I think I was 5 or 6 when my mom bought me a pink and white Easter dress complete with a bonnet. I’ll give you a minute to imagine me wearing that :). I hated wearing dresses and I’ve been told we argued for weeks about whether or not I would wear it. So you can imagine my mother’s surprise when I come bounding down the stairs on Easter morning wearing that dress. She was so happy. So proud. Until I told her the only reason I was wearing that dress was because my father had promised to get me a new catcher’s mitt if I did.
Easter is about surprises. It is about egg hunts, pretty clothes, and family dinners. Lovely Easter traditions many of us share. Thank you for making us a part of your Easter today.
“ Jesus lives. Jesus is Lord. . . . Easter is about all of this.
To reduce it to a spectacular miracle a long time ago and
a hope for an afterlife is to diminish it and domesticate
it. It is not about heaven. It is about the transformation
of this world.”
(Marcus Borg, 2012)
Easter is the most powerful story in our Christian faith. Each of the gospel writers gives an account but by far Matthew’s account is the most dramatic. There is a sense of literary frenzy. Nothing is dragged out. Just a few verses before we read that even the death of Jesus was expedited by the breaking of his legs. There was a sense of urgency and a sense of franticness on the part of those who loved Jesus to get this whole horrible ordeal over, to make the nightmare of this week end.
It was imperative that they should bury him before the Sabbath started, to provide a proper burial for Jesus. But there was so much to do, as there often is when a loved one dies. Joseph of Arimathea gets permission to take the body and it was gently laid it in a borrowed tomb. Throughout it all, the women were there. They were always there. They always are. In the great movements of the world, strong women of faith are always there.
These women, after making sure Jesus’ body was prepared for burial according to their custom hurried home for the Sabbath was about to begin. There is no dialogue, only action, only the presence of the women, holding space for all that had happened.
Our passage picks up with the women getting up early in the morning and marching themselves back to the cemetery, taking burial spices and perfumes to put on Jesus’ body. They find the guards under orders from Pilate and a sealed tomb. And suddenly there is an earthquake and an angel appears, rolls the stone away and sits right atop it. And the world is turned upside down. The guards stand as dead and the dead we are told have been raised.
The women had come to the tomb to watch, keep vigil, to observe, to be near the one they loved and lost.
We too have come today like the women of our story drawn to look into the empty tomb, to be sure that Jesus isn’t still in there, that someone hasn’t put Jesus back in there. We come today hoping the happy ending of that Easter is still available to us because we need to hear the good news again this morning so we can to be freed from the fear that catches us off guard when we turn on the news or when our FB feed lights up with tales of violence and injustice. We need hope when life gets overwhelming- when jobs don’t work out, when bills pile up, when diagnosis come, when we lose someone we love so very much.
The women receive the good news that Jesus is alive, that God has conquered human suffering, that there is life out there for all of us. The women are told to go and tell the guys. They were afraid, hiding, scared. The resurrection means we don’t have to live in fear anymore.
The world wants us to fear. In fact, we orchestrate fear to control, manipulate, and segregate. Easter says, no more. Easter says the ways of the world are not God’s ways.
The truth of God shakes the earth we stand on and meeting Jesus does the same thing. The women having seen and heard leave the tomb it says feeling a mixture of fear and joy. It’s hard to leave fear behind, even in the midst of the divine. For some of us grief, worry and doubt overshadow the joy we think we are supposed to feel today. I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are these in the Easter story also.
The women departed quickly wanting to tell the disciple, to tell everyone what they had seen (or not seen) and deliver the Easter message, “do not be afraid, the risen one has gone on before you”. As they are now hurrying back it say suddenly, Jesus appears in front of them. They grab hold of him with an “I thought I had lost you” kind of hug.
Jesus in John 20:17 apparently not in a touchy feely mood, says, don’t cling to me. Don’t cling to me out of fear. These words have stuck with me all week. Don’t cling to Jesus out of fear. I’ve been thinking about all the reasons I have cling to Jesus – out of obligation, out of family tradition, for fire insurance as some would say. Jesus says don’t cling to me for these reasons.
We worship the resurrected Jesus because the sins of this world cost him his life and through his death we see the unconditional love of God that changes everything.
The first thing Jesus tells us today is do not fear. I am with you. And the second is go and tell others I will see them soon. This is the Jesus we worship, the Jesus who forgives his friends for abandoning him, for leaving him to die alone, branded a criminal and publically executed. How easily he forgives us. What he seeks is to be in community with them, with us, and for us to be transformed by his life.
Easter is not about fear. It’s not about being good enough for God. It’s about God’s love for us even when we don’t love God back, even when we are afraid, even when we go looking for the living among the dead.
Our Easter story is consistent with who God is and holds within it our commission to go and be Christ to the world. Jesus says go. When we answer the call to not sit in the cemeteries of our lives we get to live, and wonder and experience joy. We can live without fear. We are forgiven. We are free to be who God has created us to be. And together we are free to be the church, the resurrected body of Christ in this time and place.
We can do this with confidence because God has gone before us. And we will meet God when we go outside, outside our comfort zone, out into the world as witnesses of God’s power to chose love over hate, life over death and inclusion over exclusion.
I believe in Easter because Easter has happened in me. I believe in resurrection because resurrection has happened in me. Because for every time I didn’t know what to do, was overcome by fear, felt outcast and rejected, for every turn my life took, Jesus was there. I have been changed by the indwelling of Christ’s love in me and the display of God’s love outpoured to me by this church. This is the power of resurrection, my friends, that Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. How wonderfully different life is when we live into that promise. It is the promise God gives to all of us; that in Christ we are transformed.
This is what it means to be Easter people.
A mentor of mine shared the words of the great English poet Gerard Hopkins with me this week, “ Let him Easter in us, be the day spring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east more brightening us … As his reign rolls.” That is my prayer.
May Easter happen in us all, today and everyday!