This Gospel story is amazing, and * you are in the center of it! Resurrection happens to us now, sisters and brother in Christ.
I love that on Easter morning this sanctuary is filled with cloth hanging all over—quilts and blankets of all shapes and sizes and colors and patterns draped everywhere. We will pray over these in a little bit, but for now, imagine them as the cloths that the angel pointed to in the empty tomb. The empty tomb had cloths, holy cloths that had covered Jesus, just laying all over when the women arrived. “Come, see the place where he lay,” the angel says to Mary and Mary.
Jesus was laying here this week. In the pain and the emptiness of this Good Friday space – totally empty in here. On Good Friday, we gathered here, to ponder Christ’s death, and at the conclusion of the service, we leaned a large but very simple cross that was to represent our crucified Lord. We listened to the story as it was sung, how they pierced his side, brought him down from the cross, wrapped him in bands of holy cloth, and laid him in a tomb—sealing the entrance with a giant stone. Nothing but Jesus and holy cloths in there.
And now, it’s just holy cloths in here. “Come, see the place where he lay,” the angel says to us. Well, where’s Jesus?!
“He has risen!”
Signs of resurrection are all around us; signs of resurrection are what these holy cloths represent. Signs of hope, signs of life that will go to places where sorrow is deep, where pain is great, where the young are very sick, and the old are very lonely. These holy cloths will go ahead of us, to represent hope, new life, the promise of God’s love eternal.
Any other signs of resurrection in here? Blossoming flowers. Light streaming through beautiful glass. You. Each one of you. You are signs of Christ’s resurrection! You, the faithful, you the doubtful, you the old, you the young, you the gathered people of God on this Most Holy Day. We are created in the image and likeness of God, splashed with baptismal waters, loved and forgiven, freed to serve in God’s world. You are signs of God’s glory. Bask in that this Easter morning!
But signs are just signs. They can be explained away. De-mystified. We could suck the spirit and the holiness right out of our signs of resurrection—quilts are just something we like to do here, don’t know about all this “resurrection” language around it, I was just dragged to church this morning—it’ll make grandma happy, I’m no saint. Oh, it’s so tempting/easy/natural to explain away signs of resurrection. An earthquake on Easter? – pressure builds up and the earth’s tectonic plates shift. And the women at the empty tomb could have just as easily explained away what they witnessed, which is probably what I would have been tempted to do—“Clearly Jesus’ body was stolen, some weird dude in white is now just telling stories; this is weird. I’m outta here.”
But not these strong, faithful women. They took the leap, based on just glimpses of hope, slivers of light, whispers of truth (Jim Forbes) – and started moving outward to tell others. (based on just an “eke of grace”)
Something unique about Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t appear to the women until after they took those first steps away from the tomb. Jesus doesn’t appear and greet them until they’re on their way out!
So watch out, joyful and scared friends in Christ! Because we too will take steps away from this beautiful-tomb-draped-with-holy-cloths. Put your Easter glasses on so that you can see him, breathe that resurrection life that the Spirit has put into you, because Christ is out there to greet us, to tell us not to be afraid, to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Are we ready to be encountered by and worship the risen Christ just outside these doors? Oh, Christ is in here too…but Christ will surely meet you on the way out…in your fear and in your joy. Just wait and see.
All the women had at the tomb were little signs. And they still went, based on minimal evidence—some draped cloth and a strange guy in white—they still went to tell others, even though they were terrified. They saw the signs, heard to the message, and went out. *
This isn’t blind allegiance to some invisible God that we’re gathered into. This is living out our baptismal call in the shadow of the cross, a cross through which grace ekes. This means moving outward, when all substantial evidence points us toward huddling up, cutting off, locking the doors for greater security. Let us instead follow those strong, faithful women from this place! Instead of explaining away resurrection, let us do the unnatural thing and give ourselves to being flung out by resurrection. Even if some ridicule, even if some scoff at that kind of faith.
Jesus is risen?…based on what? Some quilts? Some sunshine? Some people of God gathered to worship? Some music? A hug? Some slivers of light, glimpses of hope, whispers of truth? [nodding – “Yeah, based on that.”]
This morning we have come and we have seen. Soon we will taste. And then we will go and we will tell. We will tell the story of the resurrection with our lives. For that is how we have been marked, living out our baptisms in the shadow of the cross. We don’t deny the cross, it doesn’t disappear after Good Friday. The pain, the violence, the broken heart of God at the suffering of the world is still very real. But these do not define us, death does not have the final word. A scarred-up Jesus does!
Our presiding Bishop Mark Hanson shares, in his Easter letter, the words of his friend Pastor Josephus Livenson Lauvanus, who is the president of the Lutheran Church of Haiti. During the bishop’s visit in February, Pastor Josephus said this to him, as toured the impoverished villages, the streets lined with garbage, smell of sewage: "We will not be defined by rubble, but by restoration, for we are a people of the resurrection."
The scars of Good Friday remain…we cannot deny the cross, the signs of death – poverty, sickness, hunger, injustice, loneliness, despair, addiction and violence. But we will not be defined by the rubble. We are defined by the healing. We are defined by the resurrection. Even and especially in the face death.
We have come, we have seen the signs, we will taste the bread—glimpses of hope, slivers of light, whispers of truth. And now we go and tell as we have been commanded, now will meet Christ…for he is risen. AMEN.