April 16, 2017
“Easter is in the Details”
Easter is the day we celebrate the impossible and we do everything we can to make it memorable. We pay attention to the details on this day. Some of us dress in our finest. Some of us prepare special dinners. Our worship includes brass and butterflies and flowers. We fill the sanctuary because this is not just any day. This is the day that we celebrate the risen Christ. It isn’t just some moment in history – it is a reminder that God takes our breath away over and over and calls us to pay attention. God will not be confined by anything…not even death. On this day we are not recalling an historical event, but we are professing our faith in God who is breathing hope into our weary world this very minute. The power of this story is found in God’s capacity to bring new life and hope again and again.
Easter happens in the details and Matthew is a master when it comes to details. He is a great storyteller. He realizes that those details are what brings the story to life. He’s not leaving much to the imagination, but filling us in on how this amazing resurrection came to be. The details are so vivid that I can imagine sitting around the campfire as someone tells the story:
It begins in darkness as Mary Magdelene and the other Mary go to see the tomb. Imagine going down in history as the “other” Mary. In the other gospels, the women are going to anoint Jesus, but here they are just going to see the tomb.
The story gets interesting right away. There is an earthquake as an angel rolls
back the stone and sits on it. That must have been some powerful angel. This angel is wearing clothing that is white as snow and his appearance is like lightning. I’m not sure what it means to look like lightning, but it sure gets our attention.
The guards are so afraid that they “shook and became like dead men”. The root word here is the same as the one for earthquake. How ironic that the ones
who are supposed to be guarding the dead man are “like” dead men and the one who is supposed to be dead is alive.
The angel invites the women inside to see the empty tomb and sends them out with a message for the disciples. Jesus will meet them in Galilee. The women take off running with fear and great joy. That combination of fear and joy make sense. They thought they were going to see Jesus’ tomb and instead they find that he is alive!
They run into Jesus who greets them and they fall and worship him. Matthew says they “took hold of his feet.” Jesus sends them on to the disciples with the same message: he will see them in Galilee.
I love this version of the story! It would make a great movie with special effects! Earthquakes, guards shaking and becoming like dead men, the women grabbing Jesus’ feet when they see him…this story has so much to capture our imaginations.
How many of you have ever experienced an earthquake? When I moved to Oregon from Georgia, I went to get insurance and was asked if I wanted earthquake insurance. I thought the agent was kidding. I laughed and said no. One week later, I was sitting on the floor upstairs in my house and I felt the shocks from an earthquake several hours south of us. I started rethinking that insurance! Earthquakes happen all the time, but we don’t get too excited by them anymore. Did you know there have already been over 3,000 recorded in 2017? Earthquakes are responsible for the death of fifty-nine people this year already.
Why do you think Matthew would add an earthquake to this story? Perhaps it is a way of saying that this story is too big to be entrusted to humans alone. This story of God’s power to bring new life where there is none is given to all of creation to proclaim as well. On this holiest of days, the Easter message is everywhere. It is in our music, in our flower garden, in the butterflies, it is in the tables as we gather and it comes alive when we pay attention.
The details teach us that God is calling us forward. This Easter earthquake shook the world. The disciples thought they would go home to things as they had been before. But the women know EVERYTHING has changed. That is the message of the resurrection. Jesus will not go back into the tomb. He is moving ahead to Galilee where he will meet his followers and point them toward the future. He meets us here to point us to the place of hope. He will not be confined by our lack of imagination. He will not be limited by our small expectations.
MIT physics professor Max Tegmark wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he reported on what he calls “the bombshell announcement of the discovery of cosmology’s holy grail: telltale signature of ripples in the very fabric of space [from] our cosmic origins.
“If this discovery holds up,” he goes on to say, “it will go down as one of the greatest in the history of science.
“It teaches us humans that we need to think big,” he says, “because we are the masters of underestimation.”
The story of the resurrection is the story of thinking big, of God breaking into our ordinary lives and calling us into powerful new beginnings. The transformation of the disciples proves the power of the resurrection. Those disciples ran away from Jesus when the crowds turned against him. They went home and hid in fear. They stayed there until they learned that Jesus was alive and then they came to life too. They became courageous leaders.
Easter is the story of hope becoming incarnate. It takes flesh in the form of Jesus and then it is spread as others encounter this impossible reality. We know the story of Easter is true because hope is alive.
Jim Wallis calls hope unbelieved nonsense, but he says, “hope believed is history in the process of being changed. The nonsense of the resurrection became the hope that shook the Roman Empire and established the Christian movement. The nonsense of slave songs in Egypt and Mississippi became the hope that let the oppressed go free. The nonsense of a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala, became the hope that transformed a nation.” He calls hope “a choice, a decision, an action based on faith.”
There is so much to be discouraged about and so many people, places, and systems in need of healing and transformation. Remember where the story today begins…in the time before daylight. It begins in grief and despair as the women make their way to the tomb. Then there is an earthquake and there is life. Easter comes to us before the morning hours greet us. It meets us in our despair and shows us that Jesus is alive. Easter is hope breaking into the most hopeless places. Easter is all of creation shouting the glory of God. Easter is “music despite everything.” (a line from Jack Gilbert’s poem “A Brief for the Defense.”) We celebrate this day in the details. Pay attention. Hope is alive. Christ is Risen!