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The Loud Part Quiet

The Reverend Matt Gaventa

April 21, 2019
Luke 24:1-12

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Hiding in the background of this Easter morning story is something much more dramatic, something much more traumatic, which is, of all things for the week we have just had, the destruction of a temple. It’s actually the second destruction of a temple —it’s the destruction of the temple they built to replace the first one that got destroyed, each of them lasting about half a millennium before the tides of invasion get the better of them, each of them meant to be the symbol of Jewish religious and cultural life, each of them meant to be literal homes for God on earth, and if you found yourself glued to the screen on Monday afternoon watching the fire burn through Notre Dame de Paris, or if you woke up this morning punched in the gut by the news of the church explosions in Sri Lanka, or if you are carrying around the memory of the black churches burned in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, you may be grasping some fraction of what it would have felt like for Jews to watch the Jerusalem temple fall into rubble. Again. It was supposed to be there forever. Instead, this is national, public, cultural disaster of the first order.

The trauma of it shows up even in the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus, even though, to be historically precise, Jesus dies several decades before that second temple collapses. But the Gospel-writers themselves didn’t put pen to paper until after the temple fell, which means they are writing for an audience with that trauma still very much hanging in the air. And so, as Luke tells it, as Jesus breathes his last breath, all the way across town, the curtain hanging as a room divider inside the temple splits in two, which is partially Luke’s way of trying to make Jesus’ death feel like this same kind of big, traumatic, national, game-changing event. And that’s not the only trick in the Gospel-writer’s bag. Mark also says that the sun goes dark for three hours. Matthew reports an earthquake. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ death happens with all the pyrotechnic effects that the writers can muster, because it’s meant to feel like a public disaster, because it’s meant to feel like national trauma, because it is that Breaking News that we can’t stop watching, because as these things invariably are, it’s deafening.

By contrast, by striking contrast, the events of Easter morning in Luke’s Gospel are surprisingly quiet. The arrest and trial of Jesus were public scandal; the crucifixion public scandal; the tearing of the temple curtain, to be sure, public scandal. Instead, Easter morning is simply these women who come to the tomb to do the very ordinary work of anointing the body and, instead, they find it missing. A missing body could, of course, indicate even more public scandal — Roman soldiers might have moved it, desecrated it — these women are about ten seconds away from calling the press and putting a whole extra news cycle onto this story that won’t quite go away. But then instead these angels appear. We’ve had angels in Luke before; among other things, they show up to the shepherds over Bethlehem and everybody breaks into song. But this news is something quieter. These angels appear and report that there’s no scandal here, no crisis at all; quite to the contrary, it is simply that their friend Jesus has done the thing he said he was going to do; namely, he has risen from the dead.

These women don’t quite know what to do with this news, of course, except to go and tell their friends the same. They try to bring this news back to the men who haven’t gotten up yet, and of the male disciples don’t quite know what to do with these women; there’s no doubt that the women in this story are running a few steps ahead of their brethren, and not for the first or last time. But perhaps even more striking than the difference between the disciples who show up in this story is the long litany of folks who don’t show up. Pilate is nowhere to be seen, nor Caiaphas the high priest, nor any of the civil officers who helped arrange the events of the three days prior. Gone are the soldiers. Gone are the crowds. Gone are the reporters. Gone are the headlines. Gone is the trending hashtag. Gone is the national spotlight. Gone is the screaming urgency of the moment. In contrast to the deafening trauma of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, these woman, this hour of the morning, this lonely graveyard, this empty tomb — it comes with barely a whisper.

There is something about Luke’s Gospel, then, that does not quite conform to the way in which we worship through the Holy Week and into Easter Morning. I have been to many, many Good Friday services, and I have been to many, many Easter Sunday morning services, and in general as I’m sure you’re aware the way it works is that we reserve more than a few moments of quiet contemplation for Good Friday, and then on Easter we bring out the full orchestra and we go full blast. But I wonder if perhaps by the standards of Luke’s Gospel we have not mistakenly done the quiet part loud and loud part quiet. I wonder if we have not taken the loud public injustice of crucifixion and compartmentalized it into sound-bites of silence and meditation. And at the same time I wonder if we have not taken the surprisingly quiet, surprisingly personal, surprisingly ordinary story of this empty tomb and made it into something that we can only hear with the organ turned all the way up.

By extension I wonder whether Luke’s Gospel is perhaps offering something radically honest about the way God actually shows up in our lives, something far removed from the full volume of Easter morning, something about ordinary, everyday resurrection. In the ordinary everyday, of course, the brokenness of the world is rarely quiet. In the ordinary every day, the brokenness of the world screams through headlines and burns through news feeds. Stories of corruption and decay and desperation, stories of disease and despair and the slow march of death. A quiet hospital bedside can be a profoundly loud place with death in your ears. But that’s the Gospel for Good Friday. And the Gospel for Easter Sunday is that resurrection also happens in the ordinary every day. It just happens quietly. Yes, God declares victory over death itself; it is in many ways the loudest event in the history of creation, but the way we most often experience it is the way those first disciples experienced it which is we share it with friends. We break bread with strangers, like those disciples on the road to Emmaus. We tell stories in community, like those disciples who gathered in the upper room. And in the midst of those quiet, ordinary everyday things, God brings resurrection.

There is a Japanese architect named Shigeru Ban. He’s world-renowned, one of those names that if you are an architect I suspect you already know, but for most of his career, what has made Ban particularly interesting is that he has become fascinated with cardboard. Now, there is an entire industry of summer camps for kids who want to build things out of cardboard — ask me how I know — but Ban was working with cardboard at quite a more sophisticated level. In the late 1980’s, he discovered that at the right thickness, cardboard tubing actually could maintain quite a bit more structural integrity than you would imagine. Moreover, it was cheap to acquire, and simple enough to fireproof and waterproof, which meant that cardboard, of all things, could be a profoundly useful building material, especially in disaster-stricken areas, where sourcing supplies is unusually difficult. This idea had legs, and by the mid-90’s Ban was building shelters during the Rwandan refugee crisis, and after the Kobe earthquake, and the list goes on — schools, hospitals, you name it, Ban has built it, out of cardboard, in disaster zones all around the world, and as sure as we are gathered here this morning, there are people alive today because of what Shigeru Ban figured out that he could do with cardboard.

And then, in February 2011, an earthquake struck downtown Christchurch, New Zealand, 6.3 on the Richter scale, leaving major chunks of downtown in rubble, including, right in the center public square, the Christchurch Cathedral, built beginning in 1864, for 150 years the center of Anglican worship in Christchurch and also in its own way the symbol of the city. It was supposed to be there forever. Instead, the earthquake destroyed the spire, and then aftershocks took down the walls, until finally the site was roped off, left behind, and deconsecrated. In the years since, the Bishop and community of Christchurch have been engaged in a long discernment about what the future of that building will be, the result of which is now at long last that the cathedral is in the process of being slowly rebuilt. But that’s not the real story. The real story is just a few blocks away, where the congregation that used to worship in the Cathedral now gathers every Sunday morning in its temporary home, a home built in the two years immediately following the earthquake, a temporary shelter designed by Shigeru Ban, a cathedral made out of cardboard.

Officially it is called the Transitional Cathedral of Christchurch but everyone just calls it the Cardboard Cathedral. It is beautiful, in its own way — a deceptively simple A-frame, made with cardboard tubes, light shining between the gaps onto a sanctuary to seat about 700. There’s a simple set of stained glass triangles to echo the old Rose Window. Some of the walls are made from shipping containers. The whole thing sits on a concrete slab. Very little of it is designed to be permanent — maybe about 50 years — but as it rose from the rubble in downtown Christchurch it became a symbol of that city’s own resurrection. Admittedly it is not as grandiose as the old stone masterpiece. It is something decidedly more ordinary. It is something decidedly more every day. It is, in fact, a resurrection made with the most ordinary everyday stuff, and this morning in a cardboard sanctuary standing in rubble halfway around the world a congregation gathered up to say the same thing we say here in this place made of wood and stone which is Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia, Amen!

I am sure they will have said it there, as we will, with the sanctuary on full display, with the organ on full blast, all designed for the loudest possible proclamation of the Gospel. And I am also sure that the real power of the Gospel of Resurrection happens long after the echoes fade away. If you want some literal quiet, the cathedral meditation group meets Fridays at 7:30 and Sundays at 7:15. Alternately, the Cathedral choir is actively looking for new recruits — there’s an email address and phone number on the website if you want to follow up. Coming up in a few weeks, the cathedral is participating in a citywide day of ecumenical and interfaith dialog — RSVPs are open now. But if you don’t want to wait that long, tomorrow at lunch they will hold the ordinary everyday midday Eucharist, which means you can walk in the door, sit underneath the sunlight beaming in-between the cardboard tubes, and somebody will take a very ordinary loaf of bread, and a very everyday cup of wine, and tell the story one more time of the one who rose again from the dead. We tell it all the time, because it happens every day, thanks be to God.