Sermon manuscript from April 12, 2020 Rev. Linda Pepe
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,
And can we stop here for just a second? Because I always picture this particular angel looking a lot like the ghost of Christmas Present- big, burly, gregarious and LOUD- with a fantastically contagious laugh, and eyes that absolutely sparkle. And definitely has big grin on his face- the kind you get when you have just told a great joke, and you’re waiting for everyone to get the punch line kind of grin- Today try that image- back to the text-
So 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 worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers & sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” NRSV
I just adore Matthew’s version of the resurrection story. The characters are larger than life- the joyful energy bubbles up out of the text like living water. And it’s full of surprises.
For one, did you notice that the women got to the tomb before the stone was rolled away? In the other gospels we see the women, or sometimes just Mary coming to the tomb, and finding the stone in already moved from the empty tomb. But here, the tomb is still sealed when the women arrive.
Did you also notice that although the angel ‘came and rolled the stone away’, Jesus never actually came out of the tomb? That means that before that tomb was unsealed, Jesus was already up and on the move!
Now, when we think about it, of course a simple stone couldn’t have held captive the Christ- Christ is the Word made flesh- the One present since the beginning of the world… no stone could imprison the Christ- Christ created the stones…
And so naturally, Jesus is long gone… and though it thrills us, it also unnerves us a bit, because this is not the way we know things to work. Like, when he raised Lazarus from his tomb of death, Jesus had the stone rolled away and then Lazarus came out. That makes sense to us. When we want something moved, we move it, and not for nothing, until we move it, we expect everything to stay as it is. Whatever is sealed up inside our tombs will stay there until we decide it can come out. Knowing how things work, makes us feel better- like we have some control.
And that’s the real issue isn’t it? Control. The opposite of feeling in control is feeling helpless, and that about sums up how many of us are feeling during the pandemic. This virus, this thing, is something we cannot manage- we can’t ‘decide’ when we will be able to roll away the stone of quarantine. So in our effort to NOT feel so vulnerable, we take control over the things we can; so we’ve organized and compartmentalized and horded and sanitized, and disinfected and binge watched and binge eaten and ok, so maybe its not perfect but it’s working the way it’s supposed to- everything is still exactly where we’ve put it. (Except maybe for one pint of ice cream, but that’s another story). And listen-no judgment- its ok. Honestly, knowing we have done all we can to manage our part in this, and surround ourselves with things that bring us comfort helps us breathe a little easier…
Except other things seem to have slipped in without our knowing. We flip the news on even for the daily update and the familiar twinge of anxiety we sometimes mistake for indigestion makes its presence known- the death toll rises, and its smell wafts in the window and it permeates the fabric of our favorite chair- We cannot sweep out the ashes of loss. We begin to look around our well-ordered fortress of solitude and notice other uninvited guests- fear, anger, despair, depression- somehow they have made their way in despite our best attempts to control our environment.
Listen- This is also “OK.” We are in extreme conditions, conditions that we are not used to- and yeah, our emotions and thoughts and sometimes our actions are all over the place. There are times we don’t recognize ourselves. Let me affirm- It’s ok to feel whatever you might be feeling. There is no normal in this situation.
It’s why this scripture passage is so important today of all days- because it lets us know that whatever else we may have going on or who or what is with us in our sealed-up tombs, the spirit of Christ is also with us- and has transcended our darkest, weirdest, most extreme places. There is no stone thick enough, no wall high enough, no virus strong enough to keep Christ from you. That’s what resurrection is all about; that the Spirit of the Living Christ has transcended everywhere we are- right now!
You see, sometimes, we wait for resurrection. We imagine that when its time to roll our stones out of the way, we will walk out of this tomb of isolation, that things will be different, better even. The crisis will have passed. Quarantine over! Then we can move to a new “normal” whatever that means. And when it happens, we vow, we won’t take things for granted anymore- not a hug or a handshake or a gathering. We will be different people. We will live as resurrected people! Like Mary and other Mary, we will run from the tomb, eager to share with anyone and everyone! Christ is risen- just as he said!
And hear me- I look forward to this as much as everyone else. I have my own expectations of what life will look like after Covid 19. The thing is-after they left the tomb, life for Mary and other Mary and the disciples and the people of first century Palestine didn’t change a whole lot. Life didn’t instantly get better. They still faced everything they always had- there was still hardship and pain, financial worry and food insecurity, poverty, illness, grief, and loss. They still faced oppression and marginalization and discrimination and prejudice and fear- in fact many of them faced persecution on top of it!
Post resurrection didn’t mean the end of those things because resurrection doesn’t mean that everything gets automatically better- or that there will be no problems or pain. What resurrection does is give us the ability to live our same life, but live it differently.
Jesus once said, “I came to bring them life, so they would have it more abundantly”. The apostle Paul tells us, “resurrection brought new birth, to bring us into a living hope.”- Resurrection means that we can live the with-God life- in that hope- fully aware of Christ’s spirit in us, in each other, and in the world.
Maybe that’s the punch line the angel was waiting for all of us to get- That from the moment we dare to look inside that tomb of death and find it empty, we realize that Christ has transcended the biggest thickest heaviest obstacles of our lives, even death itself! That Christ is with us in dark or light, in our homes or in our sanctuaries, in quarantine or in the throngs of a crowd-Christ is with us- nothing can imprison the spirit of the living Christ-
We don’t have to wait for the end of quarantine for resurrection - it’s here now! The Christ in you is already up and on the move. We just need to notice it. Every connection you make, every time you reach out, every morning when you wake up and say “thank you God, for another day” that’s resurrection! It’s why the angel said- “this message is for you”! Because long before our tomb is unsealed, we do the work of Christ even from right where we are, exactly AS we are. Dare yourself to look in that tomb- and embrace the power of resurrection.
God bless you…