In 1977, two spacecraft were launched by NASA to study the outer reaches of the solar system, gathering data from around Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, they would travel further from earth than anything humans had ever created. These are the Voyager probes. They’re travelling fast – Neptune is 2.7 billion miles from Earth and Voyager 2 got there in 1989. 12 years – not bad!
Voyager 1 is thought to currently be travelling 35,000 miles per hour – the average speed of a bullet fired from a gun travels 1700 miles per hour. The probes have been really fast, for 41 years.
At this time both Voyager craft fully in interstellar space, which means they’re completely outside the realm of our sun. These things are far away.
Now, when they first got launched, the main objective of the Voyager program was to learn about the outer limits of our solar system. And in that respect it was very successful – scientists have learned all sorts of things about the outer planets and magnetic fields and all this stuff from the voyagers. To this day, the spacecraft are still sending back data from space to earth. (BTW the computers aboard the voyagers are way less powerful than what’s in your cell phone).
But since scientists knew that they were sending a probe into deep, deep space, they had to wonder – what if someone out there, way, way out there, got a hold of our space crafts? It could be a long time in the future, and it could be so far away we could scarcely comprehend it, but what if somebody found this thing and got a hold of it?
With this idea in mind, a team led by Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and mathematician, set about creating a kind of greeting card, a letter of introduction to any intelligent beings who might find the voyager. What they made is called the golden record, and it was actually a record like a disc, and ti’s attached to the side of the Voyagers, and it features a collection of pictures and audio recordings meant to represent earth to anyone who might want to learn about us.
Now, a lot of the pictures show mathematical and scientific concepts, and a lot of the audio is basic recordings of earth sounds, like wind, water, and animal noises. But they also included 27 musical compositions from cultures all over earth, as well as many pictures of human life and relationships. Here are a few:
They also recorded 55 greetings from humans of different languages and cultures all throughout earth – greetings to our cosmic neighbors. These were not just 55 versions of the word hello. Here are some of the greetings.
- Speaker in English: “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”
- Speaker in Vietnamese: “Sincere greetings to you.”
- Speaker in Urdu: “Peace on you. We are the inhabitants of this earth and send our greetings to you.”
- Speaker in Japanese: “Hello. How are you?”
- Speaker in Welsh: “Good health to you now and forever.”
- Speaker from Nepal: “Wishing you a peaceful future from the earthlings”
- Speaker in Mandarin Chinese: “How’s everyone? We all very much wish to meet you, if you’re free please come and visit.”
- Speaker in Persian: “Greetings to the residents of far skies.”
As I was learning about this golden record with the Voyager program, I was so moved by the thought of these messages of goodwill from communities on earth travelling the vast expanse of our galaxy. I was so inspired, I teared up. And as I looked at the photos, I was so touched by these images of people working together, teaching one another, playing with one another, sharing meals, caring for each other. I find it unspeakably beautiful that we would project these images of our planet and our humanity out among the stars.
But of course, as I looked through the images, I thought to myself, huh. There’s no pictures of war here. There’s no sickness or poverty. There are no messages of aggression, or the superiority of one group over another. There’s no images of the worst parts of life on earth.
Well, I looked into this and found out that was the explicit agenda of the committee who made this collection. They left out images of suffering, poverty, brutality and ideology. It ends up being a beautiful representation of Earth, but how true is it? What relationship does this representation have to the earth that you and I know as people who live here?
Jesus Christ led a movement of humble people, from different walks of life – different cultures, different political points of view. Most of his followers were poor people, though some had money. Jesus had many friends that had been friendless before he came along, people who weren’t welcome most places they went, because they were sick, or destitute, or because they were labeled as sinners, or because they were part of a cultural group that was viewed with suspicion. All sorts of people gathered around Jesus because he inspired them with a vision of who we could be together as a global family, and what kind of world we could create together.
Jesus believed, and enabled other people to believe, that a new day was coming, when there would be no war, no senseless violence, no needless suffering. A new day, when the rich would not exploit the poor, and when the power of leaders would not be measured by their ability to brutalize and dominate people who were weaker than they, but by their readiness to protect, serve and empower the communities of which they were a part.
Jesus talked about Almighty God, whose kingdom was at hand, whose power was greater than Herod, greater than Caesar, greater than any agent of death. But this greater God, didn’t simply beat tyrants at their own game. This God showed power in service, in generosity, in compassion to the fallen, in strengthening the weak.
Jesus talked about God in this way, and he offered a vision of God’s future, which he likened to a banquet table, at which everyone was welcome, and at which everyone would be fed. The only things that wouldn’t be welcome at God’s table are bitterness and brutality, because these things would poison the feast.
It’s a deeply aspirational vision of the kind of life we are capable of living, of the kinds of communities we are capable of creating.
It’s a compelling – God’s kingdom is the world as it can be. And many people, so many people, were absolutely captivated by this vision. They wanted to live in this world.
But then, what happened to Jesus?
He was arrested, mocked, and killed by the powers he assured us did not rule the world, did not control the future.
And you see how, the people who watched him die, the friends who had dedicated their lives to being part of his movement, his disciples, they were losing not only Jesus their loved one, but Jesus the Promise of a world that could be. With Jesus taken from them in this most horrifying way, with him subjected to the very violence that he was calling them all to transcend, could it really be true that “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers,” could that really be true, when this is what happens to the one who brought these words?
We have to assume Jesus’ women disciples and friends were asking these questions, as they watched him suffer, and saw that all the men who followed Jesus had scattered. There were so many reasons to lose heart, and some of the women may have even said, if we could have asked them, that all was lost, and there was nothing to believe in, anymore.
But what the story suggests is that, despite the trauma, and despite the darkness, the pain, the fear in that moment, these women held on to the truth that Jesus conveyed and embodied. Before he died, he told them, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
And I don’t know if they realized it or not, but the women who came to the tomb, though they wept with grief, and feared that all was lost, these women, had retreated on Friday night, even in their brokenness, even with shattered faith, they had withdrawn together, to the care, compassion and community that Jesus had taught them would save the world. They were in this together. They were there for one another. They leaned on each other, until they made it through to resurrection day.
They had stared at death and did not look away. They had seen the dehumanizing visciousness of Roman imperial power. The terrorism of the cross. They knew the truth of it, and none of them would deny how God seemed absent, and grace seemed like nonsense in that moment. But even as they felt so small, so frail, so powerless, as they turned toward one another, they remembered the power that they still had to love. It didn’t make them naïve and it didn’t chase away their fear, but it was proof and slightest cause for hope that the compassion Jesus prescribed would see them through the valley of the shadow of death.
And because they had faced the truth and held on, because trusted and cared for one another, they came together to the tomb on Easter morning, and they saw, that Jesus was raised. He was not destroyed by the violence he wouldn’t imitate. He was not defeated by the viciousness he refused to multiply. He was raised, as God’s eternal answer to the cross, to the violence and viciousness we see as every generation. When we ask, can we believe that there is hope, even amidst all the trouble that surrounds us, can we trust in love? God’s eternal answer is yes, these tragedies, this pain, all these things are true, but grace and compassion, peace and beloved community are also true, and they cannot be defeated by the cross.
The resurrected Christ tells us to keep believing in the Kingdom that is coming. The new day that is one it’s way. Death has had its say. Violence and hatred have had their say but that is not the final word. Because Christ is risen.
Jimmy Carter was President when the Voyager crafts went into space. You may know President Carter is a devout Christian, believes in and loves Jesus with his whole heart. He’s 93 years old and still teaches Sunday school at the Baptist church. When the voyager spaces ships went up, President Carter wrote a note to whatever extraterrestrial brethren might discover it one day, which goes to show it is entirely possible live a life of faith and embrace the wonders of science and the cosmos. But anyway, in his statement to whoever might be out there, he acknowledges that, even though the pictures we’re sending don’t spell out the details, Earth is a damaged and conflicted place. We have problems we are struggling mightily to overcome. And what we’re sending with this message on a golden record attached to this space probe, is a glimpse of the goodness we see on earth, in the midst of everything that is going wrong. And we believe this goodness can endure. Here’s what President Carter the Jesus-lover wrote:
This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.
It’s okay to be aspirational. It’s good to believe in the best of what we can be. Even when our world is consumed by hatred and violence, we can say with confidence that the kingdom of God is on it’s way, if we make it so. It’s right and altogether fitting that we would envision a banquet table where all are welcome and fed, a kingdom where God’s will is done, a new day in which compassion reigns supreme.
We know that this reality has not come in its fullness. We know that hardship and cruelty still abide in this world. But we also know that Christ is risen. Thanks be to God.