Texts: Acts 10:34-43 • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • Colossians 3:1-4 • Matthew 28:1-10
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
One week ago we gathered here with palm branches, singing hosanna, the word that means, “help, save us!” One week later we gather to sing alleluia, the word that means, “praise God!” One would gather that God must have done what we hoped for.
How did this happen?
As we read together the passion narrative from Matthew’s gospel last week, and arrived at the moment of his death, the story told of an earthquake.
“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:50-51)
This week’s continuation of the Easter story contains another earthquake.
“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake…” (Matthew 28:1-2a)
In light of the series of earthquakes that have shaken our planet over the last few months, no less the last few years, it’s difficult not to pay special attention to these seismic events in the Easter story.
Here in the Midwest, we very rarely experience earthquakes. Evidently there is actually a fault line somewhere around here; and, in fact, there was an earthquake here in Illinois three years ago, on April 18, 2008. At 5.4 on the richter scale, it was one of the largest ever recorded in this area, and its tremors were felt as far away as Atlanta and West Virginia. It didn’t cause much damage though. In Mount Carmel a woman was trapped in her home because her porch collapsed, but they were able to get her out without any injuries. In Indiana, another woman was cut by a crystal figurine as it fell off her shelf. That was about it.
With the right expertise, money and skilled labor, human beings have learned how to construct dwellings that can withstand all but the worst earthquakes. This hasn’t always been the case. The worst earthquake in recorded history took place in 1556 in the Shaanxi province of China. It killed over three-quarters of a million people, most of whom were living in yaodongs, small adobe huts that collapsed during the quake and devastated the nation. The Tangshan earthquake of 1976 killed somewhere between a quarter to a half million people.
We’ve had earthquakes here in the United States, frequently out in California, that have caused lots of property damage and some loss of life, but because we are a nation with wealth and skilled labor and laws to control construction, we’ve been able to greatly reduce the loss of life. The same can’t be said for our neighbors in Haiti, who experienced a 7.0 earthquake last January that destroyed the country and created intense suffering. The government there reports over 300,000 dead, another 300,000 injured, and over a million people made homeless.
As one of the poorest nations in the world, Haiti did not have the wealth or the other needed resources to build in ways that could withstand the quake. Even just this morning, the New York Times is reporting that as they continue to rebuild, Haitians are moving out of tents they have occupied for the last year and a half into new homes made of cheap cement, not too unlike the yaodongs in China, that are already beginning to crack. It is not only the homes that are showing signs of wear and tear, it is the people, whose extreme conditions have led to unchecked disease, violence and other abuses.
It’s hard to imagine how an earthquake could precede a resurrection in places like Haiti. Yet as our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, tells in his Easter message this year, people in Haiti find ways to hope. The President of the Lutheran Church of Haiti, Josephus Livenson Lauvanus, took our bishop on a tour of the ruins, like a stroll through the cemetery past a series of collapsed tombs, but he was not filled with despair. Instead he said, “we will not be defined by rubble, but by resurrection, for we are a people of the resurrection!”
That may sound absolutely foolish to most of the world, when the facts remain so bleak, but it is exactly the faith that Christians proclaim on Easter morning. That death can never be the last word for us. That new life comes as we remember who we are and whose we are, and we find the courage to tell our story.
The angel says to the Marys, “do not be afraid.” How could they not? Their friend and teacher dead, the Roman empire unmoved by his crucifixion. All that time, all those meals, all their shared experience ripped apart by fear. Judas’ fear that Jesus would not be the savior the people needed. Peter’s fear of being caught. The temple’s fear of losing its power. The Roman fear of uprising and revolt. All of that fear left so little room for truth and love, the things Jesus had come to share.
The angel says, “go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘he has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’” So the women go, and as they find the courage to leave their fear behind and to share the story, then they encounter Jesus on the road.
This is story that will unfold over the next fifty days, how the community of disciples who had followed Jesus before his death found him again in surprising new ways as left their fears behind and went out into the world to share a story about lives cracked open, truth and love poured into hearts abused by hatred and oppression, and new life restored to people and places left for dead. As they left what they had known behind, and as they told that story, they met Jesus once again.
At the end of three days of worship drenched with stories about water – the washing of feet, the shedding of tears, the creation of the world, the parting of the sea, the rending of a body and the st
reams of living blood and water that create in us, at the font and at the table, a new body of life – at the end of these three days we might arrive here this morning assuming that all our fears will be relieved, all our questions answered. But that is not so. As it was on the first Easter morning, we arrive today to discover that God in Christ Jesus is not waiting at the tomb, but has gone on ahead of us to all the places in this broken world in need of new life. If we want to see Jesus, we will have to leave this empty tomb and go find where God is at work. Or, as we have been teaching the children all along, as we gather at the font that ties us together with all people everywhere, if we want to get close to God we have to get close to other people.
What needs to be cracked open in you this morning? What fears do you need to leave behind at this empty tomb? How is God calling you to go and share good news that new life is rising? What earthquakes are you being sent to address? Whose toppled homes are you being called to repair? Which shaky relationships need your attention?
The world is longing for the gifts God has poured out into you. You need not fear that they are not enough. In God there is always enough, and more to go around. In God there is always room at the table and all are welcome. In God fear and death never have the last word. Instead, we cry out with all the saints of every time and in every place, all of us, people of the resurrection,
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!