And I heard him grumble… “that’ll happen over my dead body…”
I’ve always loved the scene in the 1990’s movie version of the Three Musketeers when Cardinal Richelieu (played by the scurrilous Tim Curry) was making his attempt to become the next King of France by knocking off the one on the throne as a birthday present. When the musketeer-led brawl breaks out in the throne room and all becomes clear that the good Cardinal also wants to bed down the Queen, King Louis’ wife, Anne, shouts out in protest …”over my dead body…” TO WHICH she hears the retort…”that can be arranged!” Yikes! Dead bodies seem so permanent! Life and death can get so messy. Well, in fact… leave death out of the equation… life all by itself is messy! Have you ever said it? Ever hear someone else make that promise “over my dead body?” When spoken—it’s usually serious business! It means…all bets are off and there is no way it’s gonna happen!
I heard my Uncle Fritz say it once… “over my dead body…” he was an elder at old St. Paul’s at the corner of 5th and Caroline St. The neighborhood had changed since 1947 and he was now the old gray-headed white German minority guy. These were the caustic words spoken in a conversation with other church members about whether the congregation was going to get serious about inviting the blacks now living in the neighborhood to part of the church. He had been there all his life. It was the only church he knew. His grandfather was one of the founding families of that church in 1881. But, it was now 90 years later; the early 1970’s and white flight had already had its day in Youngstown, OH. When so many others had moved to the suburbs, Uncle Fritz had remained, and trying to hold down the fort… and “over my dead body” got messy.
And just like any body getting ready to die…it does so in small yet noticeable doses. First, it was the basketball hoops in the church parking lot. The church elders and the Property Committee took down the rims. Reason? Too many neighborhood boys playing there after school; after all, the hoops and backboards were put up so the Confirmation students could play there on Saturday mornings. Then the neighborhood boys starting stealing batteries out of the cars from choir practice on Wednesday nights. Then the church hired a guard. But, when he went on break, a couple of the local boys found a way to slash a tire or two. And that’s when the chain link fence went up. And despite some attempts via the synod office, and even calling an Anglo pastor with a black wife, the damage had been done as she couldn’t make headway with the neighborhood moms to have the local children come to VBS. Somehow, the “go ye therefore and make disciples” mission got derailed along the way and it turned out that “over my dead body” led to the dying of a congregation as in 1994 the doors to old St. Paul’s were closed.
A husband told me that he once said those words, too! “Over my dead body” was the response to his wife when she suggested that after five years of what he thought was ‘wedded bliss’ they invent an ‘open marriage’ and each would be able to date anyone they wanted. In his attempt to stand firm about love and promises and a future that ended with other words, ‘til death us do part,’ he found himself alone in a house with a knife wielding spouse. “Over my dead body” it seemed she was willing to take literally. But, without saying, ‘that can be arranged,’ fortunately, the knife landed back in the drawer, but sadly, not long later, the couple divorced. The one body…the two were becoming…died. And because they both had large families and a larger circle of friends, there were dead bodies everywhere… In fact, they’re still there and no one’s been the same since…
And then there was the high school age son who wanted to go visit some older friends away at college. His dad and mom figured it was going to be one of those things where everyone was up to no good. “No, you can’t have the car,” they insisted. “But, we’ve been planning this for 2 months,” the young son shouted back. “I already got off from work and nothing is going on at school on Friday so we’re leaving Thursday after at the end of classes.” “Over my dead body,” mom declared and despite her pleading, it was the last thing her son ever heard. It seems the boy jumped in a friend’s car anyway and took the road trip after all. The friends were in a high rise dorm. Boys were boys and the young son lost his balance as two other friends began to scuffle later that evening. Just an accident. No one even noticed until it was way too late. The school got a black eye but a big part of mom did die that night. His parents didn’t talk much to anyone let alone each for a good while…
A couple of thousand years ago some women ran to a tomb outside the walls of Jerusalem. It seems there was an angel who met them there over Jesus’ dead body. A collision that was both dramatic and intentional. Over his dead body was why they went…to finish what they didn’t have time for on the Friday afternoon…to do a kind and faithful thing at the end of the events of Jesus’ last week as the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth…ridiculed yet hailed as the King of Jews but in reality was, is and remains the King of the Universe!
“Over his dead body.” But the body wasn’t there. It had been arranged! Just as Jesus said. God would do a good thing. The temple curtain had been torn in two. Death was vanquished. Over Jesus’ dead body…God rules eternal… because what was dead is now alive. The sins of the world placed on his shoulders. A life that was offered up was now the presentation of new life. What was intended for evil has been restored for good. And that’s how the mission of the Church goes. Over our dead body. But, never for long. The Church. Not dead. Just sleeping. Not dead. Resurrected and restored. Not dead. Re-readied. Re-filled. Re-turning. As the Father sent me; so I send you. Baptizing. Preaching. Teaching. Eating and drinking. Remembering. Blessed to be a blessing. Over my dead body. Jesus gets the last word. Jesus–the last laugh. Now alive. Forever.
And the church? The mission? Well, the wounds aren’t as fresh as they once were. The scars can still be seen if you go looking for them. The church keeps rising from the grave. Purpose-full. Power-full. Prayer-full. You see, many of the members of old St. Paul’s have been transplanted into other area congregations. The mission is on. Re-born. The old property now serves elderly patients who are part of the nursing care facility that was next to the church. God is still there! The couple? They found new love. They’ve remarried. They’re trusting God’s grace and their church offered a “couples marriage encounter” and they’ve worked out some family bugs that will now benefit their children. And hopefully, their grandchildren, too… And the couple whose 18-year-old son died? Well, at the encouragement of their pastor, they’ve worked out a very quiet but effective ministry to reach out to young boys in the local high school who when hearing of “boys being boys” they take some time to talk about not trying to grow up too, too soon while reminding them their parents love them more than they know.
So, as long as Jesus is alive and remains the Lord of all time and places and circumstances, the church will always find itself being raised from the dead. And the church is people. And the people are us. “Over my dead body?” Well, Jesus did say that the gateway to a faithful and abundant life starts with the death of self. He started it. He’ll finish it, too! Happy Easter!