Sunday, May 5, 2019

God's Greatest Promise: A New Creation

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 worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV).

They’d been there that afternoon when Jesus died. The two Mary’s. Mary from Magdala, known as Mary Magdalene. And another Mary, mother of James and Joseph. Standing with the other women a distance away from the cross. 

They’d followed Jesus from Galilee, these two women. Like many others, they’d traveled the 80 mile distance to Jerusalem. Not really that far for us. But, for them, it felt like a world away.

They’d been there that afternoon at the cross. Watching. As the Jesus they loved was mocked and beaten by the soldiers. As the twelve scattered. Yet, they, and the other women had remained. Standing a distance away. Watching. As the day grew darker and darker.

They’d been there that afternoon as the earth shook. At that very moment when Jesus died. They’d felt the earthquake. Heard rocks split in two. Later, they heard that the temple curtain - the curtain that covered the holiest place in the temple, the place where only the priests were allowed. They heard that the curtain had torn in two. From top to bottom. As the earth shook. As Jesus died.

They’d been there as Jesus’ body had been taken down from the cross. Placed by Simon in his own new tomb. Simon, one of the many disciples like they. But, one who had wealth and could afford this one gesture of respect and dignity for Jesus. Who had suffered so much. And who had been treated so poorly. Humiliated. Shamed. Even crucified.

As Simon placed Jesus’ body in the tomb, they’d been there, too. The two Mary’s. Sitting opposite the tomb. Watching.

Early on the day after the Sabbath had passed. On the first day of the work week, they’d gone back to the tomb. The two Mary’s. Perhaps they wondered if it was really true. Really true that Jesus had died. That he was gone forever. Or, maybe, it was all just part of some nightmare. Some horrific dream from which they prayed they would wake up.

Or, perhaps, that early morning, as the two Mary’s were watching the tomb. Perhaps there was just a little bit of hope. Hope that Jesus’ own prediction would come true. That he would be raised from the dead after three days. Just as he said.

And, then, suddenly they felt another great earthquake. Just as they’d felt that afternoon at the cross. As the earth shook beneath them, they looked up and saw, of all things, an angel. Blinding them. Dressed in white. The guards who’d been stationed at the tomb - the soldiers who had been placed there by the religious authorities to ensure that Jesus’ disciples wouldn’t be able to steal his body and then proclaim that Jesus had risen. These guards, some of whom had mocked Jesus on the cross, they, too, shook. Like the earth. And then, in the greatest of ironies, they appeared to be dead. Just as Jesus was dead. And lifeless.

Except. Jesus wasn’t dead.

That was the earth-shattering news for these two Mary’s. Two women who, like the other women and like so many of Jesus’ disciples, were people with no power in their world. People with no money. Or no status. Just ordinary, everyday people. Hard-working people who felt left behind. It was easy for them to be cynical. To not expect or believe that Jesus’ resurrection prediction would come true. So, one can only wonder when they heard the news proclaimed by this dazzling angel, how much it rocked their world.  

There’s another character in this drama. Another unseen, unnamed character. Beyond the two Mary’s. And the angel. Beyond the guards and even Jesus himself, there is one more character woven into this first Easter story. We first met this character on Good Friday. As Jesus died, the whole earth shaked. The rocks split. This same character returned that early Sunday morning with another literal earth-shaking bang. This character? Creation.

We know, according to scripture, that since the fall of humanity and the entrance of sin and brokenness into God’s perfect and idyllic world, creation has groaned under its weight. Dominated by humankind, instead of lovingly cared for as God desired. Perhaps Creation is like the two Mary’s, just a little hopeful and longing for this very moment. For the news of Jesus’ resurrection. For the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into the world. And so, just like the women and the guards, when creation hears the news, it, too, responds. With an earthquake. A natural phenomenon that emphatically underscores the truly world-changing aspect of the resurrection of Jesus.

It’s easy to be for us cynical, isn’t it? Or without hope. To feel like the two Mary’s. Or, perhaps, even as creation might feel. To struggle under the weight of sin and brokenness. Whether it is our own sin and brokenness or that of the world. We look at the world and wonder how things can possibly get worse. Whether it is the divisiveness and discord in our public dialogue, or in our personal lives. Whether it is the inequality and unfairness that we experience. When even creation seems under seige and dying. When everything seems so hopeless. And it feels like death has the upper hand. It’s easy for us to be cynical, isn’t it? 

It is then that we, with the two Mary’s, with the angel, with the guards and with all of creation witness God’s answer. We see and feel and hear God’s response. God would not allow Jesus to remain dead. Jesus was resurrected. Jesus lives. 

Now, Jesus’ resurrection does not mean that God condones human sin and brokenness. It does not mean that God ignores the violence and destruction that we have perpetuated against God’s very creation. But what it does show us is that God submits to it, absorbs it, and lives through it to be in solidarity with all that suffer through it. 

And then, God resurrects the condemned one, the betrayed one, the crucified one to show that this act of violence perpetrated against Jesus is not the last word. Out of this death and darkness, God brings about a new creation. Death does not win! Life wins! God wins!

There’s one more piece - one more important piece - to the story. After the two Mary’s heard the news and the angel’s instructions, they left quickly to go. And to tell. And, as they did along the way, their world was rocked a second time as they met Jesus himself. They fell at his feet. And they worshipped him. And then, with his words “Do not be afraid” ringing in their ears, they continued on. To tell the others. So that the other disciples could also meet Jesus. Alive.

May this be our response to God’s greatest act. To the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise. May we meet Jesus on the way, too. May we also fall down at Jesus’ feet and worship him. May Jesus make us into a new creation. And, then, may we get up and go out into our world. Into a world that has grown cynical and that groans under the weight of sin. And may we, like the two Mary’s and like all of creation, share the earth-shattering news in our words and in our actions, so that others, too, may meet Jesus. Alive. In us.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

Preached April 21, 2019, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
First Sunday of Easter
Readings: Matthew 28:1-10; Psalm 118:19-34

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