Easter Sunday 16 April 2017
(Acts 10:34-43 Psalm 118 Colossians 3:1-4 Matthew 28:1-10)
“When the World Quaked!”
This took place 12 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was a Sunday morning that began like every other Sunday morning had begun for me for nearly 25 years. I was getting ready to lead worship, editing my sermon one last time, making sure I knew what I was teaching in Confirmation class, checking to make sure the bread had arrived for Holy Communion.
When my cell phone rang I could see it was my youngest sister calling —not a normal Sunday morning phone call. I answered. She was calling to tell me she had found our mother slumped over in her recliner, apparently having suffered a stroke the evening before.
The next few days were spent letting Mom know that her children were all gathered around her, sharing stories and some laughs, not knowing what, if anything, she might be hearing. Our emotions intensified with grieving and sadness, we were there to urge her on, encouraging her to let go, reminding her that all would be well.
And then, in one brief moment, the struggle was over, and she slipped into the world of peace.
The experience of the dying of someone we love touches us at the very core of human existence. It tugs at the heart of life’s meaning. Before the face of the one we love who is dying, every other value and life quest that has claimed our attention and passion seem utterly irreverent and irrelevant.
A few weeks ago in my sermon I reminded us not to move too quickly to Easter. Now, today, we have arrived, but my caution is for us not to forget how we got here.
If the dying of a loved one invites us into a deeper reflection of what is of value and relevant in our lives, so all the more on Easter Day, we are invited into a way of reflecting on all that is vital and of significance; today we do it from within the story of Jesus, specifically his Resurrection.
Just as Pastor Andrew began his Maundy Thursday sermon by taking us back to Ash Wednesday, so today I must suggest that Easter can only be truly celebrated with a glance back to the season of Lent and Holy Week.
How can the story of Jesus rising from the grave, crafted in another time and a different culture address our lives today? How does this story of Jesus inform our lives when we find out that a loved one is dying, our grandson is in prison, our daughter has been bullied, our grandparent has been denied health care, or when there seems to be deafness to injustice near and far.
I know the resurrection is most often packaged around cute little bunnies and plastic Easter eggs full of candy! Believe me, I love both of them! But I truly believe that the Resurrection is not soft and cuddly. I believe Resurrection is dangerous. It is risky. It is not safe. What I mean is that, in our world based on violence, we look at the Resurrection story, and for all the violence that was done to Jesus on the days before he died, Jesus did not respond in like fashion. Resurrection is the Gospel Good News that God does not hold our sins against us, but forgives us, offers us peace and invites us to offer that same peace to others. Resurrection tells us that we don’t engage evil with more evil, but with love. That is precisely what makes Resurrection so dangerous!
Sure, I want you to go home and have your eggs hunts. I hope you colored eggs last evening. But I also want you to engage the Resurrection Story in your everyday life. I want you to struggle with the parts of it that just do not seem to make sense for you. I also want you to know that Jesus was resurrected to reveal God’s radical offer of peace and forgiveness.
We spent a lot of time this past week at Bible study talking about earthquakes. Matthew’s crucifixion story and Easter story are the only ones that include an earthquake. Even if you’ve never been in an earthquake, we all know that an earthquake changes one’s life forever. Ask the people of Nepal, India, Haiti. See the scaffolding still around the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
People like us are the sort who like to believe that we can have resurrection and still have the world as it was yesterday. We want to have Easter and still want our world undisturbed and un-rocked by resurrection. We are amazingly well adjusted to the same old world.
Pastor and writer, Will Willimon says, “You can’t explain a resurrection. Resurrection explains us, and it does so when we get to know the God of Easter as more than a warm fuzzy!
I choose to believe in a God who creates a way when there is no way.
I choose to believe in a God who makes war on evil until evil is undone.
I choose to believe in a God who raises dead Jesus, a God who shows us who is in charge in this wayward world.
On the cross the world did all it could to Jesus. Three days later God did all God could do to the world. And here is what the Easter God did: God took the cruel cross and made it a means of triumph. God took the worst we could do, and led us toward life. God offered us a new world and Jesus came back to forgive the very disciples who had forsaken him.
When the stone was rolled back we were given a glimpse a world where death does not have the final word, a world where injustice is made right, and innocent suffering is vindicated by the intrusion of a powerful God.
The women came out to the cemetery, simply to anoint the body one final time because this was what they were used to doing; this was how their world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper of resignation at death’s dark victory.
And then the earth quaked, and angel appeared, the stone rolled away, the soldiers became comatose. The angel plopped down with one final act of ill-mannered defiance of death, and said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! You’re looking for Jesus? He isn’t here!”
And then, [a little midrash] although it is not recorded, the last thing the angel must have said to the soldiers was something like this: “You’re the ones who need to be afraid, because everything your world is built on is being shaken!”
Let me return to where I began. The experience of the death of a loved one really is really the Resurrection story. It is the reminder that there is more to life than what seems to be. Fragility and powerlessness experienced in the act of dying is the reflection of Jesus’ Resurrection. Death is not the final word. For each of us, the invitation is to reassess what is important, valuable and powerful in our lives. It is a welcome invitation to a new openness to God’s presence in our lives even when it does not feel perfectly comfortable.
And, oh yes, Eliza Ruth Crowell, this is the God community you are being Baptized into this morning, a God I hope you get to know very well in your lifetime! Because this is the God who can make your world quake.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.