After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb.
Friends, we have been traveling through a strange and disorienting Lenten season. And on this day when we celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness that our congregations cannot meet together in person to share that joy with one another, to sing, to read the scriptures, to break bread and pour wine.
I’ve been unable to set aside that sense of loss as I’ve thought about Easter this year, knowing we would be celebrating it in our homes, many of us alone. There are so many layers of grief we are all experiencing in these times, and it will take time for us to process all of it. We cannot rush this.
But as I turned again to our gospel reading, I began to see the scene of that first Easter differently.
Of course Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were feeling loss too. Grief is very much a part of the Easter story as they mourned the death of their friend, teacher and prophet, the man they called Lord.
But there’s another absence in the first sentence Matthew’s account of the resurrection (28.1-10) which I had never noticed before: the absence of community. Who was there that first Easter? Not crowds. Not pray-ers. Not the male disciples. Only two women … (and also some soldiers who were patrolling the area to ensure there was no unlawful coming and going — that resonates strongly here where there is a heightened police and military presence enforcing restrictions on movement.)
And those two women came just wanting to see the tomb. Matthew doesn’t tell us they were carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ body, he leaves that detail to Mark and Luke. They’re just there. We don’t know what they were expecting to do, what they were expecting to see, how they expected to feel when they arrived. What’s most important for Matthew is that they show up, that they come at all.
So they’re there. And there’s an earthquake and an angel and an empty tomb. And those two women, on their own, separated from their community, thus become witnesses to the most wondrous and profound event of our faith.
On most Easters, our services are marked by triumphant exuberant joy. But these are anxious, uncertain times. And some people will be struggling to feel joyful this morning. Others may feel it, but it will be tempered by the pain around us. Maybe we think our joy is inappropriate when there’s so much suffering in the world. Maybe we feel a mix of emotions. Or we just don’t know how we feel.
But on that first Easter, after the angel had told the women Jesus has been raised from the dead and they are to proclaim this news to the rest of the disciples, what was their response? Joy, sure … but also fear. Joy, no doubt, at the news their Lord was risen and would be amongst them once more … but fear, perhaps, of what the implications of that might be in a world which still felt very uncertain.
And it’s there, in the midst of their joy and fear, Jesus met them, greeted them, repeated the words of the angel: Do not be afraid.
We know that there is still pain and suffering and death in our world this side of the resurrection. So when Jesus says, Do not be afraid, he isn’t promising that bad things won’t happen. He isn’t telling us that nothing can go wrong. He isn’t assuring us that everything will turn out for the best.
What he is saying, is that whatever we are feeling, he meets us in the midst of it. Whatever we face, we do not face alone. Whatever happens, nothing is stronger than God’s love. God’s love gets the final word. God’s love will triumph. Do not be afraid, he says.
With these words, Jesus sent the women to go share the good news with his disciples, to report what they have seen, and to tell them he will meet them in Galilee.
Of course the Galilee is where Jesus lived and walked and ministered. Where he healed the sick and calmed the storm and preached from the mountain. The Galilee is where he told stories and shared food and proclaimed forgiveness. It is where his followers caught glimpses of the kingdom he promised was near.
And the Galilee is where he and the disciples first met; it was the starting point for their journey together. Because the Galilee was the place his disciples called home.
What Jesus is saying to the women is: Go tell my brothers to go home. There I will meet them.
Friends, this Easter looks very different from Easters we have experienced before. We’re all still trying to get our bearings.
So perhaps this is just the reminder of the good news we need, that to bear witness to the resurrected Christ, all that is required is that we show up … carrying whatever we are carrying, expecting whatever we are expecting, feeling whatever we are feeling. In our joy. In our fear. In the garden. In our homes. Our Lord comes to meet us there.
Christ is risen. Alleluia!