Texts: Acts 10:34-4; Matthew 27:62-Matthew 28:10
I like our small quiet celebrations here in the countryside because so much of what happens in other places—with all the trumpets, with all the drama, with the huge choirs and their alleluias—all of that stuff which often comes off as an attempt to out perform the neighboring church—misses the stark reality of that empty tomb, and hides the earth-shaking, mind-rattling event of the resurrection of the Christ from death to life. We here in our little church have no fancy entertainment on Easter to make us feel good. The feeling good comes as the truth, and the presence of the Christ, slowly emerges from the dark recesses of our self-assured minds, to stand before us with living hope. … a hope that defies the facts our violence corrupted world and the terminal disease of greed that grips so many people we know—perhaps even us.
In reading the story over and over again this week, from both Matthew’s Gospel and John’s Gospel, I was struck by the fact that all the verbs in the story are active verbs…never passive. And I was also surprised to notice how often the word: “go” appeared; at how much movement of people from one place to another was involved.
On that first Easter, the women, and the disciples surely didn’t fully believe, nor understand…but it was in the going…to tell others, to Galilee, to the middle of complexity (not running away from it) that they discovered the reality of resurrection, of moving from death to life, of being transformed from cowering cowards to men and women who could stand up—resurrected—to evil and death, and bring the power of hope and life. When they leave the empty tomb—not when they first see it and the angels—but when they turn to run back to tell the disciples, that is when the women—who told this good news first—encounter the risen Christ.
Too much of what will be said this weekend will focus on that empty tomb, as if that were proof enough of resurrection. As Barbara Brown Taylor has written, “That is a mighty fragile beginning for a religion that has lasted almost 2000 years now, and yet that is where so many of us continue to focus our energy: on that tomb, on that morning, on what did or did not happen there and how to explain it to anyone who does not happen to believe it too. Resurrection does not square with anything else we know about physical human life on earth. No one has ever seen it happen, which is why it helps me to remember that no one saw it happen on Easter morning either.”
Easter isn’t a story to warm the cockles of our heart and make us feel good. It isn’t about bunnies, and baskets of chocolate, or nature’s rebirth in springtime, or new clothes, altho’ there’s a reason that has been forgotten why we do get new clothes. In the ancient rituals of the church, catachumens—those who were preparing for baptism—spent the whole season of Lent without bathing and in the same clothes. At the Easter vigil, as dawn broke through the darkness, they entered the baptismal pools where their dirt was literally as well as symbolically washed away, and when they arose from that drowning death in the water of baptism, they were clothed in shining white robes.
Easter should be quiet and then full of thunderous, quaking, ground-shaking experience. There’s good reason that Matthew speaks of earthquakes and of the guards shaking: He means to shake every conception of reality that we hold, and to make the hair on the back of our neck stand up in awe and fear.
Moreover, there’s a reason the angel keeps repeating—at Christ’s birth and at his empty tomb—“Do not be afraid.” For this IS fearful stuff. Around the resurrection we have erected a tent of ways to talk about it. We may try psychology; we may try science. But Matthew’s core theological point is that there is no merely naturalistic way of speaking of the resurrection.
This is NOT about human capacities. It is wholly about God’s capacity and determination, or as Annie Dillard once put it: how “once in Israel, love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds.”
We are faced with a testimony of a handful of people….a testimony that radically challenges everything we know. And yet is a message that, as Peter says in that first sermon, called the KERYGMA—or the kernal of the good news, is a message sent by God, and it keeps on going, and going, and going. It has more life in it than the Energizer bunny who eventually will peter out (pun intended!)
Easter is more than a message that there is a heaven after death. Easter message says that the power of God on and on against all the forces of evil in this world. The message is sent, and it goes. It never tranquilizes into passive acceptance; it always galvanizes into action. Resurrection—a word that means to be stood up, to be put back on your feet—represents God’s ongoing quiet infusion of love to fill the abysses of a Good Friday world; it is the quiet victory—happening then and even now—of love bridging the chasm created by loveless power, by narcissism, selfishness, and greed.
Is it absurd to believe that good is greater than evil? Is it crazy in our time to believe that my neighbor, however different from me, however alien her ways, however bizarre to my way of apprehending the reality in which I must live, might have a gift for me, and therefore is one to be treasured—not one to be driven away, or to be destroyed? Is it sensible to believe that one’s foundational trust in this world will not be the bank balance, or a Constitution or a Declaration of Independence? Or even good health, or stretching even further even good mental health? Is it rational to believe that God has come to us in human form, shared our life, been killed by all the terrible things we do to one another—our physical violence, our denials, our betrayals, and then out of stone cold death and a tomb sealed by a massive stone and guarded by the best soldiers the world had ever seen to that date arises to new life?
Yes, it is crazy. Yes, it flies in the face of reason. Faith is never about certainty, about what makes sense, about the rational. It is the opposite of certainty. Faith is always trust…not so much in what, but in WHO.
Although all the gospels go to great length to authenticate the evidence of the empty tomb, the fact is that an empty tomb is really NO evidence. Where-ever, and when-ever people have believed, have had faith in this God of new life out of death, it has been because, in some sense, they too have seen him.
This life, this death, this astounding declaration that Christ is risen, continues to lay claim on lives across the history of the ages and the untold millions of us who have had our expectations and our lives changed by our experience of its eternally unfolding truth. In our shabby hearts, in the dark tombs of buried hopes and dreams, in the stinking places of death in our midst, over the years of going on with him down the Way that he taught, men and women, children and youth, old people—have been so touched by him that their lives testify again and again to this truth: God’s love for us is greater and more powerful than anything else in all creation, and nothing can separate us from that life-giving power.
Whatever happened on that first Easter morning, we are left with only two choices, really: we can either fight and guard against this day—as did the Temple high priests—or we can embrace it, allow it to claim us, and share it…as did the two women. We can’t sit around with it; we’ve got to go with it.
These two women, the two Mary’s, are witnesses to resurrection, new life, at an empty place. However powerful an image of Christ suffering in our stead might be for us at times in our lives, that’s not the where redemption really happens in the Christian message of the Way.
Unless there is the resurrection, the crucifixion remains only an example of noble sacrifice—of which we have thousands of stories about such persons. Crucifixion is just the ugly side of life winning, not something which will redeem the world, or at the very least, redeem me. What saves me, and has the power to save the world, is meeting the risen Christ and you do that by going with him.
The women went to the tomb that morning filled with grief, expecting nothing extraordinary. But their faithfulness in honoring Christ placed them at the center of something wonderful. It was the going that put them in the center of the Easter experience. And that is the way it often is with faithfulness. God meets us there in the cemeteries of our lives, and later God meets us in the Galilees of our daily living where we strive to be true to the love of God that we have seen and known, and we receive the gift of faith….faith that resurrection is loose in the world.
So we arrive at the stark and wild truth: the power of God is loose in the world, defeating death, and bringing new life. Once it touches you, creeps into your awareness, moves your stony heart—O my God, then everything is forever different, forever new. Can you go with it? Go…., he says, go and you will see me. Amen.