Reading: Matthew 28:1-10
One Easter Sunday, a moderator of the United Church, while visiting a church, went to Sunday School with the children. The moderator asked the children if they knew what was important about Easter. At first none of the children would answer, but finally one boy volunteered. He said, “Jesus was arrested, tried and nailed to a cross. He died and his body was laid in a tomb.” The moderator commended him for knowing the story so well and asked what happened on Easter Sunday. He continued, “He comes of the tomb, and, if he sees his shadow, we will have 6 more weeks of winter.”
We can laugh at this story, but consider our Easter traditions. I wonder how many families today had chocolate Easter bunnies. Easter eggs and marshmallow peeps? Consider Easter lilies – they are beautiful, but not an original part of our story. Our Easter traditions have borrowed or taken parts from other religions and made places for them in our special celebrations. Why might this be?
The events of Easter morning were so dramatic and confusing, and so important to the followers of Jesus, that stories are not enough to contain their importance. The rabbits, eggs, flowers, Easter feasts make our experience of the resurrection of Jesus a more complete and current part of our lives, take our story beyond words to experiences and actions.
The resurrection experience was dramatic and surprising enough that each gospel writer chose to tell the story differently. My favourite version is Mark’s version which finishes with the empty tomb. It was enough for Mark as that was what mattered most: death did not have the last word.
My second favourite is Matthew’s version – go to Galilee where I will meet you. This version resonates with Paul’s accounts of the risen Jesus appearing to hundreds of his followers.
Here is a quick review of Matthew’s story of the resurrection: the two Mary’s go to the tomb; an earthquake happens as an angel rolls the stone away from the entrance and sits on it, terrifying the guards; the angel tells the women not to be afraid, that Jesus is risen and goes ahead of them to Galilee; they leave and then meet the risen Jesus, clasp his feet and worship him; and he tells them to tell his brothers he will meet them in Galilee.
That message, to go meet him in Galilee still stands. If we go home today, and go back to living as though the resurrection never happened, then we miss the best part of Easter.
It is when we go to the place we are invited to serve that we are able to meet him who goes ahead of us. The encounter may be with a homeless family or a neighbour who is alone and needs a visit. It may be in visiting someone in prison or a hospital, or it may be in writing a letter to a government representative asking for a change to help marginalized people. When we leave our comfort zone to take risks for the sake of others, we open a door to encounters with the Risen Jesus, whomever that may be to us.
As I posted on our church website, there are many different understandings about the resurrection of Jesus. I personally believe the followers of Jesus had some kind of encounter with the risen Jesus. The first ones to have that encounter were Mary Magdalene and one or more of the other women. What that encounter was, they probably could not explain, but it changed them.
When it happened, I also do not know, but sometime between Passover and the feast of booths.
Part of the significance of the resurrection was that death was and is not the end. Eventually love triumphs, the love witnessed in the actions and words of Jesus. A columnist in yesterday’s Calgary Herald related the story about the man who murdered several young Amish children at school and then killed himself. That afternoon an Amish elder went to the home of the father of that man to comfort him. Other Amish went to the home of the man to comfort his wife and children. Over the next few years, the Amish community helped her and her children. This is love in action, the kind of love Jesus called for all of us to practice.
Five young people were murdered this past week in Calgary. Their parents and friends were devastated. A young man murdered them, and we do not know why. His parents and friends are devastated. It is at times like this that love is what is needed most. At this time, blaming anyone: God, Matthew de Groot, whoever, is worse than useless. The only thing at this time that can help is love: generous, patient, persistent, unconditional. Here is our Galilee for many people, to respond with love as the Amish did.
The resurrection of Jesus showed God’s love at work, and it shows the supremacy of love, no matter how the world tries to pretend otherwise. Death is not the end, does not have the last word. Love does. May we choose to love as a way of revealing our connections to Jesus. May the Spirit be with us as we live with love. Amen.