Earthquakes are horrible things, aren’t they? I’ve never been in one, have you? One of my best friends going all the way back to grade school lives in the Bay Area and he doesn’t much care for them. The little ones don’t bother so much but the big ones are terrifying. And Matthew calls the earthquake in today’s reading a ‘great earthquake’ so it must have been an attention getter.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/261691-hesitant-certainty.mp3]
As always, audio may vary somewhat from the written text. Thanks for reading (and listening!)
I don’t know if Jerusalem lies on a fault line or if earthquakes actually happen there but one way or the other it is safe to say that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have had their world rocked. Their friend has been killed. Their mentor has been executed. Their Christ has been crucified. They were there and they watched Jesus die on the cross. That experience would rock anyone’s world.
On the third day they went to see the tomb where Jesus had been laid and an angel of the Lord shows up and their world is rocked once again. Anytime an angel of the Lord shows up it is safe to say that whoever is around has their world rocked. Angels of the Lord are like that. So there’s an earthquake as an angel of the Lord shows up to roll the stone away and then sit on it.
It is usually said that our natural response to being surprised or frightened is fight or flight. You go on the offense and engage with whatever has scared you or you run away from whatever has scared you. There is actually a third response and that is freeze. Have you ever been so scared that you couldn’t do anything, fight OR flight but instead just stood there, frozen to the spot?
That’s kind of what happened to the guards. The Angel of the Lord had them frozen to the spot. Big tough guards and they can’t move. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are right there and listenining.
In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, women approach the tomb to anoint Jesus and prepare him for burial. In today’s text in Matthew we’re kind of left wondering what in the world Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are doing.
Speaking of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, did you ever wonder why two Mary’s in the same story? It kind of comes under the heading of ‘You can’t make this stuff up’. I’m not much of a Biblical literalist but if this wasn’t a true story, Matthew the author would have been clever enough to use different names for people rather than saddling us with a somewhat unwieldy “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” It would sound more like “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and Rachel went to see the tomb.” But since it is Mary Magdalene and the other Mary that went to see the tomb, there is a ring of truth in the way Matthew tells us the story.
Anyways, we’re kind of left wondering what in the world Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are doing and the story doesn’t really highlight anything.
It almost seems random. And on a Sunday morning? That one I can answer. Christ was crucified and buried on the day we call Friday and then as observant Jews and followers of Christ they’d have the Sabbath from Friday at Sundown to Saturday at Sundown. No point in going to the graveyard after dark on Saturday so Sunday morning it is.
All we know is that they’ve just come to see the tomb. Why? Sounds kind of creepy. Like people who rubberneck at car accidents or watch NASCAR with the anticipation there’s going to be a crash.
Oh, maybe THAT’s it. Maybe they have a sense of anticipation of something amazing going on. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary don’t come to the tomb because they’re doing anything, they’ve come because they are expecting to have their world rocked.
Maybe they really had faith in Jesus’ words when he told them about resurrection. Maybe they came to see because they expected Christ would be alive and the tomb would be empty. Probably not an absolute certainty in their minds but more like a hesitant certainty. Have you ever felt your faith life had a hesitant certainty to it?
And yet in the midst of their hesitant certainty they came to the tomb
What were you anticipating when you came here today? Were you anticipating the singing of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, hearing a sermon about Jesus being resurrected back to life after being crucified on a cross, having communion and then heading home for Easter dinner?
Or were you anticipating an encounter with the risen Christ? Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did you come to see? Did you come this morning with a hesitant certainty that Christ has overcome the grave in victory over death and in that victory is really and truly present with us?
As we sing the songs and lift our prayers, as you hear the promise of God’s word and when we come to the table of Holy communion, I hope you encounter the risen Christ today. Gathered at Spirit of Hope in the spirit of hope that Christ is indeed risen from the grave and has the final victory over sin and death.
And when we leave this place, I pray that you encounter the risen Christ wherever you go. At work, at school, at home. In times of joy and in times of sadness. In the silence as the noise. Easter is not a one time event. Easter is an all time event.