Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 27:51-66) transports me to a weekly coffeehouse at a small baptist liberal arts college, circa 2007, where an unlikely conglomeration of students gathered to sing and dance and play drums and recite poetry. It was called the Thousand Tongues and Groove café, developed as part of the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues project. What made the gathering unlikely was that it brought together four groups of students who felt disenfranchised and marginalized on campus, and in significant ways the groups were very disconnected from each other as well as from the mainstream. They were conservative evangelical students, lgbtq students, black students, and international students. Leadership from each of these groups had been recruited to try this experiment in genuine and respectful dialogue, and bring their peers along on a journey toward understanding and community. This particular night at the café was especially fun to observe; it was Halloween and many students arrived in ghoulish costume. It began with a poetry slam around the theme of what are you afraid of? and ended with some of the students teaching others the choreography to Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the video played on the big screen. Hearing these disparate groups of students cheer each other on in the poetry recitation, followed by some intense and productive dialogue around the tables, followed by Thriller, was one of the high and holy moments of my life. It was earth shattering, rock splitting, and veil tearing, considering the deeply divided and Balkanized cultural/religious/political milieu that existed on that college campus and on many college campuses at the time. Imagine blacks and whites, Americans and internationals, gays and conservative evangelicals (with some students belonging to both these camps) coming together in an attempt to strengthen community. But even as the tombs opened and long dead spirits of love and respect and understanding rose to walk among the poets and dancers, news of the event stayed on the down low. The project was threatening; we learned that it could have shattered relationships with major donors as well as the earth if pr was broadcast too publicly.
In today’s Passage, Matthew gives his account of the end of Jesus’ life, and is the only one of the four evangelists to insert resurrection news right into the crucifixion. His is the lone gospel to include what appears to have been a fairly significant happening – the earth shook, rocks split, tombs opened, and bodies of dead saints rose up to walk among the living. I would say that Matthew here is the original Thriller director, but he gives scant instruction or choreography as to what happened when those undead bodies climbed out of the ground and sidled up to their fellow believers. I imagine them singing all that thrills my soul is Jesus, but the evangelist doesn’t tell us. You have to wonder why he didn’t say more, or why Mark and Luke and John would have kept news like this on the dl. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad Matthew spilled the beans; it’s a wonderful image. It lets me know that the power of what was happening couldn’t have been overstated; when the very incarnation of God gave up the ghost, the curtain that had always separated the people from the presence of God tore from top to bottom. The Holy was suddenly accessible to the unholy. Thrilling indeed.
How can you describe something as significant as the reconciliation between divinity and humanity? It’s amazing enough when conflicted groups of humans have the rare experience of reconciliation. When the presence of radical love bridges the great divides of race and sexuality and nationality, it puts me in mind of Carole King’s classic: I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down, I feel my heart start to trembling whenever you’re around. And the picture of Jesus’ costly love bridging the great divide of Creator and created puts me in mind of a Langston Hughes poem: Love is a wild wonder and stars that sing, rocks that burst asunder and mountains that take wing. But even that’s not enough. I’m with Matthew; I think it would take some dead folks digging their way out of the earth and doing a side slide to give proper oomph to such an event.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.