Preached on 16 April 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
Easter Day, Year A
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!
I wonder what it was like, though, that first Easter morning. Each gospel writer tells the story a little differently. In Matthew’s gospel, there are guards at the tomb and they have sealed the stone in place, across the tomb. The Romans had been warned that Jesus had said that if they killed him, he would be raise up, so they were worried that the disciples might come and steal his body, they tried to guard against that.
Then, early, early, in the morning, two of the Mary’s arrive: Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” possibly Jesus’ mother. In the other gospels, they bring materials to prepare his body for burial, but in Matthew’s gospel, Joseph and Nicodemus do that when they put him in the tomb. I wonder what they expect to see?
Then there’s the earthquake as an angel arrives. The angel rolls away the stone not to release Jesus from his tomb, but so that the women can see that the tomb is empty! They leave “with fear and great joy” to tell the others the message the angel gives them. Jesus has been raised; he’ll meet you in Galilee. Fear and great joy. Have you ever felt that? Looking at something that is amazing and beautiful, but fills you with fear and awe at its power? What does this mean? The Resurrection upends their world; if death isn’t death, then what? What else might God do?
The earthquake is unique to Matthew’s gospel. You may remember from last Sunday’s reading of the Passion from Matthew’s gospel, that the earth quaked at the moment of Jesus’ death, too.
Earthquakes in scripture are often used as a way of saying that God is present and is intervening. Heaven and earth connect.
Now, we’re familiar with earthquakes around here. The thing about earthquakes is afterwards. Afterwards, you may be able to straighten the pictures and put things back on the shelves. You may even repair buildings and bridges, or even tear them down and rebuild them. But the thing is, the very ground beneath us has shifted and we can never put that back any more than we can put the top back on Mt. St. Helens. It is forever changed.
Easter is an earthquake. The cosmic order is upended by God. Once Jesus is raised and they find the empty tomb, how they perceive the world, how they perceive life and death itself, is changed forever. There’s no going back.
The Resurrection is not the end of the story, it’s the beginning of a new story. It’s the beginning of the story we’re in. We are an Easter people. The life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus is our foundational story. It tells us who we are. The Resurrection shapes us and how we see the world, how we see life. It shapes how we understand God.
For the first witnesses and the early Christians the resurrection shakes the foundations of their world. Does it still? Or is this story now part of the air we breathe, we don’t know another way? Do we take it for granted? And I don’t ask that meaning that it’s a bad thing. But it is worth thinking about.
How does it affect how you see the world – especially in times of trouble or upheaval in the world around us?
The whole life and teaching, passion and resurrection of Jesus can still shake our world. Jesus doesn’t overthrow the Romans as they had hoped, but the Romans can’t overpower him. Evil never gets the last word.
Matthew’s story is filled with “seeing” the women come to see the tomb; they see the angel and the angel invites them to come and see where Jesus lay, but isn’t there. Finally, they see Jesus on their way to “Go and tell” his disciples.
It is the beginning of new life, seeing the Lord, seeking Christ, expecting to see Christ.
As I struggle to find words to describe this new life we have through the mystery of the Resurrection, I find that one of the collects from last night says it best.
“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer)
May the Earthquake of Easter, the power of the Resurrection, that shifts the very ground beneath us, give us new eyes to see. Eyes to see that which is being raise up, that which is being made new; eyes to see all things brought to their perfection.
But most of all, may it give us eyes to seek and see Jesus.
For indeed, he is risen! Alleluia!