Message for Shelter-in-Place Easter on Matthew 28:1-10 on April 12, 2020 for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas and can be viewed here.
(with apologies for late postings while we refigure new ways to be church!)
The two Mary’s pick their way to the tomb at dawn; they have no spices in hand because the tomb is well-sealed and armed guards stand watch. Like many of us after a particularly grievous death, they go to the tomb to mourn. They do not expect to see anything but death—a tomb, a stone, and powerlessness. Their future, their hopes had been snatched away while they could only stand at a distance and watch. At least now they can get closer to Jesus—they can be near the tomb and release their anguish. The crowds and their shouting are gone. They can be alone with their thoughts and the body of their Lord for a quiet a moment.
But when they arrive, they are shaken loose from their despair by the ground quaking beneath them. An angel appears like lightening and rolls away the stone in front from the tomb. The soldiers fall out like they are dead!
I love that these strong, armed soldiers, trained for war, fall out at the first sign of trouble! But the women—the women who are also afraid—stand their ground to see what happens next. What the angel really says to them is, “Don’t YOU be afraid”—as in, “don’t shake and fall over like those big, brave soldiers do! You are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here for he has been raised—just as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The angel does not roll away the stone in order to let Jesus out—God has already raised him! The angel rolls away the stone to let the witnesses in! God raises Jesus from the dead to let us in on the fact that God can roll away every stone, every obstacle, every fear in our life—so that WE know that God has power over even death itself. Come and see that death has no power! Illness has no power! COVID-19 has no power! It may take the body for now, but not forever. It cannot kill the soul; it cannot overpower God. Death is not final! Death is never final in God!
Once the women see the empty tomb—they cannot linger or bask in the angel’s glow—they have a mission to fulfill. The angel immediately gives them instructions: “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." The angel goes from miracle to mission. See the miracle, fulfill the mission!
The miracle of God’s power over death is never a mission we can keep to ourselves—it must be shared! Everyone must know—for they, too have been standing, staring at an immovable stone like death, believing it is the end of the story. Because in Jesus Christ, death is never the end of the story—we have a mission to tell others that God is more powerful than death or any other power on this earth!
So, Mary and Mary go and do as they are told. Not expecting to see Jesus themselves—they do not even ask for glimpse—instead, they trust that with the other disciples, they will see Jesus in Galilee.
But even though they don’t ask, Jesus does appear to them on the road as they follow the angel’s instructions. Jesus is going off-script here—and we are not sure why. Did he and the angel miss signals, or did he just decide to give the women a bonus miracle? During this pandemic, I am going with “bonus miracle.” Many of the women traveled with Jesus ministering to him by preparing food, offering hospitality, getting water and attending to daily needs. I imagine Jesus’ unscripted appearance on the road is Jesus’ way of ministering back to the women, so their role in the Gospel mission is sure to be acknowledged and recorded.
All of us are learning to live life in a different way, following new instructions, and providing for our families, neighbors and each other with new patterns. Jesus “bonus miracle” on the road reminds us that the risen Christ appears to us in our daily life, ministering to us and acknowledging the importance of our small acts of love, preparing food, offering care, hospitality, and service to one another.
We meet Jesus in each other: I have seen Jesus in the people of St. Luke’s making masks, delivering food, making calls, praying, cooking soup, teaching Spanish, doing essential work, making worship videos, giving generously, taking care of the church yard, paying bills, caring for family and neighbors. I have seen the risen Christ in my own daughter, Leah, cooking and managing quarantine for my son and husband, while I, as a high-risk person, stay safely at my dad’s house, I am sure you have seen the risen Christ in your own family and neighborhood. We all certainly see Jesus in medical staff and first responders, and all people working to bring life to others—signs of the risen Christ, who are living emblems that death has not and will not win.
The women’s response to their “bonus miracle” of beholding Jesus on the road is to worship at his feet. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus knelt at the disciples’ feet; the women, in response to seeing their risen Lord, fall on their knees in worship. This is one gift of the church during this difficult time—we are expanding and growing in new ways! Using every possible vehicle—YouTube, Facebook, Zoom—the global church of Jesus Christ is worshipping and praying together, and connecting like never before! We are expanding our audience and increasing our worshipping attendance through the miracle of technology! Only the risen Christ can increase our hearts for worship like that!
Again, the women are not able to linger in the glow of resurrection on the road with Jesus—worship moves toward ministry. See the miracle, fulfill the mission!
Jesus repeats the angel’s words and tells the women that their future will be forever different. "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." They are not to be afraid now or in the future—for Jesus is going ahead of them and will always be there!
Life will be different after this COVID-19 crisis and our temptation will be to look at the future in terms of grief and death, what we have lost. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls us to look to the coming months and the rest of 2020 with Easter eyes and to move forward with Easter feet.
The future was different for the first disciples after Jesus death—because after the stone was rolled away revealing God’s power over death, they always knew that Jesus went into the future before them. The future is always about where the resurrected Christ meets us, calls us, and blesses us with new gifts.
Yes, the future will be different—and we can look at those differences with Easter eyes—
• we will re-prioritize what truly matters,
• we will understand the interconnectedness of the world and its well-being,
• we will take greater care in how our behavior affects the health of others,
• we will know when to rest and be still,
• we will be more flexible and adaptable, we will appreciate small blessings,
• we will more deeply value community, hugs, and shared meals with friends and family,
• We will worship and sing together even more joyously.
And not only that, we go into the future together on Easter feet, as the family of Christ. Jesus gives us our mission: “tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." The disciples who denied and abandoned Jesus are now called, “brothers”—we are all sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, the family of God, joined by love and bound in the same body to enter the future God has for us as one community in mission together.
Jesus has a miracle and a mission for us at every turn of the Easter story, and he will continue to appear to us with love and power at every turn of our story. Look to today, tomorrow and the future with Easter eyes, moving forward as a family on Easter feet; for Christ is risen, and Jesus goes before us into the future filled with life.
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