Pastor Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
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.”
Read the Sermon:
I was on a walk with my husband this week and I made this confession, I think I have gotten to the point where I don’t have anything left to say about Easter. He responded, ”so, preach on the Old Testament, no really, I totally dare you not to mention Jesus.”
Well, I am not taking that dare, it is Easter after all! But here is where his joke can be a real live struggle for us this day. Sometimes it’s easier not to mention Jesus.
Because here is the deal with Easter, the resurrection is so totally illogical, so unbelievable that I cannot even begin to offer you an logical, rational explanation. Many have tried to offer proof, saying they have found this or that from the tomb or claiming to know which big rock it was that was rolled away or exactly where the tomb is located, but not a single one of these explanations is actually definitive. Not even the gospel writers agree about exactly what happened that day, they each tell the story a little differently about who was there when and the words that were said and how the people felt and what they did. Our gospel today, for instance, is the only one that tells us there was an earthquake.
How many of you have been in an earthquake? I had no experience with earthquakes other than seeing them on the news until I moved to Oregon. My first, and only, earthquake happened within a few months of living there and it was when my firstborn was just a tiny baby. I was in a church—I know, very surprising,—I was with my sister and a group of women there for bible study. I had no idea what was going on, it was very confusing and disorienting feeling to have the ground start to move. My mind and my body could not understand what was happening. The other women though acted fast and pulled me under the table. My sister was holding Sophia and she quickly put her back in my arms and together we covered her little head and body, each bending over her in protection. The ground did not shake, it rolled. It felt like waves of water, like being on a boat rocking down a river. I am told it lasted 30 seconds, and told that is kind of a long one, but I swear it was an hour. I was bewildered and I remember one woman in particular locking eyes with me and saying, it’s alright, it’s not a bad one. So I waited and trusted those around me.
As it ended, my husband came in from out in the parking lot, walking by our classroom and said, why are you all under the table? He had not felt a thing. The people in the parking lot had no idea what had just happened—we truly both looked at each other like we were each completely crazy since we had just had totally opposite experiences.
Earthquakes are unpredictable and difficult to figure out. They have the potential to just give you a little jolt or to utterly destroy everything around you. I came out of that earthquake with a completely new understanding of the power they hold and why it is so difficult to describe what happens. It is an experience that defies logic and rational thinking and it is an experience that is felt differently depending on where you are even just by inches.
So when we hear that the women experiences this earthquake and angels and light we can hear that this was a totally disorienting, disruptive, out of mind/body reason experience. In scripture, earthquakes are not documented measurements but lived experiences that tell the story of God intervening, God being present, God jolting us a little or utterly flipping our world on it’s head to say I am here.
Even when you are totally bewildered! And the women go to tell with fear and joy, which are not opposite emotions in faith, but hang together to describe a lived reality, a way for us to enter into this resurrection moment with our hearts and not just our minds.
Have you experienced fear and joy together?
For our youngest here maybe it’s the first time your parents left you with a babysitter—the excitement of something new mixed with the fear of not having your parent.
Or for our students, how about taking a big test, especially finals—the fear of performing well mixed with the joy of a class being over!
As we get older we may experience it the first time we move away from home or commit to a lifelong relationship or welcome a new child into our lives by birth or adoption.
All of these experiences have that feeling of fear of the unknown mixed with a glimmer of hope for that new future you don’t understand yet and they lead us to new understanding, new ways of living in compassion for others and for ourselves.
Even our painful experiences can be this way—taking a new job and moving far away from a community that has loved you into who you are today or finding out a medical diagnosis that means you are quite ill but at least you know what is wrong and can walk forward into that future.
Resurrection is not a one time thing. The tomb is STILL empty. It does not end all problems or stop all challenges, but it does create the possibility of something new, possibilities that don’t happen without God intervening and possibilities that don’t happen without our hearts and our prayers and our actions and our words reaching to our world in the name of Jesus.
I heard the author Ann LaMott speak this week and she told a story about a little girl who was afraid to go to sleep. Her mother kept coming to her when she called and would say, you are ok, Jesus is with you. This happened many times and finally after the mother had said again, really you are ok, Jesus is always with you; the little girl answered her mother, “ I need someone with skin on”
This is the call of courage for us as we make our way in this world that can be as uncertain as an earthquake, to be that resurrection story, that Jesus with skin on, that miracle of mercy, grace in action to one another. Just as the women bravely went forth in fear and joy, carrying their story of their experience of God and resurrection with them, we are also reminded that Easter is not over, Easter is carried with us and in us everyday.
And like real earthquakes, God comes to us in different ways. Sometimes in big moments of rocks dropping and stones rolling us and sometimes in whispers like the breeze from a butterfly wing. Sometimes in people who are Jesus with skin on to us under a table during an earthquake or we are to others every time we remember that we are called to be courageous, lock eyes with our world and live into the resurrection moments we are given.
And always God is saying I am with you. I promise you life now and I call you into this world, this future knowing your fear and your grounding you in the joy of this eternal promise that you are beloved and you are not alone.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen and so are we!
Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia