After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
—Matthew 28:1-10 (CEB)
Billy Sunday was the first great traveling evangelist of the twentieth century. He traveled the country with his flamboyant revival showmanship, which attracted enormous crowds. A consummate showman, Sunday he would invite his listeners at the end of the sermon to come forward by walking down the sawdust trail of the temporary wooden structure to give their lives to Christ. “Hitting the sawdust trail” became a synonym for repentance and conversion.
The first people to ever hit the sawdust trail, however, were the women, weren’t they? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb, where they encountered an angel sitting on a stone who said, “Don’t be afraid. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Now, hurry and go, tell his disciples.”
The phrase, “hitting the sawdust trail,” actually predates Billy Sunday, originating in the forests of Oregon, where lumber jacks would get lost deep in the woods. Needing find their way out, they would lay a trail of sawdust along the way so they could follow it out to a place where they could get their bearings.
Like the lumberjacks, we, too, are totally lost and have to rely on God’s grace to lead us to and then along the sawdust trail. We cannot control resurrection because resurrection is God’s work of grace. Do you, too, want to hit the sawdust trail? Then practice resurrection by welcoming and walking beside all kinds of people traveling the way of spiritual formation.
In his poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, Wendell Berry captures the unpredictability of resurrection. He says, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.... Practice resurrection.”
God of new birth, this is the day of resurrection, and we are ready to hit the sawdust trail, a trail that leads right back into everyday life where we commit ourselves to practice resurrection. With your grace leading the way, we will welcome all people to journey with us, so that one day the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah! Amen.
By: Bishop Laurie Haller, Resident Bishop, Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church