Resurrection: Hope on a Tightrope (Matthew 28:1-10)

tightrope

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” (Matthew 28:1)

A Little Hope

I don’t know about you but I am in need of some hope this week. I have had enough death to last me awhile. I’ve had it with bad news, sickness, and sadness we continue to experience.

We need a day to celebrate new life, and resurrection couldn’t come at a better time. And just like today, Jesus’ resurrection happened in the midst of a lot of death, destruction and disappointment.

Resurrection Sunday brings with it mixed feelings, fear and joy are both present. We rarely know where hope will take us. Or if hope will ever present itself.

In the movies, hope is often portrayed like a knight in shining armor showing up at the last minute to save us, but few of us ever have a knight in shinning armor rescue us. Rarely do our fortunes change at the snap of a finger or a twinkling of a nose. For most of us, hope is far more road-weary than that.

So if you find yourself without a knight in shinning armor this morning, I want to talk to you about what hope is for the rest of us.

Hope isn’t for the Circus anymore

Cornel West has a book titled “Hope on a Tightrope.” When talking about it on the Colbert Report a number of years ago, he said it must be true because it rhymed.

I like the sound of hope on a tightrope, not because I’m into the circus, or because I’ve ever dared to walk from one skyscraper to another, but because of the precarious position that hope is in today.

“Yet hope is no guarantee. Real hope is grounded in a particularly messy struggle, and it can be betrayed by naïve projections of a better future that ignore the necessity of doing the real work. So what we are talking about is hope on a tightrope.” (“Hope On a Tightrope.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/DPSfx.l)

Hope is like a delicate thread that we must walk throughout life’s greatest challenges.

Hope is not for the faint of heart. James Alison said recently, “give me faith, but you can keep your hope.” Hope is something that we have to hang onto and fight for. Hope requires a level of persistence and investment that doesn’t come easily or naturally.

Hope is stubborn in its persistence that things really can change.
That today does not have to be a repeat of yesterday.
That in Christ, we are on the journey of being made complete.

That even though it’s a challenge, we can walk the tightrope of hope.

Hope and Tightropes

So let’s imagine ourselves on tightropes or preparing to cross one and wonder what we can learn from them about hope.

How many of you have ever walked on a tightrope? I have done some of those obstacle course type tightropes, which are super high – like 2 feet off the ground or so…I can usually get a good 5 or 6 steps out before I fall.

As a complete novice, I can image that besides a lot of balance and practice there are three essential pieces to walking a tightrope.

  1. Keep up momentum (movement)
  2. Don’t freak out so you can remain present (reassurance)
  3. Pay attention with your whole body (attention)

There might be more to it, but I have no doubt that successfully navigating a tightrope includes these three pieces. And just like the challenge of walking a tightrope, I want to take these three pieces and look at our text and see what is revealed about hope and the resurrection of Jesus.

Movement

First, Notice in our text this morning that there is a lot of movement.

  • There’s the movement of the Marys who “went to see the tomb.”
  • The angel’s tell the women, “Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples.”
  • The angel’s tell the women, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.”
  • “So they left” and they ran with “fear and joy.”
  • Then they run into Jesus on the who says, I think the greek work for it is, “Hi!” And he tells them to Go and tell my brothers to Go to Galilee.

Hope is full of movement. Hope does not sit down. And if it needs to stop and take a rest, it does not linger. It is capable of holding onto many different emotions, and loves of movement: running, seeing, telling.

Matthew 28 shows us that the shape of hope is full of action.

And even though the women didn’t have all the information, even though they hadn’t figured it all out, even though each step they took was an unknown mystery, it was hope that compelled them forward.

If movement is a part of hope, than hope is about survival. Hope is just staying alive, it is never giving up the fight.

“In our business you don’t quit,” says comedian Joan Rivers. “You’re holding on to the ladder. When they cut off your hands, hold on with your elbow. Whey they cut off your arms, hold on with your teeth. You don’t quit because you don’t know where the enxt job is coming from.” (Kleon, “Show Your Work” p.183).

That sounds a lot like hope on a tightrope to me.

And notice something else. What is the direction of the movement?

It is first to the tomb and then on towards Galilee.

At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, we saw Galilee as the place of the marginalized, the losers, the last people on dart you’d ever pick for your world-changing movement. Yet, In Galilee Jesus formed his fellowship of the disqualified: People on the margins, people who have been victimized, rejected, scapegoated. There are the ones at the beginning and the end that he goes to, to call into his community of hope.

Don’t Freak Out

The second piece lesson about hope from a tightrope is “don’t freak out” which is exactly what we see here in Matthew 28.

Hear the constant refrain “do not be afraid.”

The last thing you want to do when you’re 100 feet and in the middle of a tightrope is to freak out.

In the face of Jesus’ death, and an uncertain future, these disciples are scared. And no wonder. Jesus had been executed. An innocent man, he suffered capital punishment and died alongside other criminals.

If this happened to such a high-profile rabbi, what would keep the justice system in check when it can to Jesus’ followers?

And so in order to make sense of hope while on a tightrope, one grow accustomed to the kind of courage my friend Peggy Morrison talks about:

“Courage is being scared shitless, but doing it anyways.”

One of the times I was most freaked out was when I learned while I was working at my seminary’s library, that my one year-old was in an ambulance, headed to the hospital. I had no other information, all I knew was that I needed to get to the hospital as fast as I possibly could.

There’s a moment where fear actually cripples and keeps you from doing what you need to do. And so what are we to do in these moments of terror and uncertainty?

I think we often think we can just will ourselves to not be afraid. As though the most helpful thing we can tell one another when we’re scared is “suck it up,” “stop being afraid,” or “you really have nothing to be afraid of.”

This isn’t what hope is like.

What’s one of the first impulses you have when something scary is about to happen? You cover your eyes or you look away.

I think hope is about working to keep your eyes uncovered, no matter how scary things get.

Not because you’re into gore and all that, but because if your eyes are open, then you are going to be able to respond to the situation, you are going to be able to step into a helping role and “bring hope” in the midst of suffering.

If you can keep your eyes open in the middle of an uncertain and scary reality, then you will be able to remain fully present to those around you.

The worse thing I could have done when I found out Lily was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital was close my eyes. To curl up and freak out.

The way the New Testament talks about this kind of hope is patient endurance. Listen to how uncertainty and suffering are embedded within what the apostle Paul says about hope:

… Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 8:24–25; 12:12 NRSV)

And in his letter to Titus, he replaces the word “hope” (which he uses in 1 Cor. 13) with endurance:

“be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance” (Titus 2:2)

Patient endurance is one of the ways we can act out hope with our eyes uncovered.

Pay attention (to the bigger picture)

Finally, risking an obvious statement, when balancing high above on a tightrope, if you’re going to have any hope of completing the act of bravery, you are going to have to pay complete attention.

Hope that comes from resurrection is something that engages your whole body, all your senses, and requires that you are awake and paying attention.

Listen to some of the words that appear here in Matt 28:

dawning, see, great earthquake, angel descending, rolled back the stone, sat on it, lightning, white as snow, shook, became like dead men, looking, has been raised, go, tell, been raised from the dead, going, see, left the tomb, ran, Jesus met them and said “Hi!,” took hold of his feet, worshipped, go, tell, go to Galilee, see me.

All of these words are actions and descriptions, all of them are things you can do or see, hear or feel happening.

And just like walking on a tightrope, hope requires that you have all your senses engaged.

Hope is the possibility that if you are paying attention, if you are awake and living your life fully engaged, you will see the Jesus is himself hope embodied.

In this way, I think hope is like a telescope. Often when we are desperate and feeling scared, it’s like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Everything is super tiny and close up. A hopeless person is someone who is unable to see beyond him or herself, is for one reason or another, unable to see the forest for the trees.

It really matters what you pay attention too. Which end of the telescope you’re looking through. Whether you’re seeing the little or bigger picture.

So hope is flipping that telescope around and looking through it the right way. It is the ability to see the bigger picture, or at least trust that there is a bigger picture.

I don’t have to have all the information, all I need to do is put right foot in front of the left.

I don’t have to know in advance how to excel at every aspect of pastoral ministry, all I need to do is trust that there is a bigger picture that with the help of others, I will be able to uncover over time.

I don’t have to know how I will cross this 25 foot tightrope, all I need to know is that if I pay attention and keep myself fully engaged, I can get there.

Walking the Tightrope

We can get a beautiful picture of hope from our text this morning of walking the thread of hope on a tightrope.

The women keep moving. They find out they’re in the wrong place, and not knowing all the details and being full of fear and joy, they keep their feet moving right on back to Galilee.

In the midst of your own life, in the uncertain times, in the times when you don’t know what comes next, remember that not only is movement an essential part of survival, but it really matters which direction you’re headed.

Jesus’ death reveals to us that God stands with the scapegoats, the victims and those who are normal disqualified. Hope is in standing with those who God stands with.

And even though they are afraid, the women keep their eyes uncovered. They are able to respond and be present in the midst of what would have been a terrifying and exhilarating experience. Is this a divine miracle or a deadly joke?

Even though you are scared. Even though you don’t know whether what is happening is good or bad, keep your eyes uncovered, be ready, be present, so that you can be a first responder.

And finally, if you want to walk on the tightrope of hope you are going to need to pay attention. The senses are fully engaged in this text. This is not a story trying to convey information so that you can prove the resurrection of Jesus to those who don’t get it, this is a story about having our imaginations opened up to what is possible with God, being willing to be surprised, and being willing to see the much bigger picture.

If you’re feeling hopeless, trying flipping the telescope around and allow all your senses to be engaged!

May we keeping moving, have patient endurance even in the midst of death, suffering, and confusion, and learn to pay attention and may we grow in our ability to walk with hope on a tightrope.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.