This is a sermon I prepared for Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor this morning on Matthew 28:1-10. The video above is from Facebook Live. If you have any challenges accessing the video in this post, feel free to go here.
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; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘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. Then 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.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
What does it feel like to wake up on Easter morning…
… while scattered from the presence loved ones?
… while locked away in our houses?
… while taking precaution?
… while fearing for safety?
… while in grief, grappling with loss—
loss of loved ones?
loss of any sense of normality in our daily lives?
Each year on this morning, I try to imagine what it must have felt like in that 1st century context, after the disciples of Jesus had gone through the trauma of both witnessing and hiding from the crucifixion. There is a sense in which that set of experiences is truly beyond me, but this year, I feel like we are closer to it. I feel like I am closer to it.
Every question I’ve asked so far could be applied to that context and to our current context.
This year brings no pollyanna Easter. But within this story, we may find curiosity…Could love break into our experience? Could hope? Could life itself? The God of Life? Life surprising us?
As I think about this story, and as I think about our unfolding stories, I think about dashed hopes. We can name them in the story; we can name the in our unfolding stories.
All of Jesus’ disciples, helpers, and friends had followed him for three years of their lives. They took risks to do this. They left their work, their homes, and some of them left their families. Now it seemed as though it had all been for nothing.
Their hopes must have seemed truly dashed. They had lived in awe, knowing that life was changing as they followed this Jesus. He was ushering in the Kingdom of God right before their eyes. He was loving boundlessly and healing those who were suffering. They knew they were witnessing something – Someone – beyond anything they could have imagined, but now, their loving One, their healing One. . . was lying dead in a tomb. After Jesus was interrogated, tortured, and disfigured beyond their recognition, he was crucified. Jesus died in a way that was humiliating, and his death was painful and long. Their hopes must have felt truly dashed.
Now they lived in fear.. The last 48 hours were terrifying as they watched Jesus’ arrest and death, and surely they knew that they could be next. The gospel stories give us a picture of the disciples together after Jesus’ death, waiting and watching. They hid behind locked doors. Of course, it made sense to do such a thing; they didn’t know what would be next for them. They must have been living in complete terror. I can hardly wrap my mind around that kind of fear.
And so you can imagine how brave and dedicated those women were when they ventured out to Jesus’ tomb very early on Sunday morning. . . They addressed their loss, faced their crushed hopes, and faced their personal fears as they brought spices to anoint and care for Jesus’ broken and disfigured body.
But as they arrived, they faced a new reality that was beyond their imagination. As the Gospel according to Matthew shares the story, they arrived at the tomb to an earthquake, and a messenger arrived, saying, “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. Then 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.’
In this version of the telling, they didn’t even go inside. They just ran away with fear and joy. Fear and joy… those two experiences don’t often go together. But they were met with surprise beyond their greatest comprehension. It shifted the painful reality they were living, but it was also completely outside of any experience they had ever had before. Life still had no normality. It was shifting greatly.
And then as they ran, Jesus met them. He also said, “Do not be afraid.” And he said, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
My brothers… My siblings… Go to Galilee. There you will see me.
This is my favorite part of this particular Easter text. Matthew is the only one who says it like this.
Yes, in one sense, the story continues just like that. Later in this chapter, at the very close of the Gospel, the disciples go to Galilee and meet with the resurrected Jesus who gives them the Great Commission.
But I also love these words from Jesus — Go to Galilee; there you will see me — because it takes them right back to where the story began. It takes them back to the place where all the stories of Jesus unfolded. It takes them to the place where life unfolded.
There you will see me. There you will find life. There you will live life.
Return. As I am living, continue to live — continue to truly live. This is always much more than breathing and existing. It is about living these stories, ever anew — enacting love, healing, and joyful surprise. In fact, it is letting ourselves be surprised that these are possible and that they continue to emerge, even if sometimes, they are there alongside pain and grief.
Keep living these stories.
There you will see me.
And so I wonder… as we return to Galilee and these stories, as we allow them to speak to our own unfolding stories, might we find ourselves alive alongside Jesus’ living? Might we also find ourselves alive alongside his way of living? Does this story call for our resurrection too?
David Johnson, one of my professors from my time at Austin Seminary, once said this: “There are only two Easter sermons: 1. This is extraordinary and hard to believe, but it changes everything. 2. This is a crock, and we have to figure out some symbolic way of making it believable. I’m going with #1.”
I’m with him on this. I want resurrection to be extraordinary and to make a difference in our actual lives. When are right in the thick of it, it’s hard to believe that’s possible, but then again, resurrection is always a surprise. We never think it’s possible. We are often shocked by it.
And then we testify to it.
I know, even as we are scattered, even as we are grieving, even as we are afraid, we have stories of our lives becoming enlivened by this story, and in fact, by all the stories of Galilee. We have stories of our own life stories intersecting with one another and participating the love of God — enacting it and making it real, sometimes really surprisingly so.
So why not call these to mind?
Why not go to Galilee and live them again?
Why not live our woven stories together again?
Perhaps we will find life there, even the very presence of Jesus, even the very love of God, even the very presence of ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and our world enlivened.
May the tomb be open. And may our lives be opened to this Great Mystery.
And so we dare to say it again,
He is risen,
He is risen indeed!