’re like me, for most of your life you’ve been told that whether or not you can call yourself a Christian depends on how you answer one question at this moment.
Do you believe?
I wonder if more harm has been done to the cause of Christ by any one question than by the litmus test that so often gets imposed by that one: Do you believe? Harm both by what has been done to people who answer “No” or “I don’t know” but perhaps even more by it so often being seen as just as much of a conversation ender when people say “yes”
It’s just simply the wrong question. It’s not the question the women were asked that morning, and it’s not the question that faces us. The question of the empty tomb is not “Do you believe” but “Do you trust?” “Do you have faith?” And even though those might sound like the same thing, there is a difference between belief and faith. There’s a difference between thinking something is true up here, and putting your life in its hands. Maybe this story will help explain what I’m talking about.
There once was a man who was a great tightrope walker, and word got out one day that he was going to stretch a line across Niagara Falls and walk from one end to the other. And so a great crowd gathered to watch this amazing event. And the man stood at the end of the rope and said “Do you think I can walk from one end of this rope to the other and back again, across this raging falls.” And there was silence because the crowd didn’t think he could do it.
And the man stepped out – and he walked across the falls and he turned around and walked back again. And the crowd went wild.
“Now,” He yelled down to the crowd. “Do you think I can walk from one end of this rope to the other and back again, across the raging falls – blindfolded.” And this time from the crowd, who was beginning to believe in this man, 10 or 12 voices came out shouting “Yes, we believe.” And the man said, “Great!”
And the man put the blindfold on and stepped out – and he walked across the falls and he turned around and walked back again. And again the crowd went wild.
“Now,” He yelled down to the crowd. “Do you think I can walk from one end of this rope to the other and back again, across the raging falls – blindfolded and pushing this wheelbarrow!” By this time the crowd was really getting worked up, and immediately from down below came all these shouts of “Yes, we do.” “Yes, we believe.” And the man said, “Great!”
And the man put the blindfold on, grabbed the wheelbarrow in front of him and he stepped out – and blindfolded and pushing that wheelbarrow he walked across the falls and he turned around and walked back again. And the crowd was about ready to explode.
“Now,” He yelled down to the crowd. “Do you think I can walk from one end of this rope to the other and back again, across the raging falls – blindfolded and pushing the wheelbarrow with somebody in the wheelbarrow?” And the crowd with one loud voice shouted up to him, “Yes, we believe.” And the man said, “Great!”
“Do I have a volunteer?”
There’s a difference between belief and faith. There’s a difference between thinking something is true up here, and putting your life in its hands. That’s faith.
Too often following Christ is cast in terms of belief, in terms of saying “yeah, I think that is true!” or alternately, rejected by people who say “No, I just can’t believe that.” And that’s SO wrong.
When we do that we allow following Christ to be reduced to a series of statements. But following Christ has never been about that. It’s why when we renew our baptismal vows in a few moments we won’t just stop at the creed but make promises about how we live with Christ, with each other and with the world. Following Christ has always been about embracing a life and a relationship, it’s about being awed and seized by terror and amazement as the women were at the tomb this morning, not about picking the right answer on a true/false test.
And this Easter morning THAT is what we celebrate. We celebrate that we are not just a community of belief but that we are a community of faith. That we are about getting in that wheelbarrow.
I LOVE this morning’s Gospel reading. The women, faithful to the end not because they believed in some set of propositions but because they loved this person, come to the tomb, their hearts heavy and breaking, and find the tomb empty. And a strange young man dressed in a white robe tells them a bizarre story. “Do not be alarmed;” he says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here.” It is the Easter message. It is a joyous message, but it is also an earth-shattering, life-shaking message. And you’ll notice, what the young man doesn’t ask the women is “Do you believe?”
He doesn’t ask “Do you believe?” because this isn’t a quiz show. This isn’t “Alex, I’ll take tomb robbery or resurrection for $500.” He doesn’t care whether they believe or not. He wants to know something far greater. Do you have faith? Because a risen Christ is not just a proposition to be believed but a life-changing, terrifying, amazing relationship to be embraced. And so the young man’s question wasn’t “Do you believe?” but “Do I have a volunteer!”
And here’s the wheelbarrow those women were invited into that morning. He says, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him!” Now Galilee wasn’t just a random rendez-vous point, that was back home. Back where their lives were. The next step with Jesus wasn’t storming the palace gates, it was going back home. Back to the ordinariness of their lives. Maybe they would have rather stormed the palace gates, because going back home meant going back to the people whom they loved, people whose opinion they valued. People who they really didn’t want to have thinking they were completely nuts following some dead guy. And a risen Christ who would meet them in Galilee was bound to insist that when they got back there, it wasn’t going to be business as usual. The love that led Christ to the cross, well, that was probably going to be the love he would be depending on them to spread now.
And so what I love most about this Gospel reading is what happens next. Faced with this incredible, perplexing and on one level really terrifying news, they react in an utterly human way. They completely freak out. We are told that “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.”
Now what you might not know is that this is how the Gospel of Mark originally ended. Imagine that! Imagine telling the whole story of Jesus life and ending the Gospel that way, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end. Maybe why they kept adding new, tidier endings that had the resurrection appearances and the disciples spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth because, well, this way was just too bizarre for people.
But the thing is, I think they got it right the first time. Years ago, I heard Martin Smith, former prior of Society of St. John the Evangelist, preach an amazing Flower Festival sermon right here in this Cathedral where he said this is the way the Gospel should leave off – without a tidy ending. Because we write the rest of the story every day of our lives. We, the body of Christ, write the story.
We, the body of Christ, every day of our lives are standing with those women at the empty tomb. And if we’re paying attention, the question before us isn’t “do you believe” but “Do I have a volunteer?” Will we seek and serve and meet Christ in our Galilee, right here in the midst of our ordinary lives. Will we do more than just say “we believe” … will we get into the wheelbarrow.
Will we do things that others fear or even think are nuts – share our wounds and stories, love the outcast, stand up for the unpopular. Will we go out into a Good Friday world, a world where calling yourself a Christian more and more often is inviting ridicule or at least a quizzical look, and show that world that being a Christian isn’t about a narrowness of mind but about a infinite expanse of Spirit. That it’s not about rules it’s about relationships … and that we’re going to love this world as Christ loves us and we don’t care who thinks we’re crazy for doing it.
It’s Easter morning, and we stand at the empty tomb. And if we’re paying attention, we are amazed and terrified. But the risen Christ is out there. Not asking, “Do you believe?” but calling us home to live and learn and love. He won’t promise it will be easy. He won’t promise people won’t think we’re nuts. But he does promise that he’ll never leave us, and that he’ll help us never leave each other. He does promise that if we don’t just believe but have faith, together we can change the world.
Do I have a volunteer?
The wheelbarrow story is one I stole from Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina, who says he stole it from Ed Rodman, one of the institutions of peace and justice and faith in the Episcopal Church. Ed probably stole it from someone else, too. Such is the nature of good stories!