St. John’s Lutheran Church
9 April 2023 + Resurrection of Our Lord
Rev. Josh Evans
The possibilities are endless:
Even “Just because!”
It looks like a harmless enough greeting card, but after you sign it, close it, and pull a little tab out of the side, the recipient will be greeted not just with your words of celebration, gratitude, or encouragement … but with a non-stop loop of music.
Try as they might, nothing can make it stop. They can close it, but the music keeps going. There’s no “off” switch. And if they try to destroy it by ripping it open to pull out the tiny speaker … surprise! … it’s glitter!
Yes, they are real. Yes, you can buy them. No, I have never done this to someone else. (And if you’re thinking about buying one for your pastor, just remember that I have the authority to retain your sins.)
Once you open one of these prank cards, the music will play without end. (At least until the battery dies.)
Once it starts, there’s simply no stopping it.
The good news we proclaim and celebrate this and every Easter Sunday is like that. It is, in a word, unstoppable.
But, I have to admit, sometimes it doesn’t particularly feel that way.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (whoever she is) didn’t wake up on Sunday to come to church in their bright Easter dresses to belt out “Jesus Christ is risen today!”
They came to the tomb … in mourning. By some accounts, they set out while it was still dark, or by others, just as day was dawning. They probably didn’t even wake up because they probably didn’t even sleep at all that night. Grief and trauma have a way of keeping us up like that.
The women came to the tomb in mourning. By some accounts, they brought spices to anoint Jesus’s body. No Easter lilies or daffodils here.
The women came to the tomb and brought their fatigue and grief and despair, ready for a funeral.
That morning, there was no Easter yet. That morning, when they came to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were living in one long Holy Saturday. There was no promise of resurrection and new life in that space.
Truthfully, I get where they’re coming from.
This is only my fifth Easter as an ordained pastor, but even so, every year, it becomes harder and harder to preach resurrection and new life, even though, deep down, I know it to be true.
On the one hand, there’s a certain pressure and expectation: to find a new, different, creative, engaging way to tell the story each year. After all, we preachers have quite possibly our largest captive audience on this Sunday of all Sundays.
Then, there’s the challenge of reality: in a world plagued by seemingly non-stop conflict, division, and violence. These days, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.
The war in Ukraine is now well into its second year, as death tolls climb. The climate crisis that scientists have been warning us about for years is only intensifying, as those without adequate resources are the first to suffer its devastating effects.
And with a global health pandemic now (mostly) subsiding, the more sinister pandemic of gun violence continues to rage, leaving children dead in their classrooms, while lawmakers are silenced and expelled by their colleagues for speaking out and trying to actually do something about it.
What a downer of a sermon…
You came to church on Easter Sunday to sing “Alleluia!” – and we have already and we will some more – but first we need to remember Ash Wednesday: to name the brokenness of our world, to confess our limitations and shortcomings and even our complicity in the brokenness.
We need to remember Good Friday: the lengths to which that brokenness will take us, even to the cross.
We need to linger a bit, with the two Marys, in the uncertainty and the honesty of Holy Saturday.
Holy Saturday has a tendency to get overlooked, but it is an equally powerful part of the story – the “space where the shadows of death have not yet given way to new life and resurrection.”
“I need Holy Saturday because I need assurance that depression doesn’t mean faithlessness, that mourning doesn’t mean hopelessness, that sorrow doesn’t mean abandonment. [On Holy Saturday] we can sit together, and accompany each other through the hard things, because even if Sunday’s coming, it’s not here yet. And that’s ok.”
It is into this Holy Saturday space, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, that resurrection happens, against all odds and expectations.
What were they looking for?
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb, carrying fatigue and grief and despair. They were weighed down and worn out. Their expectations for anything more were non-existent.
What did they get?
This is actually the second earthquake in as many chapters in Matthew’s gospel marking Something Big. Matthew alone writes of an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’s death, and Matthew alone tells us about the earthquake marking Jesus’s resurrection. These earthquakes shake us to attention: Something Important is happening.
It certainly got the women’s attention.
The thundering of the earthquake literally shakes things up. It disrupts their grief and expectations in order to make way for Something New and Surprising:
“You’re looking for Jesus, but he’s not here. He has been raised!”
The women came to the tomb with grief and despair. They left the tomb with great joy … and a little bit of fear (there had just been an earthquake, after all).
They left the tomb with haste, running to tell the others. They left and ran into Jesus, overcome with emotion as they took hold of him, with a grip that wasn’t letting go anytime soon.
The women left changed.
When resurrection happens, it changes things. Once it happens, it does not and cannot un-happen.
And in fact, resurrection can and does happen repeatedly – more than just one Sunday a year!
As a friend of mine wrote in a recent blog post, “The promise of new life does not guarantee that our suffering will end immediately or that it will never come our way again, but it is an invitation to imagine that something else is always possible.”
Something else is always possible – and more than possible. That is the promise of Easter.
Resurrection never promises to make all the bad things go away, but resurrection does mean that the bad things don’t get to be the final word.
When resurrection happens, it changes things. It changes us.
Resurrection empowers us. Because Christ has been raised, victory is ours and joy is ours today.
As resurrection people, we live the story.
Resurrection empowers us to proclaim Christ’s decisive victory over death and all the forces of evil that seek to devalue and harm God’s creation and God’s people.
Resurrection empowers us to embody the abiding and limitless love of God for the life of the world:
A love that breaks down barriers. A love that reaches into places of fear with an outstretched hand. A love that sits alongside our tears and marches side by side with our anger. A love that insists on a better, different, more just and loving way.
Resurrection changes things forever, and nothing can get in its way.
Resurrection is inevitable.
Resurrection is unstoppable.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!