Behind the Stone

Resurrection of Our Lord
April 16, 2017

1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And 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. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then 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.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” – Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

As the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. I wonder what they did when they arrived. In other accounts the women who approach the tomb to bring spices for anointing, but in Matthew’s gospel they simply come to see. And when they arrive the stone covering up the tomb is still in place.

I wonder what those first moments at the closed up tomb were like. Did they reach out and lay a hand on the cold stone, touching it and feeling both its coldness and at the same time some warmth of connection with the one they loved who is gone, just as we might at the gravestone of a loved one today? Was there silence, or nervous chatter, or quiet words spoken to Jesus, whom they missed so much? Was their interaction with the guards keeping watch at the tomb tense with the political and cultural divides of their time and the horror of the last few days, or was it an interaction shaped by the camaraderie of those who are up earlier than they want to be, each in their own way doing a task they rather they didn’t have to do? Whatever it was like, when they arrived at the tomb, they saw exactly what they expected to see – death all closed up and sealed away.

And if you had time to stop and reflect in the midst of this busy holiday morning, perhaps to read the news or ponder the losses in your own life, you might, too have seen death all closed up and sealed away. It’s Easter, but I didn’t hear of any graves opening today. It’s Easter and nations are still and war and terrorists still at work. It’s Easter and racism and xenophobia are still alive and well, with refugees and immigrants shut out and unwelcomed in too many places. It’s Easter and despite an abundance of food here this morning, people are still hungry in our community and around the world. It’s Easter and as this first day of the week was dawning, we rose to see death still here among us, our own tombs of grief and pain closed up and sealed away.

What the women and even the soldiers who had been keeping watch could not see, could not imagine, was that behind the large stone was an empty grave. It looked to them like all was still death and gloom. But in this quiet moment of grief for this loss – for all the loss in their lives – the already-accomplished resurrection suddenly bursts in on them with a literally earth-shaking revelation. One moment it’s just a quiet and reflective early morning before trudging on with the daily tasks of life, the next moment an earthquake, an angel appearing like a flash of lightening and white as snow, an empty tomb, and a message that changes not only their lives but the life of the world:

“Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. I know you came to visit the dead. But he is not here; for he has been raised as he said. Come and see not death, but life.”

Just as it was for the women at the tomb, the first witnesses of the resurrection, Easter for us is about something that has already happened while we are still seeing death. Our shouts of Alleluia this morning do not bring back the dead. They do not end all war. They do not even always convince us of the reality of God’s promise of resurrection. Because the death we see before us is powerful, and the earth-shaking, tomb-opening blast of resurrection does not always come to us when we yearn for it the most. But that does not change that God’s victory over death is won for us. It does not change that God is already at work in the depths of our world, rising again and again in us.

It is hard for many of us to believe most days that resurrection really is already happening while we are still staring death in the face. But I suspect even after the earthquake and the angel and the empty tomb that the women that first Easter morning were probably still a little unsure what to make of it all. Nowhere in the gospel reading does it insist that they believe. There is simply the angel’s invitation to see and an invitation to tell. And so they do. They look into the place of death and see the possibility of resurrection and they run, still afraid but now also joyful. And it is as they run, still in a world that looks like death, still in awe and joy and fear at what they have seen, they run to tell the incredible story. And it is there that they encounter the risen one. There they get to touch and feel his risen feet. Feet that still bear the marks of the cross, feet that still bear the oil of anointing, feet already bearing the dust of the death-filled places where Jesus has been busy bringing resurrection joy. The presence of Christ for them before they believe, before they understand, before they’ve had a chance to tell.

And so you this morning are invited also to see and to tell. To look into a world of death and see in one another, in all creation, the possibility of resurrection. And if the sight of death all around is too much for us to believe in life, still the invitation: go and tell. Greet one another today in the peace of the Risen Christ, sing and shout the alleluias this morning. And here as we tell one another the good news, the news so good we can hardly believe it, we come, as the women did, face-to-face with Jesus meeting us on the way. Meeting us here in our celebration in bread and wine, where we touch and taste the risen Christ, filling us with resurrection life and making us witnesses to his risen life already bursting forth in our death-filled world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

-Pastor Steven Wilco