Shaking the Foundations
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
April 9, 2023
Main Idea – Jesus brings us life.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
On that Easter Sunday morning long ago, Matthew tells us that there were two groups of people at the tomb. Standing guard were men hired by the religious authorities so that there was no chance that the disciples could come and steal the body. And then there were the two Marys; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who were drawn to the tomb by love and hope. We don’t know what might have been said between these two groups. Probably the guard held the women in little to no account. The women probably planned to tell the guards that they didn’t want any trouble, they just wanted to pray for a bit.
But SUDDENLY, the ground shifts beneath their feet; their world is literally rocked by an earthquake as they all, the women and the guards, watch an angel of the Lord descend from heaven, roll back the massive stone from the tomb, and then sit down upon it, as if drawing up a chair. Let’s think about the angel’s appearance which was like lightning; bright, flashing, dangerous, scary. The big, strong guards are overwhelmed; they shake as if the earthquake continued on in their own bodies, and they fall down as if dead. The angel does not speak to them, rather, he speaks sweetly to the two women. “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, for he has been raised, as he said he would be! Go and tell the disciples; for Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee and there you will see him.”
The women follow the angel’s instructions. They too, are overwhelmed but they don’t let that stop them. They quickly head out with “fear and great joy” and SUDDENLY, Jesus is with them! On the road! “Greetings!” he says. “Hello!” This is the greatest and most wonderful surprise. The women fall down before him, collapsing, not in fear, but in joy and relief. They hold and kiss his feet. And Jesus affirms the angel’s message. “Do not be afraid; go and tell the others to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”.
On that Easter morning, long ago, the world was changed; reality shifted, the foundations of life were shook up and realigned. Our story shows us two responses to this creation changing.
The guards’ response shows us that those who depend on their own power are no match to the power of God. Their courage is a selfish, shallow, and fickle sort. Theologian John Petty writes, “Jesus, leader of the powerless, killed by the powerful, comes to life, and the powerful collapse.” (John Petty, progressiveinvolvement.com). In this story of new life, the guards fall down and become “like dead men”. Later, when they tell the religious authorities what had happened, they are paid off to lie about it. They had been hired to protect the tomb from fraudulent behavior and instead they become the fraud themselves. They don’t care, they are just glad the job is over! Their only interest is for themselves. Frankly, perhaps the angel doesn’t speak to them because they ought to be afraid!
The women’s response to the angel shows us that those who love the Lord are empowered by God to face life with hope and courage. The women had come to the tomb with love and expectation. They had listened to Jesus when he said that the Son of Man must die but would be raised on the 3rd day. They had stayed with Jesus throughout the crucifixion and had seen his body placed in the tomb. They came back to the tomb on the 3rd day with hope. When the angel appeared, of course they were startled and afraid. But their courage allowed them to listen to the angel and to do exactly as he instructed. It was when they were following the angel’s instructions with fear and joy that Jesus appeared with them. As they embraced the new reality of resurrection life, Christ became present with them; comforting them, encouraging them, and guiding them.
We don’t experience earthquakes much here in Vermont but we all have experienced the foundations of our lives shaking and shifting beneath our feet. Perhaps it happened in a doctor’s office when we heard bad news, or good news that was not expected. Perhaps it was the moment when we welcomed a new child into our family or when we learned of a loved one’s death. All of us experienced the foundations of our lives shaking during the early and long days of the pandemic. These experiences shake us to the core and reorient everything we know about the world. They upend our assumptions and our priorities.
When our foundations are shaken we have a choice; to fall over like those guards at the tomb; to curl up and give up, or to listen and act like the two Marys. Christ’s resurrection reveals that God’s love shakes us up but is itself unshakable. The strongest powers of evil, selfishness, domination, and death are no match for Christ. In a world where life can change in an instant, God’s love is our foundation; a constant source of hope, and courage, and joy.
This means that Christ’s resurrection is not only what happened that Sunday long ago. Christ’s resurrection reflects the ongoing work of God creating life out of nothingness, bringing hope out of fear, establishing peace and justice out of chaos, and providing possibility out of what seems impossible. From that day long ago to today and out into the future, the power of Christ’s resurrection infuses our world if we would but recognize it.
Christ’s resurrection empowers us to face life with courage and joy. Like the two Marys, we can approach anything with hope, knowing that Christ will be present with us. Grief and hard circumstances will still arise but we can endure, knowing that love and life are stronger than evil and death.
In those moments of our lives, when our foundations are shaken we can hold on to the love of God made known to us through Jesus our Christ. When we hear bad news at the Doctor’s office, we know that God is with us giving support and comfort. When we get good news we know that God rejoices with us. When we welcome a new child to our family we know that this child is a gift from God. When we sit with a loved one as they breathe their last we know that they are safe in the arms of God. When the whole world was afraid during the pandemic, we knew that God was with us; providing strength, and patience, and comfort.
On that Easter Sunday long ago, the two Marys were given a task along with their joy. They were called to share the good news with the other disciples and together they were called to share the good news with the whole world. This is our task as well.
What does it look like to live with the courage and hope of resurrection? It means saying no to apathy and despair. This is easier said than done but sometimes it can start by just saying “Today I will live with hope and courage.”. To live with the courage and hope of resurrection means reaching out to others and taking a chance that they too can experience hope and courage. It means being generous and loving with those around us, trusting that we have what we need and more. It means showing up and speaking out about the power of God’s love in our lives. It means taking a stand against the powers of greed and oppression. Greed and oppression come in many forms but all of them are against God’s plan for humanity. Living with the courage and hope of resurrection means working with others to make God’s love manifest in the everyday lives of everybody, especially those in need. The power of Christ’s resurrection is not just for us! It is for all of humanity, all of creation. And we have been given the task of making the good news of Christ’s resurrection known.
Fortunately, Christ goes on ahead of us; leading us, encouraging us, prodding us to share God’s love with all. As we share the good news, we find that Christ is present with us. Matthew’s gospel ends with words from Jesus, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (28:20)
Let us pray,
Resurrected God, we are amazed and overwhelmed by your power of love and life and joy. Thank you for your great gift to us, that of Jesus our Christ who lived and died and lives again. Hallelujah! Amen.