Let’s pause for a moment – before we get to earthquakes and the angel and, yes, even the very-much-alive-Jesus, and consider Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.
I want to give them some attention, in part, because they are the characters in this Gospel story that are relatable. I can’t imagine too readily the heavenly being in dazzling white. I don’t know how to picture the Risen Christ. But I know the Marys. I know the faithful men and women who are inevitably around before the crack of dawn or available in the dead of night, no matter how dire the circumstances. I know the ones who perform like clockwork the rituals surrounding death even when they are deeply grieving the one for whom those rituals are performed.
They are the ones who cook the meals and make the fellowship hall look lovely for the reception that follows the service. They are the ones who usher the family into the parlor as they gather at the church, making sure boxes of tissues are strategically placed and bottled water is available. They are the ones who sit by the bedside, visit in the hospital, place phone calls, write notes and pray without ceasing. I know Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, don’t you?
What is it about them that keeps them showing up, even in the most heartbreaking of seasons, even when their own hearts are broken? Like the Marys in this Matthew text, it is surely this: They love Jesus. They love Jesus and their love for him compels them to face death head-on, even when most of the rest of us are so consumed with hopelessness that we can’t get up as the day dawns. We simply can’t face what the light of the morning reveals, so we don’t go to the tomb or the hospital, the refugee camp or the prison. But the Marys do – even though their hearts are broken at the magnitude of the suffering and loss they’ve witnessed.
Jesus is dead and buried. They saw him on the cross. Matthew tells us, “Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” They knew where he was buried. Matthew tells us, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” They keep showing up, despite the pain and loss, because they love Jesus.
On this Easter of 2017, remembering the Marys and their relentless showing up for the love of Jesus is no small thing. I can’t relate too much to angels and earthquakes – or even, at times, to the Risen Jesus – but I know many, many Marys and I can relate to them. On good days, I may even be able to emulate them and show up in those graveyards of despair, if only for the love of Jesus. That, it would seem, is the first step to encountering our Risen Lord.
Odd isn’t it? How those places we least want to go are often the ones where we encounter not only heavenly beings, but our Risen Lord? Odd isn’t it? That it is often in places of pain where Jesus undeniably meets us? Maybe even when we visit the prisoner, give food to the hungry, clothe the naked… sounds familiar, no?
I appreciate Matthew’s version of the resurrection for including the Marys, ordinary people of faith who love Jesus, and for also having a showy angel who seems to throw down an earthquake in order to roll away the stone. Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory in this account. Even stones can’t help but obey the God of all creation. But really, the angel and the earthquake are a warm-up act to the Risen Christ who meets the Marys on the road to Galilee. The timing of this is important. The Marys have already believed and obeyed. They took the angel’s message to heart and are on their way in joy and fear to tell the disciples, and suddenly Jesus meets them. Maybe there is an Easter Word in that, too. Sometimes it is in acting out of the hope of the resurrection, before we’ve even seen the Risen Christ, that our Lord suddenly meets us.
Do not be afraid. For the love of Jesus, keep showing up, even in grief, even in places of pervasive pain. Act out of the hope of resurrection and, lo and behold, all of sudden the Risen Christ Jesus will meet you, confirming that death doesn’t have the last word, life does. In the truth of that promise we keep showing up before dawn, in the middle of the night, and even when everyone else has given up.
Could that be our Easter message this year? Because of the resurrection we live bravely, persistently – and, many would say, foolishly – out of love for and loyalty to Jesus, going to Galilee because he told us he would meet us there.
As Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church often admonishes his flock: “Go to Galilee.” He asks, “Where is your Galilee?” He says:
Which is a way of talking about the world.
In the streets of the city.
In our rural communities.
Galilee in our hospitals.
Galilee in our office places.
Galilee where God’s children live and dwell there.
In Galilee you will meet the living Christ for He has already gone ahead of you.
I think we sometimes want a more complicated Easter message than that. The angel in dazzling white, the earth shaking, the stone rolling away – all of that is appealing in its other-worldly extraordinariness. When we don’t have that kind of epiphany we can feign ignorance of God’s will and calling on our life. But the most amazing part of this story is the Risen Christ, the one through whom death and sin has been vanquished, and his message is the same as that of the angel: “Go to Galilee.” It is pretty straightforward. Will we be like the Marys and heed it? Will we show up in the painful, chaotic, all-too-earthly Galilee for the love of Jesus and in the hope of the resurrection? Fear not. Our Risen, life-filled, life-giving, Lord will meet us there.
- Do a word study of “stone” and “rock” and see what you discover. Where else do you see these words in Scripture and what do they represent?
- Read all of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Note similarities and differences. What do the differences highlight? What is consistent?
- Where is your Galilee? What are you called to do there?
- Note that the Marys leave in “fear and joy.” Have you ever experienced that combination of emotions? When and why?
- Select several Easter hymns to use as your daily prayers this week. How do they impact your understanding of the resurrection?
- Use “Do not be afraid” as a breath prayer this week.
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