Shake, Rattle and Roll

Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 Matthew 28:1-10

The sermon isn’t so long that we needed 3 video spots to capture it. There were some technical difficulties is all. The quick-thinking video folks switched to a different device.  Nice.

I was sitting across from other camp directors on the campus of a Lutheran college in Issaquah, Washington. We were having lunch when it sounded like a semi was barreling toward the building. Or maybe it sounded like the building was heaving. It all happened so fast. The woman sitting across the table from me was from California and she, in a very matter of fact way said, “it’s an earthquake! Get under the table.” So before I knew what was happening, I was underneath a table trying to take it all in: the noise, the movement, the impossible movement of the building, my sudden interest in the genetic makeup of the table – would it do anything to save me should the ceiling collapse and the building come down?

And suddenly, just as soon as it had begun it was over. The room was hushed in shocked silence as we all crept out from under tables and chairs, counters and doorways, blinking wide-eyed at each other. It was suggested we evacuate the building and we all herded outside, each of us suddenly becoming building inspectors, eyeing pillars and door frames, ceiling tile and window wells. I don’t know when it was that I remembered that my sister, Andrea, worked in one of the tallest building in Seattle on the 70th floor, fear gripping my heart as I wondered if her building still stood.

No doubt about it – I was afraid. Whatever we were meeting about that day, my concentration was shot. I don’t remember a thing and am sure I contributed very little to whatever content was on the agenda. Perhaps it would have helped had an angel whose appearance was like lightening had led the meeting. Cuz that angel got the women’s attention, announcing their friend was alive.

The women experience an earthquake today as they approach the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid. I imagine them falling to the ground, shrieking out in fear. Did they feel the rippling of the ground beneath them? Did any gaping holes appear? No sooner had they been shook to the ground then that angel appeared. Think of when you see lightening far off and how cool it is, how it lights up the sky. And then think about lightening when you’re in close proximity to it, when it strikes nearby. Your eyes can scarcely take it in for its awesome power, for how bright it is. You close your eyes and tense up you body as it strikes, you can hear it fly through the air, the sizzle and pop, the ear-shattering clash of thunder and lightening. Boom! Then the angel rolls the stone away from the tomb and takes a seat on the stone and begins to talk to the women. And he kind of goes on and on and on.

When angels appear in scripture they most often lead with these words: do not be afraid. Don’t be afraid. They must get special instructions to say that because of the entrance they make, because of how they look. Can’t you just hear it? “Now, you’re gonna freak everyone out. So give them a second to adjust – move the stone away and take a seat, then catch your breath – let the women get to their feet and then tell them ‘don’t be afraid.’ Any time an angel appears in scripture and leads with “don’t be afraid” it’s a sign that Good News is to follow.

If you know this story, the story of Easter morning, I think sometimes the dramatic nature of the morning is lost on us. This telling in Matthew is just filled with drama. And most of the time, when I read it, I forget to be afraid. Or I skim it to see which version of the story it is in that way that leaves the story flat, almost meaningless.

And then I realize that this story has become meaningless to so many. Because it’s not logical, it doesn’t make sense, reads like pure fiction, or, my favorite critique, is an irrelevant story of an irrelevant institution called church. Of course they’re all right. There is an element of truth in each one of those things. The church can be quite good at creating its own earthquakes and never letting the angels get a word in edgewise. We can be known for who we hate and who we exclude instead of who it is we love.

When we get it wrong, when the church forgets why it exists, then it is like this story doesn’t matter. Suddenly it becomes easier to embrace Easter bunnies that lay eggs.

But if the church truly lives into why it is supposed to exist – to love God and to love people,– then this story matters. It matters The Most. Because it’s hard enough to love people as it is. If you love God first, then you’ve got a shot at loving people.

You see, the women today, the faithful friends of Jesus who stuck around at the foot of the cross, they are the ones who go to the tomb that morning. They are the ones who go to face death. To be in the same room with it. To touch it. To acknowledge it. They went to see their friend who was now dead – had experienced a horrible death. They would see his ravaged body. They would smell death. That’s what the church is for, folks. That’s what Christians are for. To approach the dead places and to find life there. And then to act like death doesn’t win but that life does.

We experience earthquakes in our lives that shake everything apart. And it certainly feels and looks like death is winning. Divorce. Cancer. Betrayal. Bankruptcy. Lies to ourselves. Settling for less. All earthquakes, all deaths.

You see this mess on the wall? All through the season of Lent, during confession and prayer time, we ripped out pages from magazines. Pictures and words that repulsed us. Ideas and categories of people that disgust us. All things and people and situations we were certain would not be welcome in a place of worship, would not, could not be forgiven by God. Just look at what God does with it…

After mural is assembled.

“Come and see,” said the angel. “Go and tell,” said the angel. You won’t believe your eyes.

This is the good news of Jesus Christ. This is what resurrection looks like. It is about the future. It is new life. It is a second and third and 184th chance. It is new life where you swore it was only death, dead ends, story over.

All those terrible things we ripped out of magazines? All those things we swear God would not love? They are transformed. They are utterly unrecognizable at Christ’s table. And they literally form Christ’s table. This is how death does not win, folks. Because when something dies, something new is born. God sent Jesus to transform our lies, our egos, our cancer, our betrayal into love that never fails.

“Death and resurrection is our heart beat,” a wise pastor once said to me, “it is the rhythm of our lives.” I’m no angel, but I’m here to tell you: that’s the best news you’ll ever here. So don’t be afraid. This isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning.