(a meditation for Easter Sunrise, April 16, 2017, based on Matthew 28:1-10)
It was one of life’s delightful little ironies, and I remember it as though it were yesterday: this was back in my seminary days, and a group of us were heavily engaged in this deep, theologically based discussion as to why the State of Maine was a great place to live! You see, a lot of my out of state classmates, after having spent their first winter in Maine, were not at all convinced, but for those of us who were “native Mainuhs,” this was a matter of pride; so hence the heated debate! I particularly remember this discussion because one of our arguments in favor of the Pine Tree State did have to do, believe it or not, with our temperate climate!
I know, I know… but listen to our reasoning: at least, we said, in Maine we didn’t have to deal with the kind of natural disasters that other parts of the country suffer through on a regular basis. Rarely did we have to contend with the hurricane force winds that plague the southern coastline; we didn’t have the kind tornadoes that literally decimate entire towns as happens in the south and Midwest; and we never get earthquakes like they do in California! Hey, it might get cold here and yes, there’s mud season, but at least we didn’t have to be dealing with all of that!
It was a great and convincing argument; except that not a week later, the city of Bangor was near the epicenter of a small yet significant earthquake; one that, while pretty low on the Richter scale, was still severe enough to cause some building damage, even managing to loosen up some bricks and mortar from the outside of our own dormitory! So much for our notion that Maine is always “safe and secure from all alarms (!);” and don’t think that our classmates didn’t remind us of this on a regular basis from then on (and all we could say in response was, “well, it was just a little earthquake!”).
My wounded “Mainiac” pride aside, it ended up a not-so-subtle reminder that while we might be tempted to succumb to the notion that we have everything in creation under our control, God has another notion altogether! And quite honestly, friends, what is true for nature is also true for much of life. It’s part and parcel of our human nature: we like to think of ourselves as models of sufficiency and self-reliance; that we are, to some degree, masters of our own destiny! We pride ourselves in knowing what’s what: we know the rules, we understand the boundaries, we get what separates life from death; it’s with that kind of self-assurance we carry ourselves, and well, usually it works…
…and yet, just about the time we think we’ve got it all covered and everything under our control… isn’t that always when the earthquake hits? Maybe it feels devastating, a major disruption of our life’s routine and everything we hold to be true; or perhaps it’s life-affirming – falling in love, having a baby – but these are the moments when we realize that we’re not in charge after all, and moreover, we never really were in the first place! There are the moments, you see, when we realize that it’s God who has shaken our world!
And actually, friends, if this morning you’re looking for a simple definition of what Easter’s all about, that’s a pretty good one. Because one of the very first thing that Matthew tells us about that resurrection morning so long ago is that as the women were approaching the tomb, “suddenly there was a great earthquake,” so great as to move a massive stone at the entrance of the tomb… and so much more than that. Our God sent an earthquake that rocked the very foundations of what is and what can ever be in this life; this was an earthquake that moved heaven and earth and brought forth a whole new world in the process. That’s what Easter is, beloved, and that’s why we’re our here this morning: because with the empty tomb and the risen Christ, God shook the world.
And when God shakes the world, nothing is ever the same again!
When the two Marys went to the tomb that morning, they were no doubt sad and red-eyed from all their tears; utterly confused and grieving deeply over everything that transpired in the past few days. But there still were things that needed to be done: Jesus’ lifeless body needed to be anointed and wrapped in a clean cloth, and finally laid to rest. These were matters of tradition and ritual, and also of great compassion; and yes, they represented closure. Just this one more thing, they’d thought, and then it’s done, once and for all. You know that saying about how the world ends not with a bang but with a whimper? Well, this simple act of mourning was truly the whimper of resignation at death’s finality and the end of hope.
But then the earth heaved; then an angel appeared who looked “like lightning and [with] clothing as white as snow,” was sitting atop the massive stone that now was rolled away; then suddenly Pilate’s soldiers who’d been placed there guarding the tomb from grave robbers and the potential for Jesus’ followers to create “another” uprising had the ground, are shaking in terror and, says Matthew, “became like dead men.”
And then… and then (!) this angel, with a voice that conveyed both comfort and utter defiance, says to the women, “Do not be afraid.” You’re looking for Jesus? He isn’t here! Now, the two of them are running… running “with fear and great joy” to tell the others, only to be surprised – again (!) – by the risen Lord himself who meets them there and greets them on the pathway.
Do you see what happened to these women? It was the same thing that was about to happen to the rest of the disciples, and indeed the whole of creation: in one incredible instant, everything that their world had been built upon was being shaken; any ground that any of them had ever held to be solid beneath their feet had now shifted so completely that the way ahead had to have changed forever! Christ was risen; he was risen indeed! God shook the world; and when God shakes the world, things are never the same again!
History has proven that there will always be those, even within the church, who will attempt to explain away the resurrection; people who will try very hard to somehow minimize that which is the central claim of our Christian faith, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. And on a human level, I guess I can understand that. After all, we know the rules, don’t we? Hard as it is, we can accept the finality of death, even the death of our Lord; but when God says that death isn’t the final word… well, that’s something different.
Well, the good news is that we’re not in charge, but God is! Easter is about God being in complete charge of heaven and earth and all creation! Easter is about a God who shakes the world and creates a way when there is no way, a God who brings unending light into the world’s darkness, triumphant over evil and conquering death now and forever; all to assure us, once and for all, that nothing will ever separate us from him!
This is the same God, beloved, who has given us the gift of his Son as our Savior: Jesus Christ, who says to you and to me on this Easter morning and every morning from now on, “’Do not be afraid,’” because I am alive forevermore, and I will bring you safely through every joy and sorrow, every day of sun and every day of rain, every triumph and every disaster from the cradle to the grave and beyond… I will be with you forever, even unto the end of the age!
He is risen… he is risen indeed! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus.
AMEN and AMEN.
c. 2017 Rev. Michael W. Lowry