After the Sabbath, as the first day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and is indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
They come early, these two Marys – at dawn, Matthew says. They come not to anoint him, as in the gospels of Mark and Luke. They don’t worry about who will remove the stone covering the tomb. Rather they come to see! The two Marys go to see the tomb as the day is dawning.
And they don’t tremble in fear, these two Marys. They are curious, perhaps even anticipating. You see, the group of women which includes the two Marys has been providing for Jesus. They have been part of the inner circle, along with the disciples. They have been providing for Jesus as the angels provided for Jesus after the temptations in the wilderness. They have been providing for Jesus in the same way as Peter’s mother-in-law did after Jesus raised her from her sickbed. They have been providing for Jesus like the sheep in the parable care for those who are hungry or thirsty, sick or in prison, naked, or even strangers. They have been emulating Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
They’ve been part of his entourage, and so they’ve heard him talk about his death and resurrection many times. They’ve heard him say he will be raised after three days. They’ve heard the promises, they’ve seen the crucifixion, and now they come to the tomb to see what has happened, to understand what Jesus meant. They’re not sure what to expect, but they come in hope and joy.
And they are not disappointed. They feel the earth quake and roll under their feet, just as it did when Jesus died, when rocks broke open and the temple curtain was torn in two. They see an angel of the Lord roll the stone back from the tomb, just as they had watched Joseph of Arimathea roll it over the opening to the tomb three days earlier. They see the guards at the tomb, who are seized with fear, fall to the ground like they are dead. And then the angel speaks to them, reassuring them, inviting them to look into the tomb, telling them that the promises have been fulfilled and that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
As they look into the tomb, they realize that what Jesus said has come to be. The tomb is empty, just as he said. And they are amazed and they are filled with joy, even a little bit afraid and awestruck. And then the angel gives them a job to do: run to tell the disciples what the angel has said – “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
So they turn to do what they are told. They turn away from the tomb, leaving to go find the disciples and give them the good news. And then the real seismic shift occurs: they meet Jesus on the way. They practically run into him. They touch him, and it becomes real. He’s not a ghost. He really had been raised from the dead. They knew it in their heads, but now they know it in their hearts.
Here’s the irony of Easter: we think the most important part of the story is the empty tomb. It is important, but what is paramount in this story is that it is only when they turn away from the tomb that the women meet the risen Christ. They fall at his feet and clasp them, and worship him right there on the path. I suspect they would have liked to stay there, but he sends them on their way. He tells them to go out and tell the story.
In each of the gospels, Jesus meets his followers after he has been raised. Some believe and some doubt. Some are afraid and some are filled with joy. Some do not recognize him, and Jesus reveals himself to them. He meets them on the path. He goes to them in the upper room where they are hiding. He goes to find them at the Sea of Galilee after they have gone back to work. He sends them to preach the good news. He sends them to baptize in his name. He tells them to feed his sheep.
The resurrection does not end at the empty tomb.. Resurrection is not a one time event confined to an empty tomb. It’s not that God did something amazing this one time. It’s not just one day a year. It’s at the heart of who we are as a people – Easter people. We cannot just keep looking at the tomb. We have to turn around and head out into the world, where we will encounter Jesus along the way.
If we confine resurrection to one day a year, we miss out on the earthshaking truth that God wants to make us new. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of transformation, not just ours but the world’s. Jesus’ resurrection is the sign of a new era, a time when God’s grace is breaking through, here on earth as it is in heaven.
That transformation, like our own, happens bit by bit, step by step, day by day, moment by moment… God’s transformation of the world and of our lives will shake us and frighten us. We will want it to make sense, but it probably won’t, because God’s ways are not our ways. We will want to hold on to the moments of revelation with both hands, but they will get distorted in our minds, and God is making himself know in new ways, anyway. We may want to tell the story in a few easy sound bites or in pithy platitudes, but God’s story is broader and deeper than sound bites or platitudes. This work of transformation is scary and it is risky, but it is the journey Jesus sends us on.
The good news is that the tomb is already empty. Jesus has gone on ahead of us. Jesus makes the way for us. His resurrection is not confined to a moment two thousand years ago. It is happening even now. We are Easter people, people of the resurrection, trusting God to make all things new, even us. Let us continue on the journey with hope and joy.
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!