Easter A. 24 April 2011.
The Rev. Alexander D. MacPhail
It happened after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James[*] went to see the tomb. Matthew does not tell us why they went. In Mark's gospel, we are told that they went with spices to anoint the body. In John's gospel, as you might recall, Nicodemus provided one hundred pounds of spices for burial. If Jesus was buried with all those spices, would the women still go to anoint Jesus? (Pause.) Well, why not? This is not act of necessity; this is an act of love.
Love makes you do things—sometimes crazy things. In love, a woman of the city came to anoint Jesus' feet and kiss them and, wipe them with her hair. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that the woman is doing this for his burial. It's foreshadowing, but still, primarily, it is an act of love.
Love makes you do crazy things. Love does not just stop when someone dies. Nor should it. Love continues despite the jagged edge of tragedy.
The women came to see the tomb, because that's as close as they can get to Jesus. It's where he was laid, after his body had been crucified two days before. Joseph of Arimathea had gone to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. He took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid the body in his own tomb—a new tomb, meaning that it had just been hewn out of the rock, it had not been used for burial before.
Then, according to Matthew, Joseph rolled a large stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Matthew writes, "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. They watched the burial. They were there for the whole thing. They saw the body, dead. If you ask them, they will tell you, "He was dead." They know. Do not suppose that they had any doubts about his death—they saw it all.
So, two days later, here come those same women. Just to see the tomb, maybe to bring some more spices. Love makes you do crazy things.
As they approached the tomb, suddenly there was a great earthquake. The earthquake is a sign that something of cosmic significance has happened, or is about to happen. Something has torn at the fabric of space and time, leaving behind life as we knew it, and revealing a new reality.
And as they looked around, dazzled and frightened by the magnitude of the earthquake, an angel of the Lord in blazing white clothing descended from heaven. His appearance was like lightning. Everything about him was powerful and majestic.
His movements were sharp and confident, and he came to where Joseph of Arimathea had stood, and reversed the stone, rolling it back so that the first light of day broke in the tight, confined space of the tomb.
In the rare, sunlit space, where the body of Jesus had been, the air, still charged from the earthquake and spices, carried particles of stone dust and earth in swirls and spins. Little fragments of stone lay at the entry way to the tomb—little fragments of stone that had come blazing into existence at the sound of the Father's word, "Let there be light."
There beside the tomb, two guards had been stationed to make sure that no one came to steal the body of Jesus and claim that he had been raised. The angel's movements were sure and sharp, and for fear of the angel and the earthquake, the guards quaked with fear—almost to the point of death. They were immobilized as the angel—sharp-eyed, powerful— rolled the stone away from the tomb. And in one swift movement, like lightning, he sat triumphantly on top of the stone, and leveled his gaze at the two women.
To them he said, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, as he said. I have rolled the stone away, so come and see the place where his body once laid. See for yourselves. Do not be afraid. And then go, quickly and tell his disciples, indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee. He is not among the dead—he is among the living."
So the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Day is dawning. What had they seen? An earthquake? An angel? An empty tomb that they themselves had watched be filled and sealed? And what had they heard but the gloriously impossible news that Jesus is no longer dead?
Running, running down the road, running in fear and joy. Running from the past into the future. Running from death to life. Running to get the energy of what they had seen and heard out of their bodies.
Along the way, they found Jesus, and he said to them, "Greetings!" And the women ran up and took hold of his hands and feet. Their hands trembled; their voices quivered. Even the cloth of their dresses, dusty from the road, shook from the fearful shivers of their bodies.
And they worshiped him. Jesus had not really been worshipped before now. But now things are different, and love can make you do crazy things.
This cannot be for real, they think. This is a dream. A wonderful, but terrifying dream. People are not supposed to rise from the dead. People are not supposed to cause earthquakes and angel visitations. People who have died are supposed to stay dead, and if they were to rise, the tomb would need to be opened for them to walk out—not for visitors to peer in. Who is this person named Jesus?
He is the Resurrection and Life. No one comes to the Father except by him. He is the vine, and we are the branches. He is Son of the Living God, the Glorified and Risen Savior, the Messiah. He is the I AM.
He said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." (Pause.)
He's going back to Galilee; back to where it all started. Back to the people who know him and love him, back to the poor and the lonely. Back to the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, on the way to the Sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! --the people who sit in darkness[†] and the shadow of death. Their light is dawning today. There you will see him.
Love makes you do crazy things. It led Jesus to a painful and embarrassing death, but love is stronger than death, its passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.[‡]
"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[§]"
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
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The churches of Beckford Parish, where this sermon was preached, are:
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 122 East Court Street, Woodstock, VA 22664, & St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 117, Mt. Jackson, VA 22842.