April 9, 2023, Easter Sunday. Sermon preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year A; Easter Sunday.FB; 4.9.2023

Matthew 28:1-10

            Alleluia! Christ is risen.!

            The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

            Before we shout any louder, remember that there was the hush of quiet at dawn the morning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit the tomb. That was the first day and they needed to get to the body of Jesus and anoint it, something they had to delay until after the Sabbath.

Dawn that morning was a time of peace, silence and no doubt, a time of deepest sorrow. Many of us know the story very well. We know that Jesus died a terrifying, tortured death on the cross. He was taken down and laid in a tomb. But his body was not anointed because the Sabbath observance had begun at the time of his death, and religious law prevented work on the Sabbath. 

A HUGE boulder had been erected across the opening of the tomb. The boulder had even been sealed with hot wax. We know that Roman guards were placed at the tomb to ensure no one entered it in order to rob the body and declare a resurrection. Everyone knew that Jesus had predicted he would be raised on the third day. They all scoffed and made fun of him. His followers didn’t even really believe it.  

            Still, the powers that killed Jesus knew that if there was a way to declare a resurrection, their power could be subverted. They knew that they had murdered an innocent man. He was well known and there many followers. An empty tomb could raise lots of questions. So, Roman guards were dispatched to the tomb.

The guards were Roman trained. Like all imperial, conquering armies, their training was elite and exceptional. We can assume that they were disciplined. At dawn as the women approached the tomb. I imagine that the guards saw them and fiercely questioned them.

But suddenly, they were interrupted by strong shaking under their feet and all around them. The earth shook and the large boulder that sealed the tomb rolled from the entrance. It was a powerful earthquake.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake? We know recently about how devastating they can be. The ones in Turkey and Syria were destructive. Sending money for relief just doesn’t seem like enough.

My first experience of the earth shaking was in Colorado. I remember being a teenager on vacation with my family of six staying in a log cabin on the side of a mountain in the Rockies. The floor of the cabin was polished pine and slippery. On that vacation we had a blast playing in the clear water of the creek outside the cabin and climbing up the mountain behind the cabin.

One night, when we were in our beds sleeping, something woke us up. Before we knew it, our beds had slid all over the floor, jumbled together in the middle of the big room. The room had been shaking. That’s what woke us up. Finally, the shaking stopped and my dad yelled into the room, “Stop your rough-housing!”  

But later we all learned that it had been an earthquake that knocked our beds around. We weren’t harmed, but we knew that earthquakes could be powerful and deadly. We were lucky.

The earthquake that opened up the tomb and brought the angel to sit on the stone in “divine triumph” rendered those well-trained, disciplined Roman guards “dead-like” with fear. You might say that God and the angel were “rough-housing,” waking up the entire earthly realm jumbling up the status quo. It was terrifying. It was confusing. And it was God’s divine action entering in to bring the Son of God to life from death.

Sitting on the tomb’s boulder, the smiling angel said triumphantly, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”

The women believed. And so, the angel sent the women on a mission with joyful orders from Jesus himself, “…go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘he has been raised from the dead.’ Be the first witnesses of his resurrection. Tell the disciples of the earthquake. Tell them of the stone being moved from the entrance. Give them the witness of me, the dazzling, triumphant angel. Tell them what you saw of the empty tomb. Tell the scared and cowering disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. Drop everything and go with urgency!”

The women are activated. They are both afraid and they are joyful. Have you ever felt fear and joy at the same time? I think falling in love feels that way. Becoming a new parent feels that way. Finding the right friendships in community feels that way.

The joy and the fear all wrapped together seem to give the women energy. Then, Jesus himself appears to them. They LOVE seeing him! In delight they take hold of his feet – how important feet are to Jesus! And they worship him. He reminds them not to be afraid, but to go to Galilee. He promises, “I’ll see you all there.”

A few years ago, I watched a PBS series on the American author Ernest Hemingway. Instead of being in awe of his innovative writing for his time, I became more and more saddened by his life as the documentary told his life story. I was left feeling sorry for him because this gifted, remarkable writer was in the grip of deep hopelessness all his life. In that series, far from any quote from his canon of writings, what I learned was a quote that he seemed to live by. “Life breaks everyone.”

“Life breaks everyone.” Well, it is true that, as we live our lives and the years add up, it is mighty easy to fall into the breakage of life and not come out of it. The followers of Jesus could very well have let life break them forever. But Jesus was raised. We can’t figure out exactly how. And today, we don’t see jubilant angels calling out, “He’s not here.” But Jesus WAS raised, and that truth and promise saves us from eternal “life breakage” because God raised him out of love and hope.

God acts to break the cycle of despair. God breaks the hopelessness of the chronic hurts and harms we all experience at the hand of the lives we live. If “life breaks everyone,” then, today is proof that God’s love breaks into the hopelessness of that very statement.

The joy of Easter morning is proof that God acts to knit us back into being. Christ is raised from the dead for love’s sake, for your sake, for my sake and the sake of a troubled world.

What if we all burst out of this place today and spent our days living in the hope of the resurrection?

Alleluia! Christ is risen!