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Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10

Each year on a three year cycle, we hear a slightly different version of the events of the first Easter morning. This year, it is the Gospel of Matthew, last year, Luke, and the year before that, Mark. John’s version is read most often at the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, as we did last night. And there are scholars’ opinions on which account is the earliest, and which was known to others, and identifying the source and similarities and uniqueness of each. Each version offers much that is similar, and somethings that are unique. Unique to the Gospel of Matthew is the earthquake, the descending angel who rolls away the stone, the guards immobilized with fear, the two Marys afraid but also filled with joy, Jesus appearing and greeting them, and their holding Jesus’ feet and worshipping him.           

What do the earthquake, the angel, the fear, the joy, the greeting, the touching, and worship in today’s resurrection story say to us, to you this morning? I recall the most significant earthquake we experienced here in Victoria, on the eve of one of our daughter’s weddings. I was up early and sitting in the front room of the house and suddenly the glasses and dishes in a cabinet began to shake and rattle. I heard it before I felt it under my feet, and it went on for long enough that I spoke out loud while it was happening. And seconds later one of our sons appeared from upstairs and asked, “Did you feel that?” And suddenly my phone was buzzing with messages from other family. It was frightening and disconcerting. But at a scale nothing like that experienced elsewhere, including in recent weeks in Turkey and Syria with devasting loss of life and suffering. Earthquakes can scare and shake us to the core. And so an earthquake marks the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb as an earthquake in Matthew’s gospel also happens at Jesus’ death on the cross. Creation itself convulses in response to these terrible and wonderful events in Jesus.

In contrast there’s a playfulness at an angel that sits on the gravestone and appears like lightning and white as snow! For fear the guards shake and fall to the ground like dead men. But the two Mary’s, while frightened too, they’re not falling over dead! And the angel speaks to them. And in what can only be irony says, “Do not be afraid?” Oh, really. Tell that to the guards. But the angel goes on, “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised from the dead, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” What news! What a wild and crazy story for the Mary’s to hear. The first to hear for all humanity, the women who had come out to grieve, now told there is no need to mourn for Jesus anymore, he is alive! And more, that they should go tell Jesus’ disciples he has been raised and will go ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him. And what do the two Mary’s do, but go, quickly, with fear and great joy to tell the others. And if all this wasn’t enough, suddenly Jesus meets them and says, what literally translated would be “Hi.” As casual and familiar a greeting as between friends. And they run to Jesus and fall down and hold his feet in as tender a gesture of love and joy and worship as we could imagine. And Jesus, like the angel, tells them not to be afraid! Oh really! And asks them, like the angel, to be messengers of this good news, to tell others, so they too will see Jesus, alive.

It is an encounter of good news of new life, and a calling and purpose for each of us this morning. To go, first to get up in grief or loss or confusion and go to the place of the tomb, of death, and confront what might be found there. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. And to be shaken and frightened, but also confronted with the wild possibility of God’s bringing life out of death. Just look and see! And then go and tell others, so they too might see and touch and worship the joy of new life in the risen Christ Jesus. It is all wonderfully terrifying, mysteriously filled with death and new life, so much so we need to go quickly to tell others who also need to see new life arise out of death, hope arise out of despair, joy out of fear, for so many and so much of this world that is suffering, afraid, longing for hope and new life.

Today is the commemoration of Lutheran Pastor and teacher, member of the resistance in Nazi Germany and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, In his sermon titled The Mystery of Easter, Pastor Bonhoeffer proclaims: “Christ did not come into the world that we might understand him, but that we might cling to him, that we might simply let ourselves be swept away by him into the immense event of the resurrection” (Chestnut Ridge, NY: Crossroads Publishing, 1997). Bonhoeffer’s capital murder took place by hanging alongside fellow resistors at Flossenburg concentration camp on this date in 1945. Today, in the spirit of Bonhoeffer, we are invited by the angels, by Jesus, to give witness to the immensity of the resurrection in life over death, love over hate, for the hope and peace and joy of the world. An immensity that makes the earth and all creation quake. An immensity that is terrifying and joy-filled in its holy power. An immensity that is as shockingly mysterious and intimate as a dead friend’s greeting and touch and adoring, that invites us, calls us, to go and tell others, tell the world, of this resurrection life that has swept you away, that we cling to now and forever, in the risen Christ, by God’s gracious Spirit; let it be so in all our relations. Amen.