+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
On Friday evening, when Jesus had breathed his last, it must have felt as though the world was coming to an end. I’m not just talking about the disciples’ world, though they probably felt like everything was crashing down around them. No, I mean the entire world, the world of earth and sky and sea. The way Matthew tells it, when Jesus gave up his spirit, the very ground shook and rocks split apart, as though earth itself was caught up in heaving sighs at the death of God’s anointed. I imagine that as they made their way to the place of Jesus’ burial on that sorrowful night, the two Marys were still feeling unsteady, their balance thrown off by the crushing blow they had just received.
Obviously, the world had not ended, and as the sun rose on Saturday, it must have seemed to shine more dimly; the light that gives light to everyone was trapped under soil and stone, and the world was a darker place to live. Most of us can only imagine what that day must have felt like, the day after the day that changed everything, the day after the day their hopes and dreams had been snuffed out like a candle.
Then, somehow, it was the first day of the week again, and the women dutifully made their way to the tomb once again, hoping against hope that the events of that terrible day had been just a nightmare. But as they approached the grave and saw the huge stone lying against the entrance, their worst fears were confirmed. He really was gone, and the world might as well have ended on Friday after all.
Suddenly, the earth shook again, but this time it was different. This time the ground swelled as though it was bursting at the seams, as though what had been trapped beneath it could no longer be contained. There also appeared a dazzling light, and with it a messenger of the Lord bringing news that was almost too good to be believed. Before they knew it, the stone was rolled away, the messenger was seated on it, and the soldiers who had been dispatched to guard the Lord’s body looked like dead men themselves! Don’t be afraid, the messenger said, I know that it is Jesus, the one who has been crucified, whom you are seeking. He is no longer here, for he was raised just as he said he would be. Come now! See the place where he was laid! (Matthew 28:5-6) The women crept toward the opening in the rock, and – in what is surely a rarity in our world – rejoiced to see absolutely nothing there. The messenger wasn’t done, though. He had further instructions for them: Go and tell his disciples that he was raised up from the dead. Now pay attention! He is going ahead of you into Galilee, and you’ll see him there. Remember what I told you!”
If the earthquake on Friday afternoon had perfectly mirrored the shattering of the disciples’ reality, then the one on Sunday morning signaled the dismantling of everyone else’s reality. In raising Christ from the dead, God shook up our world and put an end to life – and death – as we know them. The women who had stuck with Jesus until the end became the first to encounter him in his glory. The disciples who had abandoned Jesus in his time of need were called together to enjoy his presence once again. Because of what God has done in Christ, failure is no longer final. Because of what God has done in Christ, death no longer has the last word. Because of what God has done in Christ, we have the promise that God accompanies us through our darkest days, our deepest struggles, even through death and hell, and has the power to bring light and peace and life to our lives and our world.
This word of promise is just as important today as it was to those who first heard it. We continue to live in a world marked by sin and veiled by death. With the whole earth we groan as we await the fulfillment of God’s will for us, and the coming of God’s kingdom. And so, on this Easter Sunday, we are called to heed the words of the messenger of God: Remember what I told you! Remember that Jesus is risen, and that this world will never again be the same. Remember that Jesus goes ahead of us, and that he promises to be present with us always and everywhere. Remember the good news: Christ is risen, and in him we shall also rise. Thanks be to God, alleluia, and amen!