But the angel said to the women, “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. (Read the whole passage)
Two women walking down a dusty road while the sun’s first wisps of colour begin to light the nighttime sky. Two women on their way to a tomb is an image that we remember from just two weeks ago. Martha and her sister Mary met Jesus on the road to the tomb of their brother Lazarus. It was the final Sunday of Lent, the last encounter in a series of encounters where Jesus wandered into someone’s life and the experience transformed them.
It began as Jesus wandered into the wilderness and met the tempter. And then Jesus found Nicodemus in his the darkness of his questions, the samaritan woman in isolation at the well of Jacob, the blindman who washed the mud from his eyes and could then see. And it finished with Martha and Mary grieving Lazarus.
But from then on, Jesus took a turn from uncovering the fears of these lenten people, and headed toward Jerusalem. Towards Holy Week, towards the confrontation between us, sin and death. And that detour ended on a cross… with God on the cross. And we finally realized what Jesus had been up to all along, even from the moment when the angels told Mary and Joseph that he was God’s son in Mary’s womb, the cross was where Jesus was headed.
But this morning, as these two women make their journey in the twilight hours to the tomb where Jesus had been laid 3 days before, they certainly did not know any of that.
All that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary knew was that Jesus, their friend and teacher had been put to death. But not just their friend and teacher, the person in whom they had discovered hope, in whom they discovered love and grace and mercy… love and grace and mercy from God.
Love and grace and mercy that was now dead. And along with it all hope.
These two women on their way to that tomb on Easter morning are the embodiment of all those people whom we have been hearing about all of Lent. They are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, but they are also Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the blindman and Martha and Mary from Bethany. All of them in their own have been making their way to Jesus’ tomb. And Jesus has unearthed their fears while showing them a new way to live… until Good Friday. Until Good Friday and this Jesus who had promised to transform everything was put to death.
These two women on their way to the tomb go knowing that they are putting that promise, that new hope to rest. They are carrying their last ounces of hope to add to the tomb. The only thing that have to look forward to on Easter morning is the possibility of having a few more moments with Jesus, even if it is just his corpse. They want to give him the smallest dignity of a proper burial after his undignified and humiliating death.
These two women on their way to bury their hope embody us too. Because we have been making our way to this grave as well. Because we too have had our fears unearthed and new ways to live shown to us by love and grace and mercy only to have them put to death. We too live a world where the powers that be love to kill off hope. It is hard to have hope in a world where nuclear war is now easily possible, where airlines can have passengers assaulted for sitting in paid seats and wanting to go home, where domestic shootings can rock close-knit communities, where the flood waters threaten to overwhelm, where jobs are dollars to be cut and hospitals are seen as wastes of money.
We live in a world where our sin, the sin of trying to be like God, to exercise control over everything around us brings death too often. Death to the hope that we try to carry, even if for just a while.
And then as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approach the tomb, suddenly the earth shakes and angel appears like lightening from heaven. The guards shake and fall to the ground and the stone is rolled away.
And the Angels says, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,”
And when the women were supposed to be going to a grave side, supposed to be consumed by the final act of separation from one that they loved… a messenger from God interrupts and says,
“Do not be afraid”
And we know what the women do not know. That the story of Jesus began just as it appeared to end. Way back at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the very first thing that happens just as Joseph and Mary were looking at their own version of the death of all hope, the end of an engagement and the end of a future. And angel shows up and says to Joseph,
“Do not be afraid.”
And now again at what seems to be the end of story, an Angels shows up declaring the same thing.
And all those fears. The fear of Nicodemus who could only ask his questions in the safety of darkness, the fear of the samaritan woman who choose to avoid her community in shame, the fear of blindman whose community will not accept that he sees, the fear of Mary and Martha that their brother was beyond saving… the angel says to them, “Do not be afraid.”
And all of our fears. The fear of nightly news and the end of the world, the fear our humanity will be lost for the sake of corporate profits, the fear that our communities are not safe when tragedy hits too close to home, the fear that creation is far more powerful than we can handle and just might overwhelm us… the angel says to us, “Do not be afraid.”
And the ultimate of fears. The fear born in sin, that we are not enough, that we need to be more, that we need to be God in God’s place. The fear that we could not possibly be loveable, or given grace or shown mercy. The fear that we will lose control, that we cannot survive without power, that we are not safe, the fear of death… the angel says to us, to the the original sin within us,
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,”
And just in case we have not heard it the first time from the Angel who spoke to Jospeh, or the second time from the Angel who speaks to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary….
Jesus meets the women, meets all the lenten people, meets us on the road to say,
“Do not be afraid.”
And like the women we take hold of and cling to the body of the very hope we were sure we had lost. We hold in our hands the Body of the One in whom all hope and life exists. We touch the One who makes all things new.
We hold Jesus on the road from that empty tomb.
We hold Jesus here at the altar rail as the Body and Blood of Christ are given to us.
We hold Jesus and the Body of Christ makes all fear to cease because the one who was crucified has risen.
This Easter morning, the most joyous of all mornings, the risen Christ gives us his very body to hold in our hands… and in our hands we receive the mysteries of God.
Mysteries like God’s love for unloveable, God’s grace given for the condemned, God’s mercy for the unforgiven. Mystery that along with Nicodemus, the Samaritan women, the blindman and Martha and Mary, has revealed our fears.
God’s love, grace and and mercy that died on the cross.
God’s love, grace and mercy that has risen from dead.
God’s love, grace and mercy that says to us,
“Do not be afraid”
Alleluia Christ is Risen.