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Easter, April 20, 2014

I hate it when I lose my keys. There is one particular place they belong, in the large front pocket of my purse along with my wallet. Every night I make sure they are there so I do not have to look for them in the morning. One evening last week, I went to pick them up and found they were not where they were supposed to be. I looked everywhere. I went through my purse; I checked my pockets; I looked on the pieces of furniture I have been known to put them on, but still nothing. I could not dial them up like I can when I lose the phone, so I just had to keep looking. Finally I went in the bedroom, where I sometimes lay them on the dresser. They were not there, but I saw a gleam from the bed. And there were the keys. I remembered I had stopped to put something on the bed when I came in, and I must have left them there by mistake. What was lost was found, and I was happy.

The two women come to the tomb just as daylight is breaking. They are in darkness literally and because of their extreme sadness, they are in darkness figuratively. They were at the cross when Jesus was crucified. They sat and watched his body being put in the tomb. And now they are back to see the tomb, to continue to mourn as is their custom, to help things get back to normal. But normal is not the word for the day. The words for the day are earth-shattering, amazing, new and wonderful.

As the women approach the tomb, the earth is shaken by a mighty quake, like the one they experienced at the crucifixion. Then, as the dawn is breaking, an angel shows up, blinding in its appearance, looking like lightning, with clothes as white as snow. It rolls back the stone that blocks the entrance to the tomb and takes a seat on it, as if to say, “Look what God has done!”. The guards shake and become like dead men, but the women are made of stronger spiritual stuff and they watch the angel, though not without fear and trembling.

The angel begins speaking to them, using the typical angelic calling card, “Do not be afraid.” Now, how would you feel if you were those women? Would you feel reassured after all that had happened? Do those words mean anything to you anymore, or was the last time you were really reassured by them when your parents held you and told you nothing bad was going to happen? If I were one of the women I would probably still be afraid.

But the sound and light show is necessary for Matthew to make his point. I know you came because you want to be near Jesus, but he is not here. He has been raised by God, as he said he would be. This is the whole point of Matthew’s story and he surrounds it with special effects to highlight it, just as he used earthquakes and apparitions to highlight God’s agency in the crucifixion, and just as he used all those angel appearances to highlight the overwhelming importance of the incarnation. God has done something wonderful and new, something that will not just have an impact on them, but on the whole world. It is not like my keys, which I lost and I found and put back. There is no human action here; this story is about God and what God can do. God has raised Jesus from the tomb and defeated sin and death. Jesus will not go back to the tomb ever again. The world will never return to the normal the women were expecting.

The next question is obvious. If Jesus is not in the tomb, then where is he? According to the angel he is on his way to Galilee. Before he died he had said he would gather up the sheep – the lost and afraid disciples – in Galilee, and that is what he will do. Matthew is trying to connect the Jesus they knew with this new being they can only imagine by connecting present realities to previous declarations. The angel invites the women to come and see the evidence of an empty tomb, but then hurries them off to tell the disciples, so they can get themselves to Galilee to meet Jesus. The women’s fear still has not worn off, but it is slowly being replaced by joy, so they run to do as they are told.

But there is another surprise in store for them. On the road, they run smack into Jesus. Unlike some stories in the other gospels, they recognize him easily as he greets them. The Greek word translated “Greetings” has elements of rejoicing in it, and that is exactly what they are doing. They take hold of his feet and worship him. Matthew wants to make sure that people know that Jesus is not a disembodied spirit but still a person with a body, albeit a resurrected one. This fact means that God cares about our humanity, about our physical bodies, and at the resurrection we will have some kind of bodies too. Jesus gives the same reassurance as the angel did about not being afraid and repeats the same commission. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and I will see them there. By calling them his brothers, he is saying that he will be there to forgive.

It is important that Jesus is going to meet the disciples in Galilee. It is their old stomping grounds. It is where he called those disciples and where most of his ministry was carried out. It is a familiar place, at a time when their world is shaken to its very core. It is the scene of their daily lives, where God often appears. But it is not a place they will stay. Jesus is drawing them there to send them out into the world in mission to spread the good news of his resurrection and the promise of new life it brings to all who believe.

In some sermons, it is the comments about the passage that is read that are the important parts, but today, the story itself is the heart and soul of the gospel. Jesus has been raised from the dead as he had promised he would be, and he is going to Galilee as he said to reunite with his disciples and show them how to continue the story.

This morning, as we sit among the flowers and sing songs about the resurrection, think about where you are in this morning’s gospel. Are you still at the tomb? Are you mourning a faith you have lost and are not sure how to bring back? Are there areas of your life where Jesus is dead and buried, where you cannot let him in or will not let him in or do not know how to let him in? Are you someone that is being shaken by cataclysmic events in your life? Have you had a loved one die or lost your job or found out your spouse is having an affair? Are you desperately wanting normal and yet knowing that normal is never going to be the same again. Are you running off to do God’s bidding somewhere? Is there a new social justice cause you have taken up? Have you told someone about Jesus and how important he is to you? Have you just been surprised by Jesus on the way somewhere. Have you been guided into some new endeavor or reassured that no matter what happens, Jesus will be with you?

When I ask myself these questions, I find that I am a mixture of all these feelings and any and all of them are OK. We are not to be afraid to feel what we feel about God. What matters is how God feels about us. Raising Jesus from the dead tells us that God loves us so much that God has defeated sin and death on our behalf. God has given us the possibility of new life now and of resurrection at the last day.

Jesus is not in the tomb anymore. He is on his way to Galilee to call us to ministry and mission. He is calling us together to live in community and to love one another. He promises to be with us always. Jesus has been raised from the dead. God is victorious over sin and death, and our new life as Christ’s disciples has begun. Let us rejoice. Alleluia.


     - The Rev. Ann Barker