Word of the Week

The Interruption That Changed Everything

Easter 2011 a sermon preached at Washington Plaza Baptist Church, Reston, VA from Matthew 28:1-10

Stories that conclude without happy ending drive me completely nuts. I’d almost rather not hear the story if I don’t know everything is going to work out ok in the end. Sound familiar to anyone?

This is especially the case when I go movies. When the plot line finishes unresolved, with couples who don’t kiss and make up, or the final scene being a summary of this is how life stinks when we are alone, I feel like my hard-earned 10, 11 or even now 12 dollars (growing all the time these days) is wasted.  For, I didn’t need to pay money to be reminded of unfair life can be. And, I’ll leave the theater in a bad mood. (Kevin knows this is so true).

Such sentiments of gloom would be perfectly understandable too in the case of where we left our gospel story when we last read together on Friday.

After a humiliating trial and unrelenting crowds shouting, “Crucify Him” and six hours on a cross facing a cruel Roman execution, Jesus dies. No happy ending. The beloved teacher, friend, and one said to be called, “The King of the Jews” on whom many hopes of the coming of the kingdom of God were placed, dies.  So much promise, carrying on his shoulders so many hopes, yet he dies. It was the original unhappy ending.

Just as Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” the followers of Jesus must have felt pretty abandoned too at this point. All the good talk Jesus had engaged in about “the kingdom of heaven is near” and “Trust God, trust also in me” seemed like a bunch of bologna as Jesus breathed his last and word got out in the community that had trusted him heard Jesus was dead.  Anger and bad moods too were probably shared all around too.

How foolish the disciples and the women must have felt! They’d given up everything to follow Jesus and he was dead.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you know that one of the first things that we do immediately following is not always full-out “cry a river of tears” posture.

While there are tears, yes, there’s a lot of quickly trying to jump to what is next.

There are funeral arrangements to be made, family to inform, decisions about what to do with the body trying to unsure that the deceased has a proper burial.

The natural human instinct, for many, is a desire to move on and move on quickly. You begin imagining life without this person. You might even find yourself supposedly comforted by others of by the notion of “Ok, now, that he or she is dead, let’s just get on with our lives.” You begin to change the focus of your gaze from hope for your life together with the loved one to how you can get over this wrenching pain as quickly as possible.

I can imagine that the women, the two Marys, that Matthew speaks of at the tomb of Jesus, that early morning, were seeking to move on with their lives too.

Though the past day and a half had probably seemed like the most emotional, longest time of their lives, they were seeking to close the loop on their friendship to Jesus by morning.  It was why they got up so early.

I think “drama” is the last thing that they were looking for or even expecting. They believed and hoped that everything was in good order—they were just going to make sure. Therefore, all that the scene needed was a powerful melodic closing song and it could win the Oscar for the saddest story ever told.

Yet, like any good plot, when all seemed lost and bleak, the interruption entered the scene and changed everything.

For, it would not be the unhappy ending they were living and preparing to keep on living. What would come next would be the disruption that changed everything!

As Matthew tells the story, as soon as Mary and Mary found themselves in the place where Jesus’ body had been laid, all of nature erupted in an earthquake.

We’ve all done a lot of thinking about earthquakes recently, sending our hearts out to our friends in Japan, so we know how shocking and overwhelming such an occurrence can be. The ground that you trust so much to lift you up and keep you safe is taken from beneath you. But this was not all.

Verse two goes on to tell us more about this interruption.

As the earth itself opened up, simultaneously, a messenger appeared an angel of the Lord from the heavens. Matthew gives us some good metaphors to deal with here because he writes that this angel was “like lightening” with “his clothes white as snow.”

It was a sight to behold.

An interruption to normal in more ways than one and not only just for the women: scripture tells us that the guards who had been sent to guard the tomb were greatly shaken and fell to the ground like dead men.

This was now the Lord’s day and the women were about to not only to see something of earth shattering proportions, literally, but there were going to get a word about it too.Look with me at the interruption from the angel after the stone to the tomb has been rolled away in verse five:

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has been raised from the dead.”

“What?? Are you kidding, me?” would have been the reaction most of us would have had that day if the angel spoke the following to us. Sure, the earthquake and the divine light show were cool and all, but Jesus is alive? If we believed this, nothing was going to be the same. Nothing!

You see, for Jesus to be alive, to not be bound to the tomb, as he had predicted to his followers on countless occasions meant something huge—God could be trusted.  Yes, indeed God could be trusted.

From now on, when religious leaders and government officials ruled with an iron fist and fraudulent practices, such was not the end of the story.

What they saw in front of their eyes in moments of deep loss, soul crippling pain, and heaps of sorrow was not the end of the story.

When they felt abandoned, forsaken and as if the whole world was against them, such was not the end of the story either.

And, the icing on the cake that morning came as the women were beginning the four-day journey, all 63 miles of it, from Jerusalem to Galilee. Because, I feel, they had eyes ready to behold the disruption—after accepting the word of the angel—Jesus appears to them on this road and they see him! He greets them, allowing the women to touch his feet (to know for sure that he was real) and said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

You and I would not be sitting here today, hearing this ancient story once again, if this disruption of major proportions was not received into the lives of the Marys and then later the other disciples.

For while the story of resurrection was Jesus completing the work of love he came to do, it had a dependant human element to it: resurrection would mean nothing, absolutely nothing if those who experienced it did not share it.

In Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Last Week, they write, “Easter is about God even it is about Jesus.  Easter discloses the character of God. Easter means God’s Great Cleanup of the world has begun—but it will not happen without us.”

The interruption—the transformation, the new life-giving opportunity that the resurrection on Easter morn would give all of humanity—would be not one at all, if the women and then all who came after them at the empty tomb, and generations and generations that followed those first eyewitnesses had not allowed the disruption to sink into their beings and become a part of who they were.

Resurrection was more than a proclamation on that Sunday.

For the women at the tomb that morn, resurrection was the interruption that gave them purpose beyond being the traveling companions of this great teacher. They were charged to bear witness to this divine truth: God could be trusted to see the darkest night of our lives through.

Because in the end, this was all they were asked to do—not give theological accounts as to the science of the resurrection, not to be able to connect every dot of this point in the faith story to that one, not even to convince those whom they told with persuasive and passionate arguments so that they would believe too, they were just to live into the disruption by announcing it not only with words, but in presence too.

So, this morning I want you to practice. Those of you who were at the early morning service will remember this litany written by Sharlande Sledge. And, this is your part: we are resurrection people with Easter in our hearts. Say it with me.

When others dismiss your story as an idle tale, who will you be?

We are Resurrection people with Easter in our hearts

When the world seems to be crumbling around you, remember who you are:

We are Resurrection people with Easter in our hearts

When despair would seem to squelch all hope, believe in who you have become:

We are Resurrection people with Easter in our hearts

When it is hard to persevere against all odds, trust in God who names you:

We are Resurrection people with Easter in our hearts

As we follow Christ into the world, may God help us remember who we are . . .

We are Resurrection people with Easter in our hearts

So today, I say again, covering you my beloved, with the hope of this very good day—that whatever place of life you find yourself in this morning that in Christ, that even in the most difficult circumstances of our lives and in death too, we are people of the resurrection. Thanks be to God.

Let us proclaim: Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed.