April 21, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Church in Naples, FL
Acts 10, 34, 37-42 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3, 1-4 + Matthew 28, 1-10
A choice is presented for the Easter Sunday Gospels, and I have chosen Matthew because it is the Gospel of this year. A problem arises when faced with this choice because each of the four accounts of the Resurrection is very different, and after reading and hearing them over the years, they all blend together. This is a problem because the blending “waters down” the unique elements of each Gospel account leaving us with too many details and no way to identify what is significant. When put together, they are all significant, and it is simply TMI, too much information. For instance, in John’s account, Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” run to the tomb. Peter arrives last in that race, but the other disciple stands back to let Peter enter first, and Peter is then the first to conclude that the Lord has risen. Notice that there is no mention of that in Matthew’s account. It is quite different, quite simple, and almost without detail until you begin to take it apart.
In Matthew’s Gospel, unlike the others, there is an earthquake. There is an angel sitting on the stone that had been in the way. I like the image! There are no spices. The two women named Mary are simply going to visit the grave. There are guards only in Matthew’s Gospel, and they are “like dead men.”
When there is an earthquake, no matter what you are doing, it gets your attention. I’ve been through a couple in San Francisco, and we are beginning to become more accustomed to them in Oklahoma. None the less, we still know when they happen. Things shake. Some things fall down. We remember that we are vulnerable, and we look around and pay attention because something is going on out of our control. No matter how we might want to or try, an earthquake is not under our control. So today the Resurrection is announced by an earthquake. Wake up. Pay attention. Things are coming apart. What was closed is open. It’s an earthquake!
An angel came. Even though Matthew gives the angel no name, I like to imagine that it is Gabriel. Luke is the one who names angels, and Luke liked Gabriel. Besides, it’s the same message: “Do not be afraid.” So, why not the same angel? Every time that angel shows up, God is doing something no one could have ever imagined, and in doing so, God is being revealed. An angel says to an old childless couple, “You’re going to be parents.” Now there is something new, and it is something only God could have done. An angel says to Mary, “You will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit.” Something new again. That has never happened before, and only God could do it. An angel says: “He is risen as he said.” Again, something new and never imagined! This is God at work, God being revealed. Then there is an image I really enjoy: that image of an angel perched on a rock. A stone that had blocked the entrance to the tomb…. or was it blocking the exit from the tomb? It works both ways. That stone kept the women outside unable to see the emptiness, and that stone kept the Lord of Life in. It had to go, and there sits the angel right on top as though it were a throne. There is the angel sitting on the obstacle. It is a kind of victory pose that is a message in itself.
Finally, there are the guards, the brave, big, tough, fearless Roman Guards! They are afraid of nothing. They have conquered the world, but they fall down in the face of the one who conquers death. In contrast to life itself, they are like dead men. Suddenly the dead are alive and the living are dead suggests Matthew. That is earth shaking!
Then the women are sent to Galilee. That’s not home. The angel sends them to the outside world, away from home. They are sent out, and there they experience the risen one. Not in the Temple, not in the safety of their homes, not in the synagogue or any of the places where they are safe and comfortable.
My friends, on the cross we venerated two days ago, the world did all it could to Jesus. At Easter, God did all God could do to the world; and the earth shook! You do not explain that, you witness it. The risen Christ appeared first to his own; the ones who heard him teach, heal, and forgive. They witnessed his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He went to them first because they would be the ones to recognize that this was the crucified Jesus. That crucifixion was not an unfortunate mistake in the Roman legal system. It was the inevitable and predictable result of saying the things Jesus said, and doing the things Jesus did. That is what the world does to people who threaten the way things are. Face the facts here!
On that first day of the week, God presented a new fact. The God who made light from darkness and a world from a void took the worst we could and turned it toward life. The earth shook, and a new world is offered to us. Jesus came back to forgive the disciples for abandoning him. The new world is about forgiveness, not vengeance, and the earth shook. When the stone was rolled away, and the earth shook, we got our first glimpse of a new world where death does not have the last word, where injustice is made right, and innocent suffering is vindicated by the hand of God.
Those two women came to a cemetery to grieve over the sad story of death and one more chapter in the sad story of how the good always get it in the end when cruel power, jealousy and fear have their way. But then the earth shook, the obstacle, the barrier between life and death is moved away. That angel plopped itself right down on that stone in one final act of impudent defiance of death and Roman soldiers. It is as though the angel says to the soldiers, “Boo! Be afraid! Your world and what it was built on is shaking apart.” To the others the message is simply: “Go out and away from the old familiar places where you feel safe and secure. You will find him elsewhere.”
So just as with another story that opened Matthew’s Gospel, there is a story here at the end in which no body went back the way they came. Once we experience the risen Lord, healing and forgiving, there is no going back.