Where Do You See Resurrection?
Each one of the gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – have their own way of telling the resurrection story. But without question, Matthew’s telling is the most dramatic! There are special effects with an earthquake, and an angel who looks like lightning, and rolls back a giant stone. It all sounds a bit like a Marvel Avengers movie!
And then, there’s drama: The angel who rolls back the stone sits on it defiantly, while the guards who witness these goings-on tremble with fear and fall down as if though dead. The lightning angel tells the women, “Don’t be afraid, Jesus has arisen, Go quickly and tell the disciples!”
So, they start running, but then they see Jesus, who says, “Greetings!” which sounds impossibly casual, given the circumstances. And the women bow down, take hold of his feet and worship him. This is followed quickly by more instructions from Jesus.
So, what’s up with this super dramatic, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination rendition? I think Matthew is unapologetically confronting our disbelief with a bright flash of light…and a message: God is unwilling to accept death as the final word, and so, in God’s hands, death is reversed into life. And that is, when you think about it, a fairly dramatic thing! Therefore, stones don’t get in God’s way, guards don’t get in God’s way, and death doesn’t get in God’s way. And if God can open up tombs and bring forth life, perhaps God can also open up our fearful and unbelieving hearts and create faith! He surely did with both Marys.
Fear is referenced three times in this passage. Why were the Mary’s afraid? We don’t know for sure, but I don’t think they were afraid for their safety or any impending judgment. And while many people at this time believed in a life after death of some kind, that was supposed to be in the next world, not this one. Yet here was Jesus, risen from the dead yet very much in this world…now, right in front of the Marys! And so, the message of Easter is about life after death, but it’s also about life before death! Jesus, you see, stands before each of us in this life, calling us into a new life with him.
I think the Marys were afraid because they knew their lives would never be the same again. Change can be scary, right? We know that at Mt Carmel. And change is exactly what happened next. These women became the very first Christian worshippers, instinctively bowing at Jesus’ feet in worship.
But this doesn’t last long. Jesus says, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.” “There I will meet them.” Filled with both fear and joy, the Marys were now the first Christian evangelists!
What a marvelous review for us of the rhythms of Christian life. We are drawn into worship and quickly sent into mission. “I’ll meet you out there,” says God, and invites us to look for him out there.
I’ll meet you out there.
But will our bleak, unbelieving hearts allow for this state of affairs? After all, our own hearts and minds are sometimes like a guarded tomb. The risen Christ may be loose in the world, but we are fearful – either fearful of change or fearful that nothing will change – fearful that we will miss God altogether and be unable to perceive God.
The rhythm of resurrection in our story today is articulated by the angel: “he is not here, he is risen.” But for many today who have at least some Christian conviction, this order is reversed: “he is risen,” we generally affirm, “but he is not here.” Not in my boring life. We just don’t often see evidence of the risen Christ around us, particularly not in the Avengers version of Matthew’s story.
Our problem might be that we expect to see God in supernatural ways and are not open to the common ways that the risen Christ appears. Remember, Jesus Christ is loose in our world.
There was a delightful assignment given to the grade school children of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” in Honolulu, Hawaii, that had Easter written all over it. Go out and take pictures of where you see God. The results are published in the book, “God’s Photo Album.” Their message? “God is all over the place.” I don’t have the pictures for you, so you’ll have to use your imaginations. 5-year-old Deyandra wrote about her pictures, “I have learned that God lives in the Hard Rock Café.” She also wrote, “I saw miss universe in the hotel lobby with God.”
Victoria wrote, “I see God by the peacock. He was feeding it lots of food and asking, ‘are you happy?”
Briana wrote, “I took a picture of my brother because I love him, and God is love.” Krystle wrote, “I found this man. He was full of aloha. He was enjoying the cool breeze and his spam, rice and vegetables. He looked like he only wanted some time with God.”
In a picture of a man sitting by himself, Carlynn wrote, “I see God waiting for someone to talk to.”
And possibly the most memorable, Melissa took a picture of her mom’s hands. “I see God in my mom’s hands because she always works hard and when she works hard, she uses her beautiful hands.”
This is Easter stuff, my friends. Christ is all around you and it’s possible you’re not paying attention!
Yet for some of us, it’s not just that life seems too mundane for God. It seems too painful or lonely for God to be present. Too “God-forsaken.” Garrison Keillor’s description of his Aunt Marie is to the point:
She knew that death was only a door to the kingdom, where Jesus would welcome her, there would be no crying there, no suffering, but meanwhile she was overweight, her head hurt, and she lived alone with her ill-tempered little dogs, tottering around her dark little house full of Chinese figurines and old Sunday Tribunes.
What Aunt Marie is saying is, “he’s not here.” Jesus on the cross said the same thing: “God, why are you not here?” And yet, from the pain of our lives comes resurrection. This is what Easter is about.
Margaret Wurtele is an author and philanthropist who lost her son to a mountain climbing accident in 1995 and has wrestled with grief ever since. When he died, she writes, a part of her died with him. She couldn’t comprehend anything good coming out of her son’s death. But she continued to contemplate death and Christian teaching. She writes,
The whole Christian story is so much the story of sacrifice and resurrection. It’s a habit of thoughts, of expectations…My language and way of thinking about things have changed. When a tragedy happens now, the next question for me is, “where’s the resurrection?”
Where’s the resurrection? We know that death does not have the last word. God does, and that word is “life.” So, she waited for the resurrection inside of her, and it came! Pulled out of the dark night of her soul, she now feels more compassion for others, she savors life more. But her language and way of thinking had to change. Did you catch that? There’s “change” again.
Where do you see resurrection? In a mothers’ hands, a man on a park bench, or in the revival of your deflated spirit?
In my youth director days, I drove our church bus. Once, on a ski retreat, after a long day of skiing we all piled into our bus and headed back to camp Wapo. We drove a few miles and then a really fun thing happened; we ran out of gas. And there in the middle of nowhere, I took endless ribbing and abuse from my youth group for letting the bus run out of gas in the middle of the winter, at night, and out in the country. I knew I had been a big dope, but their taunts only made it worse. We did get some help, picked up our things at Wapo, and headed back to the cities that night. I drove in silence, wounded by the events of the night.
I wasn’t asking “where’s the resurrection?” but it came nonetheless. One of our senior high girls, Alisa, came up front, sat on the floor next to the drivers’ seat and started talking to me. She didn’t give me a hard time about running out of gas. She didn’t even mention it. She was kind of a deep thinker and after some small talk, she had some God questions she wanted to explore with me. And so, we explored. Afterward, I didn’t feel like such an idiot any more – even though I was. I felt like a Christian youth director who was helping someone on their faith journey – which I was.
Was that God resurrecting my spirit through Alisa? You bet it was! The risen Christ is loose in the world, working in many and various ways to bring about life in the midst of our everyday struggles. Right when things feel pretty bad, resurrection living dares ask, “where’s the resurrection?” And in faith we wait, knowing what the final word will be. Amen.