Matthew 28:1-10; Easter
April 20, 2014
A rather interesting discussion emerged on my Facebook page this week about Easter sermons. Many were lamenting how difficult they are; a couple were suggesting that there is no need to even preach on Easter–that the story speaks for itself. And then my college chaplain wrote: “Every year at Easter I felt like the fellow in Garrison Keillor’s ‘News…’ who went to the lectern to read the Christmas story one Christmas Eve service, looked down at the text, looked back up at the congregation, and said, ‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one!'”
Right? We’ve all heard this one. Every once in awhile I get accused of making up stories and pretending they are from the Bible–because some of the texts I preach are rather obscure; they’re unfamiliar. But no one has ever accused me of making up the story on Easter. This story is overly familiar. It is the foundation of our faith–the reason we worship on Sundays, in fact. We all know the Easter story.
Which, actually, is four stories. During Lent, we looked at the crucifixion accounts in the four Gospels–each one with its distinct slant and unique details. The resurrection accounts are the same. They all happen on Sunday. Mary Magdalene is there in each story. And in every version Christ has risen! Beyond that, though, the Gospels writers present the events of that morning in quite distinct ways.
So even though we’ve all heard this one before, the story itself bears repeating. And the four versions merit our repeated attention. This year, I didn’t get very far into the story before I noticed something unexpected: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”
That is not what is supposed to happen. The women are supposed to bring spices to the tomb. I know, because I wrote an essay about it. The women offer practical service in the midst of their devastating grief, coming to the tomb to rub spices on Jesus’ body.
But apparently only Mark and Luke’s company of women do that. They are the no nonsense, get ‘er done, work through the tears kind of women. But Matthew’s Marys? They don’t have any spices. They don’t even have a real purpose as far as we can tell. They go simply to “see the tomb.”
O.K. So the Greek implies a bit more than “see.” They go to look at the tomb. To watch it. To observe it. To hold vigil.
Still, it’s not much.
“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”
At first they see what they expect to see: a sealed tomb. But soon the real show starts.
Like Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, his resurrection story is worthy of Hollywood. You have poor character motivation, bad dialog, illogical plot development—but amazing special effects. Matthew is not concerned with the finer points of the narrative–he just wants to show the power of the resurrection
And it all starts when “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”
It’s not much–on the part of the Marys.
But it is enough.
Our tendency is to either avoid places of death,–to not show up at the tomb at all–or to enter places of death with all of the tools we think we need to fix them.
Matthew’s account of the resurrection is a strong reminder of the deep truth of the Gospel: Bringing life from death is not our work to do.
It is God’s power that rolls away stones, God’s power that shatters graves and hauls life out of the pit of death. It is God’s power alone that enacts resurrection.
When we enter the graveyards, we do not need to bring a crane to lift the stone. We do not need to bring spices to anoint the body. We do not need to bring anything except ourselves.
For the Marys, it was their willingness to be present with death–their willingness watch, to observe the tomb–that put them in place to be the first human witnesses to the resurrection.
And I believe God will honor our willingness to be present with death as well. There are many dark places in our world–even within our own communities, our own homes, our own selves. And we should not avoid these places. And we need not carry all the heavy tools we think we need to fix these places.
Do you hear me? We don’t need to carry around the crane to move the rocks. That’s what God is for.
God asks simply that we go and see. That we watch and observe and hold vigil.
Because that will put us in the place where we can experience the power of God at work. We can feel the earthquake and see the lightning and hear the truth proclaimed: “Jesus Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed.