1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then 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.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
I love to read. I am a story person. I get sucked into a good book, I get sucked into a good story, and sometimes I get to the end of the story and I think, “That’s it?” I get so involved in the story and, even when the ending is perfect, I still want it to last a bit longer. I want to savor the ending, just for bit more. That’s for a good book. But a great book is something different all together. When I get done with a great book, I feel like I get back from a vacation or from some life altering experience. I wonder if you know the feeling – that feeling when you can’t believe that, after all you’ve gone through, all you’ve learned and seen and experienced, you’re just supposed to go on as if nothing happened. How am I supposed to be the same after this? That’s how I know the story I’ve read is a great story – when the characters in the book become people I know, when the plot takes on meaning in my life (rather than distraction), and when my life feels more complete after having finished it.
When we engage with a story, whether you are a book nerd like me or you hear somebody tell it or you watch it in a theater or TV, we also enter with our ideas. We understand the world in one way and when we hear a story, especially a story that stretches our worldview, we are changed by the experience. The telling and hearing of a story fundamentally changes us. It opens our eyes to a new life, a new way of living in the world, and the really great stories even change the way we live. Much like the earthquake in our gospel today, they fundamentally change us.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? It is supposed to be one of the most sudden and powerful forces on the planet. An earthquake makes even the strongest and most powerful buildings and people quiver, shake, and sometimes fall. Matthew is the only gospel to include an earthquake. Now, earthquakes are fairly common in the Middle East. 3 tectonic plates meet, and so that part of the world is constantly undergoing change. But there are a few things about an earthquake that are different from any other natural phenomenon – we cannot predict them, we do not see them coming, and the permanently altar the world. The very plates of the earth have moved, the planet itself has been altered. It’s no surprise, then, that at Jesus’ resurrection, they would have experienced, that this would happen, because with Jesus’ resurrection we see the world has permanently changed.
Even if you’ve heard this story a thousand times, it should change us. Because it stretches us, it goes against the way we often see this world. When we would see death as the end, as bondage that we can never escape from, we see Jesus breaking those bonds and showing us that life is stronger. When we would think that the response to violence would be more violence, we see Jesus showing power by forgiveness, even to those who hung him there. When we could see a tomb as a place of death and decay, Jesus has made the tomb a place of rebirth and new life.
And our response to this news, much like Mary and Mary, is one of fear and great joy. Fear, because death is still a part of life, but great joy, because Christ has conquered death. And you’ll notice what both the angel and Jesus tells those brave women – “Be not afraid.” Don’t be afraid! In light of violence on every continent, be not afraid. In times of diagnosis and suffering, be not afraid. When we struggle with mental illness or poverty or isolation or hunger, be not afraid. And in light of the resurrection, we declare that what was once feared is now conquered. Sin has been defeated by Christ’s forgiveness. Death has been defeated by Christ’s life. And while the world may be filled with darkness, death, pain, violence, and suffering, we see that it is also filled with life, light, and beauty and those things have the final word.
The thing about a story is that it only remains a story unless is causes us to live differently. The story of the resurrection is a good story that fills us with hope, but it is more than that. It is a great story that helps us “go back to Galilee”, go back to where we have come from, and live life differently. It remains only a story, only a seed, until it takes root in our lives. And, when that happens, we begin to see resurrection as not a one-time event, but the process by which God is changing the world.
When this story changes our lives, it doesn’t just send us empty handed back to our homes with nothing to show for it but an hour spent in worship and elevated blood sugar from all the jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. No. It sends us back, expecting to see God at work back where we’ve come from. It sends us back to proclaim that death is not the end, that sin has been forgiven, and that light is shining into the darkness. It sends us back where we’ve come to be the resurrection in action – resurrection in our lives, communities, and world.
Like a story, like a seed planted in a field, this process takes time, but it is relentless. Sometimes it’s like the resurrection morning we celebrate today, quick and sudden like an earthquake that alters the shape of the planet. Other times it’s like a long story, unfolding detail after detail, character after character, until you find yourself looking at and acting in the world differently. Without fear.
But here’s the big takeaway. This is why Easter, this is why resurrection, is a big deal. This is why it changes the world. We no longer have to worry that we can’t make a difference because the difference has been made. We no longer have to live in fear of what we can’t control because what runs wild for us has been tames and beaten by Christ’s resurrection. Jesus died on a cross and, with his last breath, he cried out it is finished. Death is finished. Sin is finished. Violence and greed and illness and struggle are finished. We experience them, but we are no longer in their grasp.
A great book opens up a new set of opportunities to do something in the world. A great story can help us see the world differently and by seeing the world differently, we open ourselves up to the incredible work of resurrection. This story was not meant to stay on the page, the words that tell us about resurrection, new life, were not meant to be studied, but lived, embodied, practiced in the world. Ink on paper is almost nothing, in and of itself, but with it we have the chance to be part of the resurrection story ourselves.
Christ’s death was your death. Christ’s life is your life, eternal life, abundant life, fearless life. The stone has been rolled away. The risen Lord, like an earthquake, has changed the world. Light is shining in the darkness, life is coming from death, and the tomb is empty. Life for you. Life for me. Life for the world. Alleluia. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Amen.