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04/12/20 – A Small Easter Gathering – Easter Sunday

A SMALL EASTER GATHERING

April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

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The forecast doesn’t look good, and I’m not just talking about the weather. Although cold temperatures and the possibility of “wintery mix” is not what you expect in mid-April. More than a tenth of the workforce in this country have filed for unemployment and that number will surely rise. The need for medical supplies and health protective gear are pitting nation against nation and state against state. The comparative death tolls in our country highlight the great disparity between rich and poor, white and non-white. Without enough people being tested or a treatment for the virus there is no end in sight to the isolation, fear and suffering.

It isn’t easy to celebrate the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection in these circumstances. Studying and contemplating the gospel text for today, it is the two women who first discovered the empty tomb who seem to model the response needed to hear and proclaim the Good News. In Matthew’s gospel, two women came to prepare Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene and another Mary, who was not Jesus’ mother but the mother of James and John. Despite their grief, they went out to do one last compassionate act for Jesus. They saw a need they could fill. The empty tomb opened their expectations beyond imagination. The scene they found was frightening for them, but their fear was mixed with joy and something else… hope.

Each of the four gospels has a unique voice in the describing the events of Easter Sunday morning. Today, we have heard Matthew’s account, which seems quite fitting for our time. Matthew presents the scariest scenario of that first Sunday morning when the empty tomb was discovered. The picture is chaotic. Taken straight out of one of Daniel’s dreams in the Old Testament, Matthew gives us another earthquake, the second in less than three days, the first being at Christ’s crucifixion. This earthquake was accompanied by a powerhouse celestial being who rolls away the giant stone from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. The Roman guards shook and “became like dead men” – sounds like a Zombie movie. These guards had been placed there to make sure Jesus’ body stayed put. After all, Jesus had declared he would rise in three days and those in power couldn’t take any chances. Jesus’ resurrection would not have been good news for everyone. The guards represent those for whom Jesus’ ministry and message upset the status quo, which maintained power and privilege for a few over the many. It’s always those with the most who fear change in the future; but it is those with the least who have the most to fear in the present.

In the next section of Matthew 28, we read how the power brokers dealt with the threat of a Risen Christ. In typical fashion, they used money and falsehoods. The Roman guards were offered large sums of money to lie and say that thieves had come in the night and stolen Jesus’ body. This is a lesson for us today. In times of crisis we become more easily frightened and defensive, which makes us vulnerable to hoarding and believing comforting lies told by those who profit from them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown a harsh, bright light on the plight of those who are physically, socially, and economically vulnerable. Those that have been most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic read like Jesus’ list in Matthew 25. Remember Jesus’ words to his followers … “I was hungry and you did not give me bread…I was in prison and you did not visit me…” The Cofid-19 virus is hitting some much more than others – the poor (or in Jesus’ words, the hungry and thirsty and naked), the strangers (new immigrants and others “not of our tribe”) the sick (the elderly, the disabled, and those with “pre-existing conditions) and the imprisoned. We have been getting a mathematics lesson in inequality in the daily body counts from the virus. The worst outbreaks of the virus are among populations that cannot afford social distancing. Getting tested and treated is hardest for people with no health insurance, many of whom have lost their low-paying service-industry jobs. The virus has it hardest the urban poor, who can only afford to live in crowded apartments; prisoners; displaced people living in refugee camps; and the rural poor who live in areas with small hospitals that are closing due to lack of funds to pay their workers. Globally, the poorest nations cannot compete with richer nations for medical treatment and supplies. What kind of Good News is that for Easter Sunday morning?

The two Mary’s represent the Christ-followers who see opportunity for positive change in upsetting the status quo – the negative systems that entrench injustice, oppression and hoarding wealth and resources. The two Mary’s approached the tomb with no expectations of their world changing. However, the empty tomb made space for change, for a different future. God had redeemed humanity’s greatest evil into a powerful force for good. The angel tells the two Mary’s to go to Galilee, the place where nearly all of Jesus’ ministry took place. They were told Jesus was ahead of them and would meet them there. What Jesus told the two Mary’s was true and trustworthy. He did meet them. Jesus is always ahead of us. We are called to follow where he leads us and assured he will be there. The Greek word translated here as “meet” can also be translated as confront. Christ does both, he meets us and he confronts us. His presence gives us strength, but also gives us a challenge. He is there in the faces and places of need in the world. The good news for us today is that even in this terrible pandemic, God is with us, but always pushing us forward toward God’s kingdom on earth and beyond our time on the earth. When the two Mary’s meet Jesus, their response is what God has always asked of God’s people: to worship the One who is worthy to lead you.

Where were the rest of the disciples? Matthew doesn’t tell us. In John’s gospel we are told the disciples had separated and were staying beyond locked doors in fear. They were also experiencing grief and loss of their vision of the future. Their lives were never going to be the same again. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They were right, their lives never were the same again. After they encountered the Risen Christ, they faced great challenges and worked hard, but they did so with peace and renewed hope. They were assured that evil does not have the last word. Death does not have the last word. And, they had faith in Christ’s promise they would never be alone and abandoned. Even in bleak and perilous times, God would always with them.

Today we celebrate in small numbers, just like that first Easter. But it only took a small band of Christ’s followers to initiate a movement that changed the world. If we keep Christ ahead of us and stop to meet where he directs, we can be a healing presence in this time of sickness and death. The empty tomb has been opened wide to give us a future better than we can imagine. Yes, as it was for the two Mary’s it is frightening at first, but Christ defeats fear and replaces it with courage and hope.

The angel’s invitation to see inside the empty tomb was an invitation to envision the power of resurrection. We do not know what is in our future, but we are assured that our risen Savior will be there. We, and the earth we inhabit, are conduits of God’s resurrection power. In this time when death looms, signs of healing and new life are everywhere.

What happens to us after this Easter? It depends on the choices we make and the life we choose to live. We can return to business as usual when the threat of this particular virus is over or we can look ahead to where Jesus is waiting to meet us, offering new life in the kingdom of God. The resurrection means that death in any of its forms — including poverty, disease, homelessness, injustice, greed, violence, hatred – does not have to have the last word. The resurrection means that good is more powerful than evil, life will triumph over death, hope overcomes fear, and love defeats hate.

Thanks be to God. Christ has Risen! Alleluia!

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2020, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Avenue | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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