Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10
1st Reading: Acts 10:34-43
2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
When I was a teenager, I felt the call to be a pastor. My parents drove me up to Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma to attend a little workshop on becoming a pastor. On the way there, that night it snowed and snowed. The big rigs were fishtailing on the freeway. We got to Tacoma and it seemed all the hotels were full. We passed countless “no vacancy” signs. Finally, in the distance I saw a vacancy sign and we found a place to stay in a little hole in the wall place. The room was probably 10 by 10. My parents slept in a double bed and they set up a cot for me. And the next morning the sun was shining so brightly off the snow. We made our way to PLU where I learned that this Gospel reading for this very morning is the proof in the Bible that women can be pastors. Here these women come to the tomb to do women’s work, preparing Jesus’ body for burial, and they find a new reality, new life. They find that Jesus is risen. The angel tells the two Marys to go quickly and tell the Disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Even Jesus himself tells the women to go and tell the good news. The first women preachers, a couple of thousand years ago!
They never in their wildest dreams expected it that morning. They walked with more than heavy hearts. The events of the past few days weighed heavy on them. Their grief was fresh.
Last week I walked through Doernbecher hospital to visit my niece. It was like the hallway was miles long and the lights beating down. I caught sight of a little kid in a tiny hospital gown and was completely overwhelmed by the thought of 10 floors of suffering little kids, thinking of all their frantic parents, wondering what was next for my niece, if we would be saying goodbye to her sometime soon, what life would be like without her, how heavy this would weigh on our family. I guess I had that kind of anticipatory grief. I just felt like I was swimming—sound was distorted and the lights were weird and everything just felt heavy. That’s the way I picture the two Marys that morning, their eyes still red from crying, the spring gone from their step. Their friend, their Savior, the supposed Messiah, arrested, tortured, and killed in the prime of his life, at the height of his powers. All the good he had done had been undone. All his vibrancy, gone from this earth. And his disciples hiding in fear, wondering if one of them would be next for execution.
We live in a world where death is a supreme power. We know we each will face it for our loved ones and for ourselves. We try not to dwell on it, but we also can’t pretend it isn’t there. The power of death is strong even as we live our lives. We hurt each other. We get sick. We divide ourselves based on gender, age, class, race, citizenship status, and any other way we can think of to make ourselves better than another person. For the Colossians, they were giving better communion to people of higher class. The rich were fed first, with better food, on better dishes. The poor were kept in their place. The church in Colossae was using this meal of unity to make some people better than others. Most of the time, we aren’t so different from them. Our world is full of hunger and disease and pain and divisions and death. That is apparent to us. And it was apparent to the two women named Mary and they were afraid.
As they walk, there is an earthquake, just then, when they enter the garden where the tomb is. Something earth-shattering is about to happen. Have you ever been so shaken up by something unexpected, you lost your balance? This is both an inner earthquake, in which the two women named Mary are shaken to the core, and an actual earthquake in which the earth itself is responding to the presence and grace of God. Something has truly changed. A stronger power is replacing the power of death, because Jesus is risen—he has been raised, he continues to rise.
Into this frightening world, Jesus speaks the words, “Do not be afraid.” When I was a little kid I had night terrors about Jaws, the deadly shark. I’ve been pleased so far that Jaws dreams are not genetic. Sterling has fears and bad dreams once or twice a month, but for the most part he doesn’t seem to have as much fear as I had at his age. These days, he has started to be afraid to enter a room at night when the light isn’t on. Telling him not to be afraid, isn’t going to make any difference. I go in there ahead of him, turn on the light. Jesus doesn’t just speak the words, either. He goes before us and shows us that we’re not alone—we have each other, we have Jesus leading the way, and he doesn’t deny that the power of death is still frightening, there is a greater power and that is love.
Easter is about love. It was love that compelled the two women named Mary to get up and go out to the tomb, even though they were sad and afraid. Jesus showed love to absolutely everyone. Sometimes it was in the form of bread and fish. Sometimes it was in the form of a truth that someone needed to face. Sometimes it was simply in the form of his presence—we call that “showing up.” Sometimes it was in the form of healing from disease. Jesus showed them love and he showed love to people of all times and places, in fact he loved all Creation, and it was too much for our little minds to comprehend and that is why we crucified him. We were so used our death-worshipping world, our divisive favoritism, our idols, that we couldn’t stand it and we tried to kill love.
If Jesus had been like us, he would have come back and struck each one of us down. Instead, he continued to be who he is, Love in the flesh. Instead, Jesus brought us forgiveness and new life.
In the waiting room at Doernbecher, there is also a feeling of love that sustains many family members. There is the hard work that the physicians and surgeons and nurses and cooks and housekeeping and anestesiologists and x-ray technicians and chaplains and everyone contributes. There is the hope of healing. It is not only a place of suffering, but a place of love.
The stone that was rolled away that day was not just the stone on Jesus’ tomb, but it was the stones on all our tombs. The resurrection was first for Jesus, but it is also for us, each day. We continually lock ourselves into these tombs of division and anger. We still live in ways that hurt people, that hurt ourselves. But there is a greater power that Jesus showed us in the way he lived, in the fact that he was willing to die rather than live in a death-dealing way, and in the way he rose from the grave, forgave all who denied and betrayed him, and gave new life to us all. Whenever we close the tomb on ourselves, Jesus opens them again and invites us out into the hopeful garden of life.
When the doors of our tombs have been opened, I have no doubt we will all be afraid. The question is whether we will let it cause us to be like dead men, if we will be immobilized by our fear, or whether, like Pastor Mary and the other Pastor Mary this morning, we will continue to live the good news despite our fear knowing that with God there is grace and ultimately no need to be afraid, because death doesn’t win, love wins.
This morning and throughout the Easter season we proclaim, ”Christ is Risen!” Some have asked, wouldn’t it be proper English to say, “Christ was raised”? Yet that would put it in the past tense, something that happened long ago that has no bearing on Christ’s state today. To proclaim, “Christ is risen!” has an ongoing feeling to it, that Christ is continually in a state of being risen. The resurrection happened that Easter Day for Jesus, but it continues to happen each day. When our loved ones die, we trust God who keeps God’s promises to raise them to eternal life, but each day, Jesus is calling us forward from our tombs to follow him. This is our chance to proclaim with Mary and Mary, “He is risen!” Not that we would only proclaim with our voices, but also with our actions. Jesus is bringing an earthquake, an earth shattering reality to what we thought we knew, calls us from our mistakes and brokenness, he calls us from our grief and pain, he calls us from our divisions, he calls us from warfare, he calls us from blindness, and he breaks open that tomb. It is earth shattering, as that light comes in. We have free will to ignore it and stay where it is safe. But Pastor Mary is calling us to something more, the something more that our heart has been longing for. We’ll have to be courageous. We’ll have to move forward despite our fear. We’ll have to take risks. But at the end of it all is a Savior calling us to eternal life, abundant life right now, and a most amazing peace and unity and love that is the whole point of living.