Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the risen one. Amen
Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Today we celebrate the empty tomb,
God’s victory over death
that changed the world forever.
We usually celebrate with fanfares and lilies
and lots of singing,
we celebrate at the table
with two thousand years of saints
whose lives were changed by the good news of Jesus Christ
and who changed the world as they lived out that good news.
We celebrate with signs of new life
adopted from other cultural celebrations of spring,
and we will do some of this today
but not all of it,
some of the celebration will have to wait
until we are physically present together
when our voices can once again mingle together
and we can gather around the table as a community
and then oh what a celebration it will be.
But not yet,
and we’re not sure when
and because of this,
I think this Easter feels more like the first Easter morning,
the Marys going to mourn at Jesus’ tomb
as soon as they possibly can at daybreak after the Sabbath,
where they are met with an angel,
who moves the stone away
and shows them an empty tomb,
who tells them not to be afraid
even as the earth shakes under their feet
then sends them on their way with a message for the disciples,
into a future they could not predict or imagine
but one which was full of hope.
Matthew in his telling of the story of Jesus
wants to convey just how tremendous and unsettling
Jesus is to the world
and he does that in the story with earthquakes,
the ground literally shaking under the characters’ feet.
I grew up in earthquake country out in Oregon,
instead of tornado drills in school we had earthquake drills
and learned to duck and cover under our desks
then quickly leave the building lest it collapse around us.
At home we learned to never hang anything heavy over our bed
that could be shaken off a wall and fall on top of us,
by code the water heaters are secured to walls
and the thing is, as much as you can drill and prepare with common sense measures
you are never truly ready for that moment
when the earth moves under your feet.
You go along with your life
and even though you know earthquakes can happen
it is still startling and unsettling
when what is supposed to be solid starts moving.
As he journeyed toward Jerusalem
Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for what would happen,
that he would be crucified die
and on the third day rise from the dead.
But as many time as Jesus told them that this would happen
they were still unprepared,
unprepared for the city in turmoil
as Jesus entered on Palm Sunday,
unprepared for the earthquake
at the moment of Jesus’ death
that tore the curtain in the temple in two,
and the Marys going to mourn the one thing that cannot be changed,
were not prepared to feel the earth shake under their feet
as an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
rolled away the stone and showed them that the tomb was empty.
Matthew tells us that the guards that had been placed at the tomb
were so afraid that they shook and became like dead men.
But not the women,
they manage to stay standing and the angel greets them
“do not be afraid”
a phrase used in response to visible fear.
“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 had been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.”
And having seen,
and been given a task,
Matthew tells us that the Marys
“left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.
The earth has shaken under their feet,
the only thing they know about the future
is the next immediate step,
to go and tell the disciples,
after that it remains a mystery.
The women are still afraid,
and added to that fear they are filled with great joy.
These two emotions are not contradictory,
both are true for the women.
This Easter, we like the Marys
are filled with multiple emotions
as we come to the tomb to find it empty.
We are filled with great joy at the news announced to us,
but there is also perhaps some fear for the uncertainty of the future
and sadness that we cannot be together
at the place that Jesus has promised to meet us.
But we rest secure in the fact
that Jesus keeps the promises he makes,
even the ones that seem impossible to us.
The Marys go to tell the disciples the message of the angel,
that Jesus has been raised from the dead
and promises to meet them in Galilee,
to gather them around him again like a shepherd gathers their sheep,
to forgive them and renew their sense of mission
in a shaken and changed world.
And Jesus will keep that promise
but as the women are running
suddenly Jesus meets them,
greetings he says,
now in the Greek, the word used for greeting is literally “rejoice!”
and the women do
they take hold of Jesus and worship him,
and after a brief interval
Jesus sends them on their way
“do not be afraid” he repeats,
“go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
I like this moment,
because it seems like Jesus just couldn’t wait to see some of his disciples.
He has promised to meet them,
the angel has delivered his message
and the women are on their way
but he just couldn’t help himself,
he had to go see the Marys
so he shows up suddenly
he will also be in Galilee just like he promised.
Jesus promises to be in the midst of us
as we worship as a community,
and present in the bread and wine, his body and blood,
and Jesus keeps those promises
which is why we long to gather as a community
to be with Jesus and one another.
Jesus can’t wait to see us,
as we go through our lives with fear and great joy
on the way to where Jesus has promised to be
Jesus also appears for us
suddenly along the way,
saying greetings, rejoice,
and offering times for worship in unexpected places,
the middle of the road,
a worship service done online,
a funny picture or story that makes us laugh
and aware that Jesus is right in front of us
do not be afraid,
and sending us on the way with our appointed mission.
Jesus is with us
because nothing stands in Jesus’ way,
not even death.
The tomb is empty.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.