Easter Day — 2014 — Based on Matthew 28:1-10
Just as the sun is coming up on that Sunday morning, two women named Mary make their way to Jesus’ tomb. They’re coming for no other reason than to see it, to grieve at this place where he’d been buried. Suddenly, Matthew writes, the ground begins to shake because a messenger from the Living God has come to roll away the massive stone placed at the entrance to the cave. He looked like lightening, his garments blazing white. And the guards nearby shook and fell over, seized by terror.
“Don’t be afraid,” the angel says to the Marys. “I know you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified, but he’s not here. He’s been raised just as said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead and he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’” The women immediately leave the tomb overcome with both terror and ecstatic joy. As they run to give this message, Jesus meets them. “Greetings!” he says, and they go to him and grab hold of his feet to worship him. “Don’t be afraid,” he says, echoing the angel. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
For those of you keeping score at home, this is now the second time that Matthew mentions an earthquake in relation to Jesus. Last week we heard that at his death, the ground shook and graves of the saints were opened. Matthew then told us that after Jesus’ resurrection, these saints entered into the holy city in a sort of “The Walking Dead, Bible Edition” motif with less gore and more life. In today’s quake, a dazzling hulking angel appears to push away the stone and reveal the empty tomb. The angel’s presence and brute force causes this earthquake, and Rome’s finest, who are there watching over the tomb to make sure the disciples don’t come and steal the body, fall over in fear as if they were dead men themselves. The women prove to be the stronger ones and remain standing in the presence of this earth-shaking angel. They listen to what he says and run off in a mix of bewilderment, fear and joy.
Four years ago I traveled with my former parish’s youth group to a Diocesan youth retreat in the mountains of Colorado. My good friend Catie ran these events, and she had roped me in to being one of the hosts for the event, a costumed MC. We dressed up like special agents investigating a crash scene. “Crash” was the one word theme of the event; the guest speaker told the 200 or so youth gathered there about the ways God crashes into our lives, changing things forever.
Late Saturday night, after the worship time, there were a number of crazy activities to participate in, including a throw-a-pie-at-the-priest booth (something I avoided), a bounce house, mini-golf and a wrestling ring with those large puffy sumo suits. This last one drew me in because I saw the bishop putting on one of the suits in order to wrestle a 12 year old. Once costumed, the bell rang and the bishop went down in 10 seconds.
While standing there laughing with the kids, another adult asked me to wrestle him. I’d done this before at a nephew’s graduation party knowing some of the trick of it, so, I said yes.
We were pretty evenly matched, bouncing off one another and not falling down for a couple of minutes. My opponent then tried to come in low. He hit my left knee square on the side, and I felt it pop right. I immediately went down in pain, and needed help getting the heavy suit off. The Bishop, who had been watching, was asked not for a prayer but to go get the medic. After being seen, it was decided that I needed to seek medical attention and was driven back down to the Denver area.
I learned I had suffered a tibial plateu fracture, my femur and tibia slamming together with the femur winning the battle, and needed surgery. My orthopedic surgeon specified that I could not place any weight whatsoever on my left leg for 12 weeks while it healed. “Crash” seemed an amazingly apt theme for the weekend. My world quaked and trembled.
Most of us come to services on Easter morning not to experience earthquakes or crashes but an uplifting service with good music and maybe an Easter egg hunt to boot. If dead saints started making their way through our doors this morning, pandemonium would break out, although I bet someone would take a youtube video that would go viral overnight. Jesus’ resurrection, his conquering of death and the grave and rising to new life, is earth-shattering at the very least. It has the power to set us on a radical new course.
Our text from Matthew gives us two possible responses when God’s messenger shows up on the scene and the ground beneath us shakes and resurrection happens. We can either fall over like dead people or we can, with fear and trembling and joy, set out for a new adventure sharing the good news. The guards can’t fathom or see how this earthquake and the rolled away stone could possible bring anything but terror. Their response, when faced with God crashing onto the scene, is swift. They collapse with fear.
The two Marys are scared as well. Notice that both the angel and Jesus say to them, “Do not be afraid.” In spite of their fear, elation wells up too. They hear the words of the messenger and Jesus and they become witnesses of how God has crashed into our world rushing to tell the disciples. They strike out with a completely reoriented view of the world; death no longer the enemy, Jesus is alive once again. They go to tell the disciples that their risen Lord will meet them in Galilee.
Following surgery, I sat for days, so I read, a lot. The first two weeks, I finished 12 books, including Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I’ve mentioned his book before; it’s about intentionally living a better story. That book changed my outlook on my injury. Creeping into middle age, I could see this event as a call to avoid things, disengage some, and take my place among the fearful. Or it could be a point of new life, of change and determination. I chose the later, and within eight month’s time I hiked the tallest of the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Elbert, with some friends, including Catie. 13 months after surgery I ran a 5k with Melissa. And thos are nothing in comparison to the work Jesus can do in our lives when he crashes in with the power of the resurrection.
Because here’s the thing: if we want to follow Jesus fully and faithfully, it’ll mean living better stories as people of the resurrection. These days, it isn’t that we get bowled over by the power of God, rather we tend to be unimpressed with the power of the resurrection, cynically thinking Jesus can’t change people. We can’t imagine God’s love breaking into our lives, so what once was earth-rattling is now sort of ho-hum. But if we could just hear the messenger’s words again for ourselves, we’d know something beautiful and expansive lies before us. “Don’t be afraid! Jesus has been raised from the dead and will meet you in Galilee.” Jesus will meet us there in order to send us out to share his life altering power with the world.
What will it be for you this Easter morning? Will you be lulled into thinking there’s nothing new to see here, that this is just one stop on your day before a tasty meal and time with family? Or will you allow Christ’s resurrection power to bring about complete transformation in you, setting you out on the adventure of lifetime as you live a better story sharing his good news with the world?
Alleluia! Christ is risen!