April 19, 2014

Setting the Pace


Text: Matthew 28:8: “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and joy,  and ran to tell his disciples.”

The first thing i want to say is, I’m glad you’re here. We are easy to find at Christmas, because at least the church had the good sense to make sure Christmas is always on the same date, so it’s easy to remember. But Easter—Easter moves around so much. You never know when it’s going to be. Sometimes it feels as though it practically comes around Valentine’s Day, and sometimes it seems as though it doesn’t show up until May.

Okay, well, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but there is more than a month of days over which Easter can turn up. And I could use this time to explain to you how it is we figure out which of those days will be Easter Day every year, but you all have brunch reservations somewhere so we’ll just move on. You are in the right place in the right time, I’m glad you’re here.

But exactly because the date of Easter moves around on the calendar, there is a kind of invitation in the fact of this year’s particular date. It isn’t just that today is April 20; by itself that isn’t so important.

To make my point, let’s consider the story we just heard a little more closely.

It’s a pretty familiar story. We enter into the frame just as Mary Magdalen shows up at the grave of Jesus early on Sunday morning. But because this is just a slice of the whole story, we sort of forget what happened to get us to this point.

Of course we know that Good Friday happened. We know that the Cross happened. We may be a little hazy on just why it happened, but we know that it matters, because the one thing that signifies Christianity down through the centuries is the Cross itself.

But then that whole drama ended, and there was Friday afternoon, and Friday night, and all day Saturday, the sabbath day. What was happening during all that time?

We don’t get a lot of data from the Bible about what happens in the story between the moment Jesus is laid in the tomb and the story we get this morning. But it doesn’t take a lot of invention to figure out the basic outlines of what would happen. At least not if you have ever lost a loved one to death.

What happened to Mary Magdalen, and the “other Mary” who comes with her, and the disciples who had gathered around Jesus, is what happens to any family that is visited by tragedy. They spent the time grieving. All of us grieve in different ways, but we know that feeling—the disorientation, the sense of being overwhelmed, the feeling that a whole world has somehow ended, or stopped, and the world we find ourselves in is diminished, or reduced, or unfamiliar.

That is the condition in which we find the people entering this little story. They aren’t just coming out to the garden for a pleasant day’s outing. They are exhausted by grief. And they are taking up a duty that makes them confront the fact of their loss; they have come to finish a job that was necessarily incomplete because it was done in a disorderly hurry. They have come to properly prepare the body of their beloved friend for the sleep of death.

What are they going to do about the guards? How do they expect to move the stone that was put there on Friday? It may be a signal about how spent they are that they don’t seem to have planned for these problems.

And so they arrive—and just as they do, an earthquake, and a vision, and an angel who moves the stone away. And even more incredibly, that tomb is already empty. Stone or no stone, Jesus isn’t there anymore.

And when the women see this, and hear this, what do they do? They run.

I wonder whether you can remember a time in your life when you were so filled with amazement or joy or fear or some combination of all of those things that you simply broke into a run to go let someone know. It’s an incredibly visceral thing. It’s almost as though something draws you from in front, pulls you right out of whatever you have been thinking or doing and makes you move as fast as you can.

It’s something we did more naturally as children. But we can still do it. It’s as though God has planted a little chip in us somewhere that draws us in the direction of great hope, or great purpose, and whenever it gets activated we can’t not move toward it.

In fact, here’s an interesting thing: No matter where you find this story in the bible, the story of the sad and grieving women arriving at the tomb on Sunday morning—and it occurs in all four Gospels—in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John­—the impact of finding the tomb empty and realizing what has happened is always the same. In every version of the story, the result is running. Whenever there is resurrection, people start running.

Now everywhere else on the planet this morning, in every place where this central story of our faith is being remembered and celebrated with great joy, this story will probably be heard in much the same way it always has, year after year.

But I think here, in this place, there has to be some gentle message from the God who loves us and invites us to believe in the outrageous possibility of resurrection that Easter Day falls today—April 20—exactly between the anniversary of the terrible bombings in Boston last year and tomorrow, Marathon Day.

Those terrible moments last year were some of the darkest days any of us have lived through. To know that somewhere in the human heart there could exist the capacity to attack innocents in such a way. To know that it could happen here, in our home; to know that shattering sorrow of feeling as though a world we thought we knew had somehow ended forever, and that a new world, a much more fearful one, had come to stay.

That was our Good Friday. It has been a long, long Good Friday. And just this past week we have had to confront yet again the reality of what happened. We heard the tributes, we saw the scars on the bodies of the injured, we remembered the innocent dead.

And suddenly—Easter is here. Resurrection is here. The sorrow we thought would be forever is conquered. Maybe it doesn’t change the past, just in the same way that the empty tomb doesn’t erase the cross. But it changes what we thought was the possibility of the future. It gives us our hope back again. It tells us beyond a shadow of a doubt that evil does not triumph, and death does not win—not in the end.

And how can we know this? How do we know that resurrection has happened?

Just listen tomorrow. Just walk down a half a mile from this very place, down to Commonwealth Avenue, and listen. And do you know what you will hear? Running. The sound of running feet, hundreds of thousands of people running, because that is always what happens when Resurrection happens. Easter is here. We rise again, not just in the hereafter, but right here and right now. And we cannot help but run to share the news. Amen.