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. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ -Matthew 28: 5-7
There was a fair amount of angst in my circles, this week. Something about having to preach a sermon to a larger crowd than usual had a lot of clergy more anxious about Sunday morning than they might usually have been. The sermon this week had to be spectacular – something that would really speak to those whom we don’t see every week, something that would get them through until Christmas. This week’s message had to be a homerun… and that’s enough to make anyone nervous.
But really? We all know that’s silly. No matter who is sitting in front of us, there’s only one sermon we should ever preach, and we should preach it all year. For if we preachers are doing our jobs well, then we’ll simply say this, every Sunday, in different iterations: death has lost its power, and love prevails.
It’s the simplest sermon ever, and the most complicated. Because the questions that this statement brings up are both simple and complicated; these questions of life and death that speak to us from the empty tomb. And because, as it was noted at a recent church gathering, the whole idea of resurrection is huge and kind of scary… perhaps because death and life are also huge and kind of scary, so the eventual reversal of them becomes overwhelming to us.
Because the resurrection is more than “Jesus died so we get a ‘Get out of Death Free’ card”. If that were the case, our lives would have no meaning – we could be as crazy as we want, as selfish and hurtful as we want, for there would be no finality, no consequences. Yet that is not how we are expected to live, even now. We are still called to follow, to live as disciples. We are called to be people of the resurrection, people who live in the promises of new life, here and now. We are called to leave the graves we have constructed for ourselves, to roll the stones away and step into the light.
We are called to leave the grave of power, and of privilege, and of comfort, where we, like Romans, believe in power of force to change the world; were we, like religious authorities who manipulated the crucifixion into being, grant ourselves power to rule over others, and judge their actions. To leave the closed-in space from which we can believe that we are better than those whom we might encounter: that we are right and they are wrong, without having to understand anyone else’s point of view.
We are called to leave grave of economic status, and to abandon both our love of money and the concurrent fear of never having enough: the let’s-leave-enough-aside-just-in-case attitude that keeps us not only from frivolity, but from doing the good that we might otherwise do. We are called to abandon the reduction of everything to economic value; to be the ones who would not only allow, but welcome the anointing of Jesus, rather than resenting (as Judas did) the waste of costly ointment and the pouring out of a possible source of revenue. Let us not be like Judas, who could measure even human life in monetary terms; let us not be those who are blind to less tangible returns on our investment: returns like equity, justice, opportunity, or life.
We are called to leave grave of anger and resentment; that place where we trap ourselves in an us-vs-them mindset, and where we perceive difference as akin to attack; where it is unthinkable to break bread with those whose fear might lead them to hurt us. Rather, can we be people of the open table, willing to incorporate Christ? Can we be people who set aside anger; who can be gracious when attempts to understand and be supportive, are exhausting? and when those whom we have asked to watch, and to pray with us, fall asleep instead? Can we, in the light of a new day, choose forgiveness of betrayal over resentment, and welcome those who abandoned us?
We are called to leave grave of fear; to set aside the fear of what others might say or think; of what might happen to us. To abandon fears that keep us from speaking up, from doing what is right; the fears that keep us feeling alone, and that make us deny our best selves – that make us say, with Peter, “I don’t know him!” Can we let go of the fears that keep us silent in the face of suffering and despair: distant from one another and from God? We are called to abandon even the fears of our own suffering, for some discomfort on our part – refusing the pleasures of power and status, choosing to set aside fear and anger, being willing to dwell in the unknown, uncertain spaces outside our comfort zone – may have us praying “let this cup be taken”, indeed, but might bring us to the new understandings that permit the rest of that prayer: “not my will, but thine be done”. We are called to uncurl ourselves from the confinement of fear, in order to open doors to new light; to roll away stones to new life.
Can we abandon these graves for the love and grace that we are offered this day? The love that can walk us through the valley of the shadow of death, but by which we cannot be held there? The love that no power, no money, no anger, no fear can kill? The love – grace and forgiveness – that mark us as disciples and invite us out of the graves we are so adept at digging, and into new life? Can we accept the love that reanimates us, reinvigorates us, so that we may follow anew the one who is love incarnate, into the resurrection that may seem huge and scary and overwhelming, but that is ours to choose?
Can we accept the forgiveness offered this morning: forgiveness of all that kept us back, during the bleak times of despair? Can we accept the grace that invites us out of ourselves, into relationship with one another and with God?
For the tomb is broken open: death has lost its power over us and love prevails!
Christ is Risen! do not look for him in places of death: in those small, human graves we frequent.
Christ is Risen! and we by grace are called to share in the new life of the resurrection.
Christ is Risen! may we follow where he leads us: out of the death we would so often choose, and into the grace of new life.