(sermon note: 04-09 sermon note)
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.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a town with three buildings that were overrun by squirrels—the town hall, the hardware store, and the church. In an effort to solve the problem, the town hall brought in some cats. But after they tore up all the files, the mayor got rid of the predators, and soon the squirrels were back. Likewise, the hardware store humanely trapped the squirrels and set them free outside town. But three days later, the squirrels climbed back in. It was only the church that came up with a truly effective solution. They baptized the squirrels and made them members. Now they see them only on Christmas and Easter.
I suppose that one isn’t so much about the reading as it is about this day being a celebration of Easter. But it sure got your attention, didn’t it? And it helped make light of the distinct difference in today’s worship and Christmas’ worship and the rest of the worship times throughout the year. I mean, it’s true, Christmas and Easter worship services are the best attended services of the whole year. And rightly so! Both services very plainly celebrate the birth and rebirth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! What greater cause is there to celebrate than the birth and rebirth of our Lord?! There is no greater cause to celebrate in all of human history! Of course these two celebrations will draw the largest crowds and rightly so! Some people frown upon those who only show up to worship on Christmas and Easter but I think they’re minimizing the sheer majesty of Christ’s birth and resurrection. They’re forgetting just how amazing these two events were.
I mean, come on, there are so many elements of the Passion narrative that are outright captivating. The two Marys went to the tomb expecting to begin the caretaking process of Jesus’ body and suddenly there was a great earthquake. The ground rumbled and the earth shook and these poor women were caught in a graveyard of all places. Not the most desirable place to be when the ground decides to break apart and reveal what lies beneath. Talk about the stuff of nightmares! And as all this was happening, an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone in front of the tomb and sat on it. The guards standing nearby were completely terrified and chose to play dead. They didn’t know what was going on and were hoping to go unnoticed by the angel. The two Marys didn’t go unnoticed though. No, the angel spoke directly to them, saying, “Do not be afraid.” Talk about a stupid thing to tell a couple of obviously scared women.There was no way they couldn’t have been afraid! Nothing they were experiencing made any sense, from the graveyard falling apart to an angel single-handedly rolling away the stone to the tomb being empty. Of course they were afraid and confused and angry and sad and utterly bewildered!
Well, as they collected themselves and did as the angel told them, they were able to begin to make sense of it all. They ran and told the disciples what the angel wanted them to tell them. By simply doing as they were told to do, I imagine they regained a sense of assurance and understanding. But Jesus suddenly came to them and completely upended their understanding if not their assurance. It was Jesus, after all, so they had to have kept their assurance. Simply being in his presence must have been a great relief for these poor, terrified women. And Jesus reiterated what the angel had told them to tell the disciples, that they were to meet him in Galilee. This, too, must have been a great relief to these women. There was consistency in what was being asked of them and we know consistency leads to assurance as well.
It is altogether a captivating account of what occurred so long ago. So captivating that it deserves to be told and retold each and every year since. And celebrated too! God did what only God knows how to do: the impossible. God not only died on the cross but then He raised himself from the dead. If you were God and blessed with eternal life, would you want to experience death? Would you want to be absolutely cut off and separated from life? Even if you wanted to, then how would you do it? Remember, not only do you have eternal life but you are the source of all life. How would you, how could you, separate yourself from life itself? Definitely a paradoxical quandary! Well, God found a way through the Son. And as impossible as that was, God then did another equally impossible thing: He came back to life from death. There is a great chasm between life and death and God somehow managed to cross it. How? Nobody knows but He somehow did it. Only God knows how He did it. God defied all known logic and made the impossible possible.
And we can wrestle with trying to understand how He did it but I don’t think that’s what God wants us to do. I think He’s more interested in our trying to understand why He did it. Why would God die in the first place? And why would He come back to the living? Is this that great of a world to want to come back to? Is life worth coming back to? As the source of all life, I suppose God is a little more preferential to life than death but still. What’s so good about life? What’s so good about this life, this world? Well, in this life and in this world there is love and love is the greatest gift of all. Love is worth the admission to life, the fight for life. Love gives purpose and meaning to it all. Friends, we are in this world and in this life to experience love, to both give and receive love. Love is why God chose to die and come back to life three days later. And it is love…HIS love for us…that we are celebrating today. It is the greatest gift the world has ever received and worthy of our celebration. And for this we give thanks. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.