The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
April 5, 2015
Note: This sermon is heavily dependent on, and uses the title of Héctor Tobar’s book, “Deep, Down, Dark: The Untold Story of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” (Macmillan, 2014).
You remember the story well. On August 5, 2010, thirty-three Chilean miners became trapped in a gold mine in northern Chile. A piece of the mountain broke off and destroyed the mine’s tunnel to the surface. That piece of the mountain was bigger than the Empire State Building. The thirty-three trapped miners tried to crawl their way around the blockage, but that proved impossible. Some of the other miners tried other escape routes and smaller tunnels. All those exits were also blocked. The thirty-three Chilean miners were trapped in the deep, down, dark.
Their stories and recollections about their time underground are stunning and terrifying. The water they drank was filthy, oily water that was supposed to be used in the radiators of their big excavating machines. For weeks on end, the thirty-three miners would split one can of tuna once a day. Starvation and panic and desperation quickly set in among the men. In the deep, down, dark.
On the surface, though, an international rescue effort was underway. You remember the excitement. Engineers and experts from all around the world gathered in the high desert of northern Chile to figure out a way to rescue the thirty-three men. Even NASA sent a team to help. Now, the world did not want to rescue the Chilean miners because the miners were good people, or because they were heroes or moral role models. The thirty-three were normal, broken people like me and you. During the first few weeks underground, many of the miners went into withdrawals from whatever it was they were hooked on. Some of them stole food from a locked cabinet. Famously, one of the miners had both a wife and a girlfriend on the surface who were worried about his safety. These were not men who deserved to be rescued because of who they were or what they did or how good they happened to be. The miners deserved to be rescued, simply because they were human.
When the drilling operations began on the surface, the men in the deep, down, dark did not know it because they were half a mile under the surface. Some of the miners never thought they would be rescued and that they would be forgotten and left to starve. But as the days wore on, and the drills went deeper, the men began to hear the drills. It was that sound, that sound of the drill which gave the miners hope. Because that sound gave them belief that they were not forgotten. They had hope that salvation was on the way.
On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene was also in a deep, down, dark place herself. Her Lord, the man named Jesus, had been betrayed, condemned, and crucified. He had died a brutal death at the hands of the Roman Empire. All Mary wanted to do was to go to the tomb to anoint the body of her friend, Jesus, and to mourn. Grief-stricken, Mary sees that the tomb is open. Mary is heart-broken and absolutely distraught. Mary thinks she has no hope because somebody must have taken the body of Jesus away. But then she turns, and she sees Jesus. At first, Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. It’s only when Jesus calls Mary by name, when she hears the sound of his voice, that she recognizes that hope and salvation are on their way. Like those miners who heard the sound of the drill, instantly Mary knows that hope and salvation are on the way. She has not been forgotten.
And you, you have not been forgotten. We each find ourselves in deep, down, dark places. When the weight of the world has crushed us and our only escape route has been cut off. Seemingly abandoned to our own darkness, we begin to despair. We try to find our own way out, but those ways are all blocked. There is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves. There is nothing we can do in order to make God save us. The rescue effort, the salvation, it all begins with God.
That is the good news of Easter. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s final victory over the powers of sin and death. By raising Jesus from the dead, God rescues us from our death as well. Through the resurrection of Jesus, God conquered sin and despair. That is the eternal promise of God. That no matter where we find ourselves, no matter how deep, down, dark we are, God is able to rescue us. To save us. Because God loves us. And it all starts with God and ends with God. Like those miners, we are not able to help in the process. The drilling started at the surface, and the men were pulled to the surface. God reaches out to us, and God lifts us up.
And like those miners, God rescues us not because we are good people. God isn’t drilling into our hearts because we’re nice enough, or smart enough, or worthy of God’s love. I know the messages our culture gives us. We hear that women are only worthy once they’ve lost their baby weight and are perfect mothers. That men are only worthy if they have a high-paying job and show no emotion. We hear that senior citizens are only worthy before they’ve lost their hearing or are still able to drive. We think that God will only love us if we are perfect. The good news of Easter is that God loves us, God rescues us, God reaches out into our deep, down, dark places regardless of who we are or where we’re from or what we look like or what we have done or left undone. By virtue of your humanity, God loves you. That is God’s gift to you.
And it was a gift for those Chilean miners to be rescued. You remember the scenes that were broadcast around the world. You weren’t alone. One billion people around the world watched the rescue live on TV. The miners all came up out of the ground smiling and laughing and crying with joy. After sixty-nine days underground, they were all grateful, beyond words, that they had been rescued. But the story of thirty-three Chilean miners doesn’t end there.
For the miners who were not addicted to substances before their ordeal, many of them because addicts afterwards. Some of them were so manipulated and used by the media and their families, that they went bankrupt. Some of them divorced their wives. One of the miners suffered mightily from PTSD. He has trouble sleeping at night, so he sits alone in his darkened living room with his mining helmet and head light on. Scared out of his mind. Though he has been rescued, though he is no longer in the deep, down, dark of that collapsed mine – his life is still being put back together.
Tomorrow morning, when you go back to work, or school, or home, everything will start to unravel once again. Even though you’ve celebrated in here, out there you will again encounter the deep, down, dark places in your heart. It will seem that God’s rescue effort was all for naught, because you will still feel abandoned, like the miner who still feels trapped underground. You’ll still have problems in front of you and sin to address. It will seem that Jesus is still dead in the tomb. Or you will see Jesus, but you’ll mistake him for the gardener.
That is why we gather here week by week, Sunday by Sunday. In the Church, every Sunday is Easter. Every Sunday we gather to remember and to give thanks that we have been rescued. We celebrate, every single week, that Jesus has been raised from the dead. We gather to remind ourselves that we are no longer in the deep, down, dark, and even when we are, we gather to remind each other that God will still reach out to us. Not just once a year, but God will reach out and rescue us again and again and again – forever and ever.
That is the good news of Jesus Christ. As one ancient writer put it: Jesus is the hope of the hopeless, the helper of those who have no helper, the treasure of those in need, the physician of the sick, the resurrection of the dead (Epistula Apostolorum). As you go back to your work a day lives, listen for the sound of the drill that is coming to rescue you. Listen for the sound of God’s voice, calling out your name. Listen, for Jesus has been raised from the dead, and now you live in the light.