Resurrection of our Lord/Easter Day
April 24, 2011
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you. Matthew 28:5-7
The alleluias are back! We celebrate anew Jesus’ triumph over death. This is the high point of the church year, and worship will be wonderful. A lot of planning and rehearsal has already happened. The music is wonderful, the choir and brass sound great, and the sanctuary is lovely bedecked in flowers and other Easter finery. But wait! Are we really ready to celebrate this day? Heaven forbid we simply go through the motions!
As leaders and teachers we have walked through Holy Week and experienced the depth of despair that gives way to Easter joy. We comprehend the radical nature of the resurrection; we feel it in our bones, believe it in our hearts, and know it in our minds. What about the people in the pews who have not journeyed through Holy Week? How are we to provide a real sense of the pain and grief that gives way to fear and hope that explodes into joy and delight? The only place that is likely to occur is in the reading of the word of God and the proclamation of the gospel. I know, I know, today is about joy and new beginnings. I get that, and I love to celebrate Easter as much as anyone and maybe more. Yet, I still have this nagging little voice in the back of my preacher’s head that says “If you don’t acknowledge the full range of emotions the women experience, you aren’t doing anyone any favors.” Drat. So much for just hollering out the alleluias and reveling in the celebration! No somehow, some way, the story of the women at the tomb must be felt by the congregation–from the grief and fear to the hope and joy.
Think about a time when you felt completely defeated. Perhaps the sports team on which you played suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of your arch rivals. Maybe your college of choice did not feel you were a good choice for them. Possibly it was when that promotion that seemed so sure was given to someone else. It could have been the loss of someone near and dear to you–either through death or divorce. Whatever the case and the severity, recall the emotions, the sensations, the taste, the feel, even the smell of that split instant when you comprehended your loss. How thick and impenetrable was the darkness of that moment?
Now, imagine you stand outside Jerusalem. The rabbi on whom you had pinned all your hopes and dreams has been crucified, cruelly murdered as a criminal. His body, broken and pierced, is removed from the wood and taken away for burial. The grand entrance into Jerusalem is a faint memory, tainted by the events following the Passover supper. The long-hoped-for king, the one you thought was messiah lies broken and defeated on the ground.
Flash forward to the walk to the tomb. Imagine the heaviness of step and heart of the two Marys as they enter the garden. There is still work to be done, but it is a sad, somber grief-laden job. They do not have “the rest of the story.” See in your mind their fear as the earth quakes and an angel whose “appearance was like lighting, and his clothing white as snow” appears in front of them. A “Python-esque” moment of comic relief is next as the guards shake and faint on the spot.
Fear melds with hope. Mary and Mary do not question the angel but follow instructions to run and tell the disciples. In fact, they run headlong into Jesus himself and fall at his feet to worship as fear and hope give way to joy.
Jesus reiterates the angel’s instructions to have no fear and to go and tell the disciples that he will meet them in Galilee. Jesus does not choose to meet them in the political and power realm of Jerusalem. No, he instructs the faithful women to find the other disciples where the rubber meets the road, where ministry happens–on the margins, the outskirts, and the place where the power structure will least expect it.
Abruptly, with Jesus’ words “…there they will see me,” the reading ends. It’s a funny place, don’t you think, for the gospel on this festival Sunday to screech to a halt? Now what? It’s almost like stopping an “alleluia” midway. Where will we see Jesus this day?
We will see him in the breaking of the bread, we will see him in the faces of our brothers and sisters, but most of all, we will see him when we, like the Marys, go from this place to tell others that our Lord is risen! Death no longer rules the day. Jesus appears not to the powerful, not to the twelve, but to the faithful women who stay the course. This day Jesus manifests himself to all the rag-tag fallen, redeemed, and dearly loved children of God. This good news is for all of us, and it is mighty good news!
Now go sing out your “alleluias,” but don’t forget to bring the assembly through the story to experience everything, right down to the fear and fainting guards. Do not be afraid; this is good news for fearful folks! Amen.
Photo (c) 2007 by Mike Tolstoy, via BigStockPhoto.com