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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter Sunday 04/24/2011

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary never saw it coming; how could they?  People didn’t rise from the dead, then, now or ever; it didn’t happen.  In Matthew’s account, the women were just going to the tomb that morning for the same reason a lot of us visit grave sites, just to feel a little closer to the one who has died.  But then the earth shook; “Suddenly there was a great earthquake,” and you wonder what thoughts would have run through the minds of the two Mary’s at that point with the quiet of their morning not so quiet anymore. 

Matthew is the only one who includes this detail of an earthquake in his account of the Resurrection and it’s a detail I couldn’t help but notice in the wake of devastating earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand this year and Haiti last year.  Thankfully such things don’t happen around here (apart from the mine doing their noontime blasting) because earthquakes are bad news.  Physically we are far away from the places that have experienced earthquakes, but with the 24/7 news cycle we are quite familiar with the pictures of rubble and collapsed buildings and hard to imagine numbers of dead and missing, hard to imagine hardship and sadness for survivors as they try to rebuild lives that are quite literally turned upside down.

All of that is real, the suffering and tragedy are real and do demand our compassion and our best efforts to act on behalf of those who suffer; but the mention of an earthquake on Easter Sunday is yet another reminder that as Christians we deal with a different reality.  Especially on Easter Sunday we dare to imagine God’s reality, a reality in which earthquakes are not the source of bad news, not the source of death and destruction but quite the opposite. 

In the gospel accounts earthquakes are good news as they split open tombs and raise to new life those held in the grip of death; in Matthew’s account that’s what happened at the moment of Jesus’ death.  Today on Easter Sunday the earthquake announces the arrival of an angel who will roll back the stone and make known the fact that the world is forever changed.   In God’s reality earthquakes do turn things upside down, but they do it in a way that causes life to become our reality, a way that causes eternal life rather than death to become our future.

The two Mary’s never saw it coming though.  As they went to the tomb that morning you would guess that they were just doing their best to deal with what had happened, trying to come to terms with what was for them, a new reality, a reality that no longer included Jesus.  “It is what it is,” you can imagine one of them saying in light of what had happened.  That’s what we say, right, when faced with a situation we might not be thrilled about but which is also beyond our control.  We can’t change it, we have to deal with it, it is what it is.

But God’s reality includes more than “it is what it is.”  That’s what Easter Sunday is all about.  On Easter Sunday God does something entirely new and reveals that in his reality we don’t talk about “it is what it is,” we talk about the hope of new possibilities.  In the world of “it is what it is” Jesus was dead and the story was over; that’s what the women thought.  On Easter Sunday though, with them we find that all that was just the beginning.  The death of Good Friday is transformed in the new life of Easter.  In the world the Resurrection opens to us, death and the fear of death are gone.  For the women that morning, while it didn’t happen immediately, there is the possibility of paralyzing fear being changed to empowering joy.

And so the words from the angel, “Do not be afraid!” words to be echoed later by Jesus when the women meet him.  “Do not be afraid.”  The world of “it is what it is” deals in fear, in many cases the fear that nothing can change that there are no new possibilities, no new futures.  But as we announce “He is Risen!  He is risen indeed!” with the angel and with Jesus we counter that fear and we proclaim that the world we live in is more than “it is what it is.”

After showing the women where Jesus’ body had been, the angel told them to go and to go quickly.  They were not to remain any longer in the place of death.  They weren’t to stay and build a monument or memorial in honor of Jesus.  They had come that morning to be close to the crucified Jesus but the angel knew that what they needed to do was to experience him as living, they needed to be close to the risen Jesus.  The old order of fear and “it is what it is” had been changed and the women needed to begin to live the new life of resurrection.

When an angel tells you to do something, I guess you do it, so the women left, as the text says, “with fear and great joy” which sounds odd but on the other hand it is exactly the right way to put it.  “It is what it is” might not have held much promise, but it was what they knew and there is a certain comfort in what you know.  But the angel was opening up something else to them, something that they knew nothing about, and there is always an element of fear about what we don’t know.  But those women were open to the possibilities and it was in that openness that they encountered the Risen Christ.

As Jesus told them not be afraid you can sense that move from fear to great joy.  Jesus was still with them in a way that they never could have imagined; again they couldn’t have seen it coming.  What would have seemed impossible was possible; violence and death could be transformed.  They could live in joy and hope rather than fear.

When the angel told the two Mary’s to go, as unlikely as what he told them may have seemed, they went.   The same invitation is offered to all of us, but are we sometimes stuck in realities that don’t offer much, realities that say nothing new is possible?  I think we do because while such realities don’t offer much, it’s what we know so we accept it.   

Easter Sunday challenges all that.  In the resurrection of Jesus, God did something new, God broke into this world in a way that changed the reality of this world making new life possible.  In a world that wants clarity and logic and understanding and proof, such a changed reality doesn’t fit.  In the reality of this world, we want the facts but this is a truth that goes beyond the facts.

You might notice that in all the gospels the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion are by far the longest and most detailed part of each gospel.  The world has always done a good job in documenting death.  The resurrection accounts however, are shorter and much more elusive.  In what we hear today and in what we’ll hear the next couple of weeks, in what we hear every year in the first weeks of Easter, there are always elements of playfulness and poetic mystery, pieces that don’t fit in the factual logic of this world.  That’s they way it should be.  Facts can be controlled, mystery can’t and the resurrection is such an uncontrollable mystery. 

We can only proclaim it; “He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”  We can tell the stories in all their poetic elusiveness and in the telling we extend the invitation of the angel to leave the tomb and look for Jesus among the living, and to tell others to do the same.  Open to the possibilities as the women were, accepting the invitation we will encounter the Risen Christ. 

In the flat, fearful, factual reality of “it is what it is” the resurrection offers nothing.  In the world of great joy and imagination and possibility beyond the empty tomb of Easter morning, the resurrection offers everything.

He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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