Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Easter Sunday – Fourth Sunday in ZOOM Church
April 12, 2020
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 worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Everything about Easter is different this year – even the Bible story! Often, we hear it from the Gospel of John, and so we may have a mental image of Jesus raised silently, mysteriously, in the night. We picture the women creeping up the hill under cover of darkness, just as the birds begin to twitter and a narrow band of light appears in the east. In that silence they are astonished to discover the gaping darkness at the entrance of the tomb, and they run back to get help. They work up their nerve to peer in, but all they see is discarded grave cloths. Then a little later, Mary sees Jesus, and mistakes him for the gardener. In the Gospel of Luke, they find the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty, but meet two enigmatic, dazzling men who remind them not to look for the living among the dead. In the Gospel of Mark, they enter the tomb, tentative, and there they encounter just one young man, soft-spoken and tender.
Not so today – in Matthew’s Gospel, when the women arrive the tomb is intact, guarded through the night by Roman soldiers. As they stand there, before their eyes the ground begins to tremble and shake, and an angel of the Lord descends from heaven. You can almost hear the trumpets. He is like a bolt of lightning, bright as glittering snow, and he pulls the stone away with a flourish! The soldiers are paralyzed with shock, as if dead, we are told. But the muscular angel is full of dynamism and good cheer. Don’t be afraid, he says – go tell the others, he is risen, he is going ahead to Galilee. And then, as they go, the women do see Jesus, and touch his feet, and hear his beloved voice, full of encouragement and welcome.
Well, all the stories are different, but this is the only one where the women were there for the earthquake! All that breezy angel energy might have seemed more appropriate on an Easter Day when we had trumpets here at church, and could pull out all the stops on the organ to blast out our hallelujahs.
But that’s not quite where we are this Easter morning. Today our hallelujahs are not so much triumphant as they are hopeful. We can’t so much pronounce and declare – instead we express the deepest and most delicate intuition of our faith. In reverent tones we share our most precious conviction. Our delight. We sing on this Easter morning out of the gladness that bubbles up in us despite our situation, not because of it. We sing more gently, but with equal joy.
Right now, we are in the midst of a crisis, a pandemic that no one knows quite how to handle. We are staying in our homes, anxious about the health of friends and family, uncertain about the future. And yet on Easter, we want to say that life will triumph over death. That the words ‘fear not’ apply to us. We want to use Karl Jaffary’s brilliant description of God’s incarnate love in Christ, and say, well, you can kill him, but he won’t stay dead. You can kill love, but it won’t stay dead.
Of course, this is not the only complicated Easter Christians have known – and in fact it is rather like the first one. In American theologian Emily Heath’s words: “The first Easter didn’t happen at a church. It happened outside of an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on. So, we’re all going to be keeping things pretty biblical this Easter. “
You don’t really need good news when all is well. Perhaps the good news this year is as surprising and implausible to us as it was to them. A kind of promise. Perhaps we will have to be as open to astonishment as they were. To look for the small places in our lives and the life of the world where we do see the beginning of resurrection. To listen to the stirrings in our hearts as we read, or walk, or talk on the phone, or bake, or daydream – stirrings of care and imagination that are wonderful and new. To look around us and wonder if there may be something happening in families and congregations and even nations that gives signs of new life. Places where we can whisper, hallelujah!
Some say there was an earthquake that day in the garden – others that it was simply an empty space. A space of possibility. What we know is that the risen life that began there is with us yet, calling us forward in hope. And that as we go forward, we will not be alone.
On this Easter day in a strange time, we are not alone and for this we give God thanks. Amen.