After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 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.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Sermon for Easter Sunday 2017
On an early morning, on the first day of a new week, some women took a walk. They walked in darkness for the sun had barely risen. They walked in grief and in love to bring closure, to say goodbye. It was that quiet time in between days, when one day had not fully ended and the new day had not yet begun. It was an in-between place, a timeless space – after Sabbath but before all that was yet to come.
Like these women, we often find ourselves in these in-between places, unsure of what’s next and still processing what happened before. We find ourselves in this place today. A day with a special name, but what does that name mean in the aftershock of the world we live in? A world where we must fight for clean water, children are gunned down in streets and in classrooms, and people cry themselves to sleep. A world where individuals wield great power for themselves, or the highest bidder, and the law is used to legalize systemic racism and bigotry. Thinking about it like this makes me think this world isn’t much different from the world that Jesus lived in. So why do we, along with these women, gather on this day, in this in-between space so early in the morning? What is it about this day that we must gather every year to remember?
Aftershock. We Californians know that word well and when we think about this Good Friday world we live in, we can’t help but be shaken by the aftershock. Just a few days before, these women who grieved and loved and walked to the tomb, witnessed something earth shattering – the government endorsed execution of the One they followed, the One that knew them like no one else ever did – Jesus. Yes, the earth did shatter. The Gospel of Matthew says that, “At th[e] moment [of Jesus’ death] the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” The earthquake was so terrifying that people turned to each other, second-guessing themselves saying things like, “Truly this man was God’s son.” So, in this aftershock the women walked, heads down, probably holding each other, until they reached the tomb.
Suddenly, another earthquake shook the ground as an angel brought earth-shattering news. Suddenly, the stone was rolled away and the women stepped out from under the shadow of yesterday and into the light of today. These women were the first to see the empty tomb. They were the first to be told where to find Jesus, alive. They were the first to be directed to go and spread the life-changing, world-tipping, route-re-calculating, seismic, GOOD NEWS — death is not the final answer. Jesus Lives. God fulfills God’s promises. God is with us, always.
It takes something big to get us to move, to really bring about change in our habitualized lives. Sometimes that “big thing” happens around us or to people we love. Sometimes that “big thing” isn’t actually so big, but the affect, the shift within our soul, is so big that we can’t call it small. Sometimes that “big thing” is hitting rock bottom and realizing the only way up is by the help of others. Suddenly, we are ready to make a move, give it a try, and live in a new way.
It’s when we find ourselves in those in-between places that we discover that the only way out is through. It’s in the in-between places that we are shaken from stuck. And we move. This is why we return year after year. To be shaken up. To GO THROUGH IT. To recognize the mystery of the resurrected Christ and then to see him alive, ahead of us, beckoning us to step out from the slow motion grief of yesterday and step into the immediacy of today – the Now.
Now. Take a deep breath. He is risen. He is risen indeed.
THIS VERY MOMENT. We are fully alive and present with the living Christ who goes before us.
We can’t get to Easter without Good Friday. So, we take up our cross and follow after Jesus. We stand in places of heartache, grief, and death. We stand with the despised and hated, the poor and hungry. We stand in the face of hatred because that is where Jesus stands. We follow after Jesus all the way through the pain and destruction of death, through the in-between spaces that just don’t make sense, until we reach the empty tomb. We follow after Jesus through death and out again, into life.
To resurrect is “to bring to view,” to bring to our “attention,” or “to use again.” Today, this Easter, we bring to view the full, miraculous story of Jesus the Christ. We bring our attention to the empty tomb. We lift our heads with the women who ran from the tomb and recognize Jesus ahead of us. We use this day, again and again, year after year, to celebrate the gift of new life that Jesus brings us every day. We go from this place quaking in the aftershock of resurrection, shaking our world with the Good News of Jesus.
Our lives transformed by the resurrected Christ become the aftershock, an aftershock that no longer means grief and death, but spreads a message of abundant life. We are the church gathered, the body of Christ. We are the bearers of this amazingly good news. We follow after Jesus, the One who goes before us, always, guiding us as a midwife from the death of yesterday into the screaming, squirming life of today. So ready, get set, go! Shake off the shackles of death. Share this good news wherever you go and keep your head up. Jesus is going ahead of you.