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As Secure As You Can

April 17, 2017

“As Secure as You Can” Matthew 27:62-28:15 © 4.16.17 Easter A by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Pilate let his mind wander, only half listening to the men who had come to waste his time yet again. By Jupiter and Mars, how he despised these people and their wretched stifling, city! He especially hated those obsequious toadies the Sadducees. They thought that by licking the boots of the Romans they would gain favor and prestige. But as far as Pilate was concerned, all they got for themselves was disdain, for they had no honor and no principles. As a warrior first and a politician second, he could not respect anyone without character. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were too highly principled, men who focused so much on tiny details that they missed the big picture. But, better perhaps to stand for too much than too little. He only wished they were all out of his sight so he could get on with his day.

What were they going on about? Not Jesus again! Wasn’t he dead and in the tomb? Pilate himself had given Joseph of Arimathea possession of the corpse. So what was it that worried these religionists this time? They seemed to be afraid that the man’s followers would come and steal the body in order to scam the public into believing Jesus had risen from the dead.

Jesus. Now there was a man with courage. And honor. Pilate wanted to release the Galilean, especially after the disturbing dreams that had plagued Pilate’s wife. But in the end, even a severe flogging was not enough to satisfy the leadership and the crowds that had become their puppets. So he had had a holy man put to death. And despite his public disclaimer, Pilate felt regret and guilt that would haunt him, perhaps for the rest of his life.

It seemed the only way to get rid of these priests and Pharisees was to give them what they wanted. He could spare a couple of grunts to guard the tomb. His men could certainly stop any peasants and fishermen who tried anything. And it went without saying that no one needed to worry about the silly, sentimental women who would come to weep and wail. “All right,” he said. “Go make the tomb as secure as you know how.” And, Pilate muttered under his breath, don’t bother me again with your stupid superstitions.

Three days later, when word reached him that the soldiers had fallen asleep, and the tomb was empty, Pilate couldn’t believe it. No man in his garrison had ever failed in his duty. Besides, Roman soldiers who fell asleep on guard duty were put to death with their own swords, and no one would risk such punishment. No matter what he accepted officially, Pilate knew there was another explanation. And it made his skin crawl. What Jesus had predicted had come true by the power of the God of Judah. And even the crack squads of the Roman Legion could not stand against it, could not defeat it, could not outguess it or even plan against it. At that moment, Pilate realized he would have to rethink everything he believed he knew about security.

And, it would seem, so do we. For, like Pilate and any reasonable, rational person of his day or ours, we have bought the official line of the Empire, under whatever name it happens to do business. Security is in “know-how,” technical skill and competence, the ability to adapt to and assimilate more knowledge. It’s posting a guard at a tomb already sealed with a great stone, which today translates into double-encrypting our phones, making our passwords strong, shopping only on the websites with the little padlock icon displayed, shredding all documents with our name and address, paying companies to look after our data. Making things as secure as we can means standing in endless TSA lines, submitting acceptable IDs, having our luggage and person scanned. It’s locking our doors, even to take the dog for a walk down the block, not leaving valuables visible in our cars, installing alarms in home and business, doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our kids from the evil that stalks us in various guises.

Security is in being able to analyze and name our maladies, especially psychological ones, and to heal ourselves. It’s erecting emotional force fields and walls brick by cynical, bitter brick around our psyche, because as the old song by Carole King put it, people will “hurt you, and desert you; they’ll take your soul if you let them.” Security is shutting the door of our hearts, assigning a sentry to our feelings and not allowing anyone, including ourselves, access to them. It’s compartmentalizing memories and regrets and guilt, knowing, as another song has it, that “what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.” It is not thinking or talking about anything unpleasant, especially death—our own or somebody else’s.

Security is found in having money in the bank or investing in the best performing funds so we meet our financial goals for retirement. It’s wearing the right clothes or driving the right car so we will be welcomed by our peers, along with living in the right house and befriending the right people so we might show and maintain our status. If we only have enough data and the right tools, we can fix anything, including the human soul, and do it quickly. We are very good at making things as secure as we know how, as secure as we can.

But then something happens that renders us as mute and frightened as guards at a garden tomb, some seismic shudder that undermines the very ground of our being, sending our carefully constructed lives crashing to the ground. A horrifying news story. A betrayal by someone we let into our lives and trusted or by an institution we counted on. An accident. A diagnosis. At such times, we long for explanations, for stability, for assurance that life will return to normal, because the answers we depended on no longer make sense.

So we might like to believe the tale Matthew tells and embrace its hope. But who can when we have been so used to finding security and truth elsewhere? The players in this story are not the official spin doctors of the Empire or those we trust to tell us what to do. They are an angel from heaven, surely someone outside the normal boundaries of our experience, unless as the biblical writer observed, we have entertained angels unawares. They are some women, whom no court in that day would even let testify, much less believe. The knowledge offered in the story is not the technical kind we crave or the sort that will give us power over others. It is merely the assurance that the empty tomb is to be explained only by the raising of a dead man. The security given is an angel sitting on a stone, as if to keep it from rolling back into place. The competence called for is the ability to see Jesus in the everyday events of life in our Galilee, the place of the familiar and routine. The tools are a single pair of glasses, with lenses ground according to a prescription containing one word: “resurrection.” Absurd! we cry. Ridiculous! Not admissible! Unscientific! Not anything like real life!

No argument there. And we could cite even more objections. But when “as secure as you know how,” “as secure as you can,” doesn’t work anymore, when things fall apart, we discover and rejoice that there is another knowledge, another power, another world, another truth. And behind and within them all stands One who is able to turn the daily into the divine, the ho-hum into the holy, tombs into turning points, and the lifeless into the gloriously living.

Thanks be to God.

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