April 12, 2020 / Easter Sunday / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Acts 10:34-43 / 2nd Reading Colossians 3:1-4 / Gospel Matthew 28:1-10
The story of Easter begins in a graveyard, but it doesn’t stay there for very long. The empty tomb is the evidence, the sign of the great and wondrous thing God has accomplished. However, there wasn’t much reason, either then or now, to linger at that gravesite. The truth is, Jesus didn’t stay there for very long. That tomb was by no means his final resting place. The angel makes this point rather bluntly when he addresses the two Marys who have come to pay their respects at that tomb: “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. HE IS NOT HERE, for he has been raised.”
The women come knocking on death’s door and they get the message: “Sorry, Jesus isn’t home. This tomb was only a temporary address.” He is not here. Jesus has moved on. Easter tells of the great hinge on which our human destiny swings. Christ’s resurrection is the momentous pivot point: from death to life, from despair to hope, from doubt to faith, from gloom to joy. There is no sound track for the biblical narratives of the resurrection. If there was, I imagine it might sound like a New Orleans Jazz Funeral. As the women sadly plod along the path to the graveyard, a band would accompany them, playing a slow and mournful tune like “Nearer My God To Thee” or “Abide With Me.” But when they reach the tomb, the angel who is seated on the stone that he has rolled away sends them on their way: “Go quickly and tell his disciples the news.” And the band immediately switches to some upbeat, up tempo tunes of joy, like “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Soon And Very Soon.”
The women went there to mourn, but Christ’s resurrection amazes them instead. It’s God’s joyous proclamation that sin and sadness and death and grief shall not prevail! Love and life are triumphant. Goodness overcomes the darkness of evil. Grace gets the ultimate word. The news on Easter is that the Christ story isn’t over – there’s more to come.
God isn’t done. Each of the gospel narratives has a concluding chapter – but the good news doesn’t stop. One commentator puts it this way: “Jesus and his band of merry troublemakers go on . . .”
So the women don’t just stand around there at the graveyard, wondering what to make of this stunning development. The angel gives them an assignment: 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.” It’s important to note how they proceed: “they left the tomb quickly with FEAR and GREAT JOY, and ran to tell his disciples.”
They are filled with exhilarating joy to know that Christ is alive. Yet all their fears do not suddenly disappear. We humans are not built that way. Our lives are usually a mixture of fears and joys. This is especially true at this point in time.
There are genuine reasons to be afraid of this Corona virus. People we know and love are at risk. There is no known cure. And at the same time there is joy at the works of kindness and compassion we are witnessing in these days, at the heroic dedication of so many healthcare workers.
We have fears about our financial well-being. Millions are suddenly out of work. Retirement savings have taken a big hit. And there is the joy of having enough for today – our daily bread.
There are fears about the future. How long with this pandemic last? What will become of our children and grandchildren? What will the new normal look like? And we have the joy of sharing this present time with those we love, in person and online, whose love sustains and encourages us, and we have the goodness of springtime or at least the hope those days will soon be upon us.
The angel’s announcement to the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead doesn’t suddenly and automatically take away all their fears. It gives them courage to stay faithful amid all their fears – and to go forward to share the good news, to press on, despite their anxiety.
After Christ’s resurrection this world is still a scary and dangerous place. You know this as well as I do. Christ’s resurrection is miraculous and life changing. But it’s not magic. It’s not like a fantasy. It doesn’t change the world overnight. For believers, it does change our perspective. It does change our prospects. And it can certainly change our hearts. While the resurrection doesn’t take away all our fears, it can give us the courage to persevere despite our fears. That’s what courage really is: it’s not the absence of all fear – it’s the capacity to rise to meet whatever the occasion calls for.
We are witnessing such courage on a daily basis: We see it in the doctors and nurses and hospital staff who get up each day and put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. We see it in the persons faithfully serving in our grocery stores and pharmacies. We see it in our policemen, firemen and ambulance drivers. We see it in the attitude of hope of those staying safe at home.
And looking back to the first century we can certainly see the courage of these first Christians, who in spite of threats and persecutions, boldly proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. You and I are no different from them. Faith and hope and love are not for the fainthearted. It takes courage to trust a God we cannot see. It takes courage to keep hoping in the face of suffering and adversity. It takes courage to love when love requires that we change and grow. It takes courage to continue our faith in Jesus when we have unanswered questions.
Where do we find such courage? In Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Because Christ is alive, we know we have a God who keeps his promises. We know that, ultimately, love is greater than hate, and life is stronger than death. Therefore, we will not be controlled by our fears but by the love of Jesus and our hope of sharing in a resurrection like his.
Even before his death and resurrection, Jesus reminded his disciples how and why they could live with courageous faith. At the Last Supper, he said this to them (and he says it to us), “In the world you have tribulations; but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Brothers and sisters, we do have trials and tribulations – especially in these challenging days. Faith is not pretending that all is well and we are never afraid. Faith is living with Easter courage, trusting that the Love that raised Jesus from death to life will give us the strength to meet whatever comes in this world, trusting the love that blesses us with eternal life.