William J. Barber II, “No Lie Can Hold This Body Down”

This sermon is part of the Patheos 2021 Easter season sermon series. See all sermons in the series here

Bishop William J. Barber II is the pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. He is also president of Repairers of the Breach, and the author of several books including, most recently, "We Are Called to be a Movement."

John 20:11-14

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

Matthew 28

Meanwhile, the guards had scattered, but a few of them went into the city and told the high priests everything that had happened. They called a meeting of the religious leaders and came up with a plan: They took a large sum of money and gave it to the soldiers, bribing them to say, “His disciples came in the night and stole the body while we were sleeping.” They assured them, “If the governor hears about your sleeping on duty, we will make sure you don’t get blamed.” The soldiers took the bribe and did as they were told.

Bishop Tutu once said : In the middle of our faith is the death and resurrection. Nothing could have been more hopeless than Good Friday—but then Easter happened, and forever we have become prisoners of hope.”

Jurgen Moltmann, speaking of the resurrection, declared: 

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.

 And James Cone, considering the resurrection, called it divine freedom breaking into history. James Cone said the resurrection says that the battle really is on when God becomes the victim in the place of the hurting and the powerless. But then when Caesar does his worst, God does his best. God is not dead. God will not let his creation be destroyed by non-creative powers. Though killed by the sovereign of his day, God raised Jesus from the dead. Christ's resurrection is the disclosure that God is not defeated by oppression. And neither are those who follow God and who follow the way of love.

The resurrection means that God has granted life to possibilities that exceed the seemingly invincible powers of death. The resurrection overturns the ability of anyone to limit the possibility of those who fight for justice and freedom and human dignity. Therefore, we are free to say to the oppressor, in spite of your threats, in spite of the fact that you might make us suffer, God is not dead. And the resurrection says yes to our liberation. Resurrection means that death is not the ultimate. Thus, a society that is founded upon the structures of death does not have the last word. The resurrection overcomes the powers of death and mobilizes a righteous refusal to accept oppression no matter what the cost.  

Each of these reflections on the meaning of the resurrection suggest the resurrection is God’s way of interrupting the normal flow and expectation.  

As we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, I’m struck by the way this event which has become an expected holiday was received at its inception as an interruption.  

Mary, a close friend of Jesus, expects to take care of his body. She planned to mourn and pay her respects. But she is interrupted. “They took my Master and I don’t know where they put him.”

The guards expected to do their jobs. Go to work. Keep the revolutionaries from rallying at the grave of their leader. They were hired to maintain the status quo, but they are interrupted by resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus isn’t an answer on the first Easter morning so much as it is an interruption that forces new questions.

What have they done with my Lord?

It’s a question I ask myself often when I hear what folks say about Jesus in public.

When I hear them claim that to be a Christian is to be against women and their right to choose. Against gay people. Against Muslims, against immigrants, especially black and brown so called undocumented.  

What have they done with my Lord?

When I hear these so-called Christian politicians say they are against laws that would slow down the number of guns in our society. Against having the wealthy pay their fair share in order to restore and rebuild the country.  It makes me ask, what have they done with my Lord?

Last week I was in Alabama, where 6,000 workers are fighting for union rights—decency pay for honest work in the middle of the Bible Belt. And corporate leaders who claimed they loved God tried to undermine their efforts. And it makes me ask, what have they done with my Lord?

I was in West Virginia and I met poor white women who have to sell tacos on certain days of the week to make money to help other women pay for their feminine hygiene supplies. While the Senators from that state—millionaires—voted against raising the living wage. It makes me ask, what have they done with my Lord?

During the insurrection, January 6th when we all saw the rage and the hate that came to the Capitol. We even saw one man with a hat with horns stand in the well of the Senate and attempt to call on Jesus to bless their violence, the racism their hate, their lies. It makes me ask, what have they done with my Lord?

What have they done with the One who said, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink”?

What have they done with my Lord who offered free health care?

What have they done with the one who said that by this love all men will know you are my disciples?

A second question: What lies are being told to cover up the truth?

The guards made up a story. They made up a lie and took money. Claimed that Jesus’ body was stolen. Engaged in a cover-up. All one big lie. But isn’t that like the forces of the empire and death.

Lying is a tool of oppression. Way back in the days of the prophets, Jeremiah 28:15 says, the prophet said to Hananiah the false prophet, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.”  

Before that, in Jeramiah 9:3, God tells Jeremiah to preach that “they are always ready to tells lies; dishonesty instead of truth rules the land...  they have taught their tongue to lie and not give up their sinning because of this they do one violent thing after another and one deceitful thing after another.”  

In this nation the problem, the racism is still with us what we saw over the last four years in this nation is because of the root of lies perpetuated by evil economics, sick sociology, bad biology, political pathology, and heretical ontology. Poverty is still with because of the lies we’ve be told about the immorality of the poor and the lack of resources in the great vaults of our nation. And yet we see resurrection power every time the truth is raised despite the lies.

They told enslaved people lies about Jesus, but they still heard the good news about the One who died to set them free.

My mother and father in their early thirties were both highly trained and highly educated, and yet in the early 1960’s the South and it’s laws about segregation tried to tell them the lie that they were still second class. But because they were infused with resurrection power, they left the Northern Midwest and came back to the South to take on the lies of Jim Crow and segregation.

When I see a George Floyd killed and murdered on tape and Tawana Bradley murdered in her sleep, by the forces of police brutally and their deaths cause people of every race, creed and color to come together, I see resurrection power. In fact, it was when forces of oppression trying to undermine and crucify forward progress in this state that Moral Monday rose up. It was when workers got tired of working for poverty wages and being told the lies that things couldn’t be better that the Fight for $15 and a union rose up. That’s resurrection power.  

When people got tired of the lies being told to us about the climate and they knew the truth needed to be heard about what we must do now, the Sunrise Movement and Climate Reality rose up, that’s resurrection power. When people looked at the ravages of poverty and low wealth in our nation today while the greedy and the rich keep getting richer, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival has risen up all over the country and challenged the lies of scarcity and the forces that try to divide us, that’s resurrection power.

This pandemic has taken a lot from us. Because of lies, lives were lost. So many were hurt. But when we now see the truth being told and so many people uniting and working together, this is a sign of resurrection. It’s a sign that the lies will not have the last word.

But not only in the social and political way. I’ve seen people declare in their personal lives that the devil is a lie. Beat back addictions. Defy doctor’s diagnoses. Overcome great struggles just to serve the Lord. I see resurrection power.

I don’t just believe in the resurrection just because I was told the story about what happened 2,000 years ago.

I believe in resurrection because I’ve seen it raise up movements and people even in our world today.

Resurrection says no lie can hold this body down. Resurrection dares to question he crucifixion as the Last Word.

Have you ever heard the story of Fannie Lou Hammer. In 1964 on national TV she told of her ordeal just for trying to vote as a child of God:

They put us in jail and after beating another woman it wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman and he asked me where I was from. I told him Ruleville and he said, "We are going to check this."

They left my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said, "You are from Ruleville all right," and he used a curse word. And he said, "We are going to make you wish you was dead."

I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack.

The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face. I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old. After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack.

The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet - to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush.

One white man - my dress had worked up high - he walked over and pulled my dress - I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up. All this just because I tried to register to vote.*

For some it may have ended there, but Ms. Hamer was infused with resurrection power. Andrew Young told the story of going to Mississippi to get Ms. Hamer out of jail. The jailers had beat her all night long, he said. They thought they had the power to shut up a poor women who was trying to organize her neighbors to register. But Young said when he saw her walk out of that jail and vow to fight on, it was like seeing Jesus raised from the dead.

Well Jesus is raised from the dead. And he is still raising us from the dead. And because he lives…

No lies can hold us down

No hate can hold us down

No meanness can hold us down

No racism can hold us down

No oppression can hold us down

No hurt can hold us down

No sickness can hold us down

No other power can hold us down

No problem can hold us down

No oppressor can hold us down

No demon, no devil, no desperation or disappointment can hold us down

No death can hold us down.

 

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives

Yes, yes. Tell it everywhere

His love lives

Grace lives 

Power lives 

Mercy lives 

 

And when you have Jesus, can’t nothing hold your body down.

Noting can hold your dreams down.

Purpose down

Yes, yes, do I have witness?

Yes, somebody ought to tell it…


4/6/2021 2:25:46 PM