Matthew’s Marys: Thoughts on the Resurrection

5633767190[This post is adapted from a sermon on Matthew 28:1-10]

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. We all know the Easter story. Which, actually, is four stories. Each Gospel tells of Jesus’ resurrection with it’s own distinct slant and unique details. In all four Gospels the story happens on Sunday, Mary Magdalene is there, and the tomb is empty. 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 Matthew’s 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 a touching 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.”

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”

It’s not much.

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.

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”

It’s not much.

But it is enough. Their willingness to simply see the tomb–to be present with death–was enough to 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.

We don’t need to drive around with a crane to move the rocks. We don’t need to stash spices in our purses and pockets just in case.

God asks simply that we go and see.

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.

Remember and Remind–Thoughts on Easter

455623650*Below is the last part of my Easter sermon from this past Sunday (Luke 24:1-12). You can find the entire sermon here.

I know that Easter sermons usually focus on the women–their faithfulness, their witness. Or maybe on the men and their disbelief. Or, if we preachers just want to go for the obvious, we focus on the resurrection itself. The fact of real and true and eternal life no matter how real and true and eternal death might seem. It’s all true and important and holy.

But this year, I’m really struck by these men in glowing robes. To be honest, I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to them before. But this year I’m haunted by their word: remember. Because it is at once so simple and so hard. To remember.

We are certainly capable of forgetting things we have heard and seen. And we are also capable of remembering things that never happened.

Remember. It seems simple and easy. But it is actually hard and complicated. And so, so important. Remembering is important for who we are now, in the moment. And it is important for who we will be in the future; for how our world is and how our world will be.

As people of faith, or even as people who think we want to try to be people of faith, remembering is essential.

Jesus participated regularly in the festivals of his Jewish faith that recounted the stories of scripture. Festivals including Passover, in which the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt is remembered amongst the Jewish people.

It was at a Passover meal that Jesus spoke the words that Christians hear at the communion table, “Do this in remembrance of me.”


It seems that we all need help with this essential commandment. Because it’s not as easy as it seems.


Like what we do here, together. In many ways it seems a simple thing. What we do in this place each week. We gather. We read words from the scripture. We tell stories. We share pieces, small pieces, of our lives. We give each other blessing and wish each other peace.

We help each other remember.

Because when we are living real lives; when we are sad and scared and confused and exhausted, it is all too easy to forget. Easy to forget even the most important things.

That God is good.

That you are loved.

That light shines in the darkness.

That life has defeated death.

“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Then they remembered Jesus’ words.”

Even standing in front of the empty tomb, as we are today, it can be hard to remember.

And, assuming no people in glowing clothes come walking through the door–or falling from the ceiling–might I suggest that we can be those messengers to each other. We can speak the words of life to each other. We can tell the stories. We can prompt the remembering.

On this Easter morning, I give thanks to God for the amazing, saving, life-giving power of the resurrection. And I give thanks to God that I have you–each of you–with whom I can gather to remember. Let us remember together. Let us remind each other: Christ is risen!

Wednesday Worship Piece: Funeral Prayer

This is a prayer we prayed at the memorial service for Lola Lohrentz last week.  Some of this imagery comes from Psalm 46, which she chose to have read at her service.

Lola is deeply loved and deeply missed. I could tell you many wonderful things about her, but she most definitely told me that she did not want to be “bragged up” after she had died. So no bragging. Just gratitude for her witness and prayers of strength for those who love her.

Holy, Living God of Resurrection,

We gather together to worship you this afternoon because Lola’s death has shifted the earth beneath our feet.

Because the tide of our grief roars and foams and threatens to overwhelm us.

And now, in our sorrow, God, we need to be together. And we need to know your presence.

So be our refuge, O God. Be our strength.

Let us depend on your faithfulness–that you will carry us through this time of mourning and into the life we must live now.

Let us rejoice in your faithfulness–that you have carried Lola through an exhausting, painful illness and into her resurrection life with you.

Let us live lives of faithfulness–that we might follow Jesus’ path of peace and justice with each step we are privileged to take in this world.

Holy One, receive our praise and receive our prayers. Hear our sighs too deep for words.

Send your Holy Spirit–the Comforter–to dwell among us and within us–now and always. Amen.

Post-Easter Sestina

Reading the Bible and writing poetry in a quiet house.  Life is good today.

Thank you for your words for my sestina.  The poem I wrote is below.  If you’ve written one, I’d love to see it!  You can send it to me via the “Contact” page–and let me know if I am allowed to post it.

Of Fish and Fear and Resurrection: A Sestina

The tomb stands there, smelling of flesh,
but the entrance—or exit, I guess, since something obviously left–
is no longer blocked by the stone.
It is clear something fishy
is going on—especially when the glowing men appear
and insist: “Do not be afraid.”

Which is a sure sign that fear
is justified. Goosebumps prickle the women’s flesh,
sweat pours from their palms, and they try to appear
calm as they turn and leave
the graveyard to find the fishermen,
the tax collector, and the rest of the guys to tell them about the stone.

The one supposed to be sealing the tomb. That stone.
The guys are curious and confused and mostly afraid.
Peter and Andrew were really hoping they could get back to fishing
since it turned out Jesus was just flesh
and blood after all; since Jesus was dead now the authorities could leave
them all alone. But apparently

things were not back to normal yet—with the appearance
of these hysterical women and their story of the stone.
Why couldn’t people just leave
well enough alone? Now rumors swirl and the fear
returns. The disciples gather and flesh
out a plan—basically they will lock all the doors and eat their fish

in peace. It works for a few hours, everyone blithely chewing fish
and checking the locks. Then, despite their precautions, Jesus appears
and shows them where the nails ripped into the flesh
of his palms. Jesus is there. They are all stone
cold sober. A new kind of fear
settles in—a nagging sense that won’t leave

them alone. A realization that they must believe.
Only they don’t know what to believe. So they go out to fish.
That’s not going so well and they’re afraid
supper will be meager until a stranger appears
on the shore, just a stone’s
throw away. His friendly greeting makes their flesh

crawl. But they do what he says and fish suddenly appear,
leaving little doubt about who the stranger is as they haul in the net, heavier than the stone.
Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Yet there he stands—in the flesh.

A Poetry Project

I love to play with words–their sounds, their flexibility, their clarity and their ability to obscure.  I suppose this playfulness can get irritating in a preacher.  So I’m going to channel some of that energy into poetry.  Yesterday I re-read and slightly revised a sestina that I wrote during our Lenten Creative Arts Retreat. Sestinas involve the repetition of six end words, and I love the way this form forces you to think of those six words in new ways; the way this form leads you to say things you didn’t know you wanted to say.

So I thought it would be fun to try another sestina. A post-Easter sestina.  Want to play along?

In the comments below, contribute one word that can serve as an end word for a poem on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  You can think about any of the appearances–“doubting” Thomas, the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ questioning of Peter.  This week’s Gospel reading from the lectionary is Luke 24:36-48.

Please share a word in the comments below.  If I have six words, I’ll work on a poem.  And I invite you to do the same. The nitty gritty details of sestinas are available from

Thoughts on Holy Saturday

by Tom Sieger Koder

I love to plan worship services. I love to arrange for the participants, select the hymns, write the prayers, choose the readings . . . I love every part. And I want it all to be perfect.

I had this problem even before I was a pastor. My wedding, for example. I didn’t spend much time on the dresses or flowers, but I wanted each word of the ceremony to be right. As my anxiety built in the days leading up to the wedding, my dad pulled me aside. “Joanna,” he said, “whatever happens, you and Ryan will be married when this wedding is over. And that’s what really matters.”

I suppose that it is generally a good thing for a pastor to care deeply about the content and structure of worship. But I will tell you that my worship-planning perfectionism has just about exhausted me this week. I preached on Tuesday at an ecumenical service—and was re-writing my “perfect” words until about an hour before worship. I led both family-friendly and contemplative worship services last night. These involved blocks, crackers, juice, clay, and candles—though not all at once. Then this morning I set up prayer stations around our church.

And, of course, the “big” worship service is yet to come. I know it’s not rationally or grammatically correct to say this, but I always want Easter Sunday worship to be even more perfect than all the other worship services. Yesterday I was thinking, “Wow, it’s a lot of stress, trying to lead people in a celebration of the resurrection.”

Then my “inner dad” pulled me aside. “Joanna,” he said, “whatever happens at your church, Jesus will be out of that tomb tomorrow morning. And that’s what really matters.”

Amen. And thanks be to God!

Wednesday Worship Pieces: For Easter

I do not have our Sunday worship service completely planned yet, though I’m getting close.  I offer some worship pieces below that may or may not be used at Peace Mennonite Church this coming Sunday.  I pray you are each having a blessed Holy Week.

Call to Worship

Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!
On this day we celebrate resurrection.
The power of life has overcome the power of death.
The light of love has shattered the darkness of fear.
The way of peace has prevailed against the violence of empire.
We come to worship the God whose resurrection power lives on in the Christ we serve.

Offertory Prayer

God of Resurrection, may these gifts we have given be used to bring renewed life in our world:
Hope to the despairing; joy to the depressed; peace to the dismayed; love to all of your children, everywhere.
We give this offering to you in the name of your Son, the Resurrected One, Jesus. Amen.


As Christ burst forth from the tomb, may new life burst forth from us and show itself in acts of love and healing to a hurting world. And may the same Christ, who lives forever and is the source of our new life, keep your hearts rejoicing and grant you peace this day and always. Amen.