Texts: Jeremiah 31:1-6 ; Psalm 118 ; Colossians 3:1-4 ; Matthew 28:1-10
P Christ is risen!
C He is risen indeed!
The day I left my parents’ home for college we borrowed a friend’s pickup truck and loaded all my stuff in the back. It was a four hour drive north from Des Moines to St. Paul, Minnesota so I’d brought a stack of cassette tapes to listen to along the way. That should tell you something about how long ago this story takes place.
I’d been waiting for this day for months. All summer long I’d been crossing the days left until I could leave home on an oversized calendar hung on the outside of my bedroom door. I used a fat red marker to cross off each day, each X a declaration of my impending independence.
As we came in view of the Twin Cities, approaching from the south, I popped in Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, forwarding to the theme song I’d appointed for the day, “My Life.” Belting the lyrics out with all the confidence of a kid who doesn’t know what he’s in for, I sang, “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life – leave me alone!”
Once we arrived at the campus there were lines of pickup trucks and kids from all over the Midwest unloading their childhood bedrooms into their college dorms. I didn’t know any of them, and I felt immediately out of place. After dumping everything I had in my room I was supposed to go to a student mixer in the courtyard of the library. I went, my parents and sister hung back. I tried to introduce myself to the other kids. I tried to act like, as Oprah would say, “my best self.” But mostly I felt completely awkward and afraid. In less than an hour my family was going to get back into the truck and drive away, and I was supposed to start a new life in a city I didn’t know, surrounded by strangers. Standing by the curb, waving at the back end of the pickup, I suppressed a sudden panic attack. I smiled for my mom, but inside I was silently screaming, “don’t leave me here!”
Easter morning has a little bit of that unexpected fear about it. After three long nights of worship – Maundy Thursday’s shared meal and footwashing, Good Friday’s solemn confessions and reproaches, the Easter Vigil’s pageant of storytelling and celebration – we gather this morning to experience the long-awaited climax to the story that began last Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a story that began when God took on human experience and lived a life like ours. We wonder what we will hear and what we will find.
We have an advantage over the Marys who went to the tomb that first Easter morning. We know that it will be empty. We are spared the shock of discovering that the body of our best friend, our teacher, our Lord is missing. We came here this morning knowing already that Christ has risen – that Christ has been set loose in the world and in our lives. But I think, if we’re giving any thought to these matters at all – and not just waiting to devour the basket of peeps sitting up in our offices – we have a special kind of fear or anxiety all our own, and that is that we have experienced Easter before. We’ve experienced it once a year for most or all of the years of our lives, and so we approach the empty tomb with hearts that yearn for resurrection and new life – but also know that the new lives we are living are still constantly lived in the middle of this world of ours that is not yet fully redeemed.
We know that while we sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” we still have family members in Afghanistan and Iraq, we still have guns being floated to our children just outside the doors of their schools. We still have a broken healthcare system and legions of seniors making decisions between food and prescriptions. We still have problems in our homes, stresses in our workplaces, and squabbles in our pews. So, we come to the empty tomb a little more guarded than Mary Magdalene and the Mary that scripture just calls the “other” Mary. We are eager to hear the good news of Jesus Christ risen up from the dead be we are eager to be risen up from the dead – and we know that we are, but we are risen in that already and not yet kind of way.
You can hear in the letter to the Colossians that we are not the first to wrestle with this gap between the proclamation of the resurrection and our experience of the world around us. “Set your minds on things above,” the writer counsels, “not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
It’s an odd text for an Easter Sunday morning. We expect to hear nothing but triumph, but instead we are counseled to bide our time and to approach the portion of life we still have in front of us with a heavenly mindset and not one stuck in the patterns of thinking that surround us.
“Seek the things above,” it says – and the temptation is to hear that as a call to abandon the world and its struggles. “Seek the things above, where Christ is…”
Well, where is Christ this morning? He’s not in the tomb – that’s for sure – but that’s the question. It’s what Mary and Mary are wondering, and it’s what we wonder as well. It is a scary world we’re living in and we want to know – where is Christ this morning?
The angel says, “do not be afraid…come see where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples… he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” The women set off on their mission, and along the way they see Jesus. This has the ring of truth about it, doesn’t it? Isn’t it often the case that we discover Jesus while we are in mission – while we are feeding our neighbors or raising our children or loving our enemies? Isn’t that when we most often experience the sense of the presence of God breaking into our lives?
Jesus is found on the way, as they women are doing the work of mission – taking the good news to other people – and he repeats what the angel has said, “do not be afraid.” Jesus, who has not seen his disciples since they abandoned him at the hour of his death, sends word to them through the Marys, the first apostles, and calls them “brothers.” He says, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Jesus is risen up from the grave and is already reconciling his guilt-ridden friends, his family, back to himself. Is it often the case that we discover Jesus while we are about the hard work of forgiveness – while we are letting go of old hurts, when we are saying “I’m sorry” and hearing “I forgive you?” Isn’t that when we most often experience the sense of the presence of God breaking into our lives?
So off to Galilee they go. Galilee – where it all began. You recall that at the very beginning of his ministry Jesus is led into the wilderness and tempted. When he returns he hears that John the Baptist has been arrested and he goes to Galilee. So many Sundays ago we heard it, “on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Mt. 4:15-16). Galilee, where Jesus first met and called the disciples to their new life with him.
The ending takes us back to the beginning in one great circle of new life, death and resurrection. The gospel mirrors our own experience of Easter this morning, that it comes again and again. And that’s how we need it to be – because we live difficult lives. We stumble and we fall, we injure and are injured. We need Easter at least once a year. Heck, we need it at least once a week – which is why the early church called Sunday “the eighth day,” the “little Easter.” We need to know that God’s new life is available to us throughout our lives as we live in the tension of the already and the not yet
God meets us in mission. God gifts us with forgiveness. God sends us back to the start, back to our own private Galilees – the land of the Gentiles, which is to say that God sends us to those who still need to hear the good news. God sends us out to start our lives over again and again. To mixers full of people we have never met, but who will become friends and family to us. God sends us out into our new lives, but does not leave us alone.
P Christ is Risen!
C He is risen indeed!