So you know this one. There should have been no surprises in the account of the resurrection read this morning. But read it we must, every year on this day of resurrection. Like the retelling of any good story, re-reading the resurrection story brings a sense of comfort and familiarity. The story of life brings relief after the pain and agony of remembering that we were there when they crucified our Lord, that we too have denied him, and that we can never say never. We walked out in the dark on Friday night, after the light of Christ was removed from our midst. And this morning we walked into the light, celebrating and rejoicing the truth that the light of Christ really can not be snuffed out.
But this story is a lot more than candles and lilies and Hallelujahs. This story gives us some solid ground to stand on as we face the very human waves of fear or confusion or frustration or rebellion—either our own or that of someone we love. You know the waves, the waves that come and go, the waves that curl up around the edges, threatening to break over our heads just when we thought we had a stretch of calm in our lives. And then there are the really big ones, the crises, the death, the separation, the loss of a place, a tradition, a person, a community, an era. Those are the waves that threaten to knock us off our feet. As the words of the familiar story ring in our ears, let us plant our feet firmly in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the truth that God has power over death (and I mean all kinds of deaths), the truth that brings stability in a world where the crashing waves never seem to stop.
Matthew’s version of the story includes the two Marys showing up in the dark, an earthquake, an angel who literally glows in the dark, an empty tomb, and the appearance of Jesus himself. This morning I invite you to focus in on one piece of the story that maybe slips by. The women were running away from the tomb, wobbling on the line between fear and joy. Maybe kind of the way we feel when we are heading into being parents for the first time, or walking across the graduation stage into an unknown future, or getting closer and closer to downsizing and moving into a retirement community. Fear and joy. Mixed emotions like waves coming down and then up all at the same time. And suddenly, Jesus met them. They had looked for him in the expected place, in the last place they had seen him, and he was not there. He was not there. That was the message they carried with them as they ran: “He is not here, he has been raised from the dead, just as he said he would.” (So who in their right mind would have believed that, anyway?) It had gotten light enough that they could see with their own eyes the place where he had been laid, the now empty place. They could verify this much: He was not there. “And go”, the angel said, “tell the disciples to go home and Jesus will meet them there.” Focused on becoming messengers themselves, the Marys are not looking for Jesus anymore. They are looking for the disciples, the men, by the way, who were nowhere to be seen that morning according to Matthew. I guess Matthew knew that the fastest way to get the word out was to tell a woman.
Jesus met them. They did not go looking for him. Jesus met them. Contrary to John’s version of the story, where Jesus was mistaken for the gardener, the Marys identified him immediately and grabbed his feet, still wobbling between fear and joy. Jesus takes the initiative, you see. Jesus seeks them out, meeting them on the path enabling the Marys to experience his presence not just his absence. Jesus echoes the message from the angel. “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell the disciples to go home and I will meet them there.” Don’t be afraid is less a command and more of a word of comfort and encouragement, an acknowledgement that this is a pretty unnerving series of events. Remember that the Roman guards were so afraid that they passed out on the ground! No one can command that you not be afraid. It kind of just happens to you, like a wave washing over your head. The angel, God’s messenger, and Jesus, God’s Son, are expressing care and concern for their well-being. Don’t be alarmed. You have not done anything wrong or out of place. You are right where you need to be.
Jesus met the Marys as they ran to tell others what they had seen and what they had not seen. In the midst of their effort to get the word out, Jesus shows up. If they had been overwhelmed with fear like the guards, or if they chose to keep the news to themselves, they would have missed their encounter with Jesus. Jesus met them on their way to work.
Jesus meets us at work as well. Sometimes we look for him in particular places where we think he should be, and he is not there. Sometimes we are not looking at all for him, and he shows up. He shows up and we can tell he is around — he is the little one who knows that God goes to her church, he is the tired, lonely man who says thank you for the plate of food; he is seated at the table as we share a meal and our stories with one another. Jesus meets us when we are at work being disciples, sharing the good news in word and in action.
Jesus met the Marys at work. Jesus met the disciples at home. Home for them is the area around the Sea of Galilee, a distance from Jerusalem like from here to Frederick or a little more. He is not going to meet them in the killing field that is Jerusalem just yet (that is coming 50 days later), but he is going to meet them at home. Home is where you are most comfortable, where you can be yourself, where no one but your closest family members see or hear your bad moods or your singing or your excitement.
Jesus meets you at home as well. If you come very often to this sanctuary on Sundays, you hear proclamation from this pulpit fairly regularly about our call to meet Jesus on the corner, in the grocery store, at school, at work. That is because we are the church, the ekklesia in Greek, defined as the ones who are called out beyond these walls. And you, Hunting Ridge, are known in this neighborhood as those who go out to meet Jesus in the world. But the familiar story we read today invites us to consider when and how Jesus meets us at home, at the place we are most comfortable. At home we may not see his face in other people or feel his presence in community with others. We can’t grab his feet. But if we keep the eyes of our heart open, he meets us too. Jesus meets us on that quiet morning before anyone else is awake. Nudging you, calling you to come closer, to worship him, to talk with him about what is on your heart. Jesus meets you when you are cooking or cleaning or planting your garden. Jesus meets you in a song on the radio or that song in your head. Jesus meets you in the midst of that sudden burst of energy as well as in that sense that your body needs to stop and rest. Jesus meets you in your own place, in your own space. You really never exactly know when he will show up.
A fellow preacher describes the Marys as people who knew that resurrection is a game-changer. They knew that life was never going to be the same after the empty tomb. Because if it’s true, death has been bested. In our heart of hearts, we know the story of the resurrection is a game-changer as well. And if it is true, we cling to hope that life wins over death in the long run. It is the story we repeat, the story we believe, the story we stand firmly on as the waves crash around us.
Will it still be Easter tomorrow? It is a valid question. Once all the flowers have died and the new clothes are stained, will it still be Easter? The power of the resurrection lives on, a risen Lord meeting us at our work of sharing the good news and at our place of rest and refuge at home. Easter happens any time the risen Lord shows up in places you did not expect. Easter happens and you keep the story going, despite the waves. It will still be Easter tomorrow. And you are the messenger. Praise be to God!