The People Can Fly
John 20:1-18
April 15, 2001

There is an old Black folk tale about their ancestors who could fly. When in Africa the people could fly. But in being brought to America on slave ships there wasn't enough room for their wings as they were packed in like sardines in order to maximize the profits of the slave traders. This story is told in the book, The People Could Fly , by Virginia Hamilton. An old man named Toby could still tell "one who could fly from one who couldn't."

We pick the story up in a field... "Sarah hoed and chopped the row as the babe on her back slept.

"Say the child grew hungry. That babe started up bawling too loud. Sarah couldn't stop to feed it. Couldn't stop to soothe and quiet it down. She let it cry. She didn't want to. She had no heart to croon to it.

"'Keep that thing quiet,' called the Overseer. He pointed his finger at the babe. The woman scrunched low. The Driver cracked his whip across the babe anyhow. The babe hollered like any hurt child, and the woman fell to the earth.

"The old man that was there, Toby, came and helped her to her feet.

"'I must go soon,' she told him.

"Soon," he said....

"He raised his arms, holding them out to her. 'Kum ... yali, kum buba tambe, ' and more magic words, said so quickly, they sounded like whispers and sighs.

The young woman lifted one foot on the air. Then the other. She flew clumsily at first, with the child now held tightly in her arms.

Then she felt the magic, the African mystery. Say she rose just as free as a bird. As light as a feather.

"The Overseer rode after her, hollerin. Sarah flew over the fences. She flew over the woods. Tall trees could not snag her. Nor could the Overseer. She flew like an eagle now, until she was gone from sight. No one dared speak about it. Couldn't believe it. But it was, because they that was there saw that it was.....

"The slaves who could not fly told about the people who could fly to their children. When they were free. When they sat close before the fire in the free land, they told it. They did so love firelight and Free-dom, and tellin.

"They say that the children of the ones who could not fly told their children. And now, me, I have told it to you."

As the old man, Toby, reminded people in very difficult places that they could still fly, we gather this morning hearing Jesus talking to Mary Magdalene about flying. Jesus said, "Don't touch me, for I have not yet ascended."

There is something about the deep love and connection we have for the things of this world which keep us from joining Jesus in flying, in resurrection.

There is a spiritual formation tool called the Ennegram which attempts to figure out which of nine areas a person is currently in. Three of those have to do with the heart and emotions.

Mary Magdalene, as one who was healed by Jesus from seven demons, traveled with Jesus and was at the cross and the tomb. She is one person who every Gospel writer mentions by name in terms of the resurrection.

Mary Magdalene's experience of healing by and following of Jesus tugs at our heartstrings just as Jesus tugged at Mary Magdalene's heartstrings. We can understand how emotionally tied to Jesus she became. Mary Magdalene considered herself to be Jesus' soul mate.

It is the same with anyone whom we consider to be our soul mate, we not only desire the best for them, but we desire to never be without them.

With Jesus' crucifixion and death, Mary Magdalene was bereft. She wanted things back the way they were. She wanted to be able to continue to take care of Jesus. She did not want Jesus to fly off and leave her.

There is something of Mary Magdalene in each of us. It shows up quite dramatically at times of separation and most noticeably at death. We don't know how we are going to make it without our soul mate and we grasp for every straw we can to hold on to things the way they were.

When Mary Magdalene heard her name being called by someone she could only see dimly through her tears, you might imagine her startle to recognize that the one addressing her was her beloved Jesus. She must have been astounded to have to reconfigure her thinking to take into account this new presence. When Jesus flies from the grave something happens to him. In every post resurrection account people are startled by his presence, they don't recognize him. There is something changed about the resurrected body. Just what the change is we don't know, but we know that when folks learn to fly from the fear and finality of death that they become nearly unrecognizable.

There is a new power and energy available to resurrected people power to do even greater things than Jesus did and to participate in the multitude of new things GOD is doing in today's world.

This resurrection flying will not be held back by those of us attempting to cling to it and drag it back to the way things were. Resurrection flying is moving ahead. Resurrection flying needs to warn, "Don't touch and drag me back down."

One explanation for how angels can fly is that they take themselves lightly. Another way of saying this is that they take lightly the drag of the past and the drag of fear and the drag of death. Angels are known for being announcers or messengers of GOD's new way, for proclaiming "Be not afraid, for today I bring you good news of great joy to all people...", for helping us not be fooled that death has the last word.

When we receive the words from Jesus, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing," and experience the joy of knowing our past forgiven, we too can be bold to listen to Jesus say, "Don't touch me, but go tell about my flying to my GOD and to your GOD." In listening to Jesus we are able to hear in our hearts not just the sorrows of the past but the glorious anticipation of our own great getting-up day.

So, a question to us gathered on this day to celebrate Easter and resurrection is how much we are holding Jesus back for our own comfort.

Another question to us this day is that of how reluctant we are to not only let Jesus be Jesus, but how reluctant we are to tell others, even Jesus own sisters and brothers gathered here today.

Let us have a moment of practice. Please repeat after me.

  • Jesus has flown the grave.
  • Jesus flies ahead of us preparing the way
  • Jesus will fly back to us.
  • Jesus is still teaching us to fly to GOD.

For now, turn to your neighbor and share with the phrase, "Jesus has flown the grave, alleluia!"

Now, share with them, "Jesus flies ahead of us, alleluia!"

Let one another know, "Jesus will fly back to us, alleluia!"

Will you make a promise to your neighbor? "I will learn more about flying to GOD! So help me, flying Jesus! Amen."

And now we go to tell others we will meet in our life's journey.

Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.

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