The Rhythms of Easter
Margaret LaMotte Torrence
April 1, 2018
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week 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 lightning, 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 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.”
The Rhythms of Easter
A few years ago I was helping to lead a retreat near Asheville. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and our group had dispersed for some free time. Some folks were hiking, others were assembling jigsaw puzzles, but a large inter-generational group had gathered to participate in a drumming workshop. There were probably 30 or 40 drummers in the circle and that enthusiastic body was generating a lot of sound. It was rather wonderful to hear—at least to my ears.
The problem was that we had not adequately considered the drumming workshop when we made room assignments. As it turned out, we had placed our nursery space on the floor immediately above our would-be musicians.
I happened by the nursery shortly after the drumming began, and the place was humming. Our youngest children were wide-eyed: some with excitement, but others with real fear, as they tried to sort out what they were hearing, but not seeing.
One of the little boys asked me what was happening, so I explained that just below us there was another room where people were drumming. I grabbed a plastic tub, flipped it over, and banged on it to demonstrate. He continued to look at me quizzically, so I repeated myself: “On the floor just below us was another big room full of people banging on drums and making all the noise we were hearing.” After pausing for a moment he crouched down, spreading his fingers wide on the carpet but never breaking eye contact, finally saying patiently but firmly… “This is the floor.”
“This is the floor.” In his worldview, the floor was solid, stable, dependable ground, and it was ludicrous to suggest that there were people making noise under the floor. The best we adults could do was to help the children put on their shoes, and lead them down the staircase to the threshold of the room where the drummers were playing. We took the children to see and hear for themselves, to make sense of it as best they could—
You and I may have more in common with those children this morning than we care to admit. For many of us, death is the floor. On Easter morning we will listen politely to Matthew’s account of earthquakes and angels and stones rolled away, but we can’t reconcile those ancient reverberations with the ground beneath our feet, and the evidence we have accumulated over a lifetime.
Matthew invites us to bring our doubt and enter his story anyway.
The truth is, I’m not sure that the first century audience was much easier to persuade. The two Marys have their hands spread wide on the floor of their experience as they approach the tomb. They know that their beloved Jesus is dead—they witnessed the whole thing. Matthew tells us they were part of a group of women who watched it all from a distance—they heard the taunting; they heard the anguish as he died. Matthew also reports that these particular women were the two persons sitting opposite his tomb when it was sealed.
So the Marys are not confused about what has happened as they set out in the early dawn. They are not depending on rumors to piece together the story;
they were there.
But as the dawn of the new day breaks, the floor of their experience shifts, and they have an encounter that stretches the capacity of language to describe. The ground buckles beneath their feet, and they are blinded by the appearance of someone sitting on the stone that no longer seals Jesus’ tomb. And this shining envoy from God has a message tailored for their broken hearts.
First, he says, “Do not be afraid.” After this day, these words, this encounter, there will be nothing in life or in death that they ever need to fear again. Next the angel says, “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” In God’s great mercy, both their longing and their experience are acknowledged and affirmed. God meets them where they are. They are looking for the one whom they have lost—Jesus—who was truly crucified.
The angel meets them where they are, but does not leave them there for long. Death is real, but it is not the end of the story. The angel continues:
“I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified, but he is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” These faithful women are invited to see for themselves—to gather new bits of experience, new images to live alongside the cross that is seared forever in their hearts. They are invited to experience a new reality, for the angel’s message has the power to transform not only their lives, but the whole human story.
They are not given long to assimilate this experience, though, for there is work to be done and they are the only ones in a position to do it. The angel concludes by saying, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” And so the women run. Wearing both fear and joy on their faces, they turn their backs on death and run toward a mystery and a mission they could not have fathomed before that day dawned.
Notice that it is as they carry the angel’s message, which is now their message—it is only as they dare to respond that they encounter Jesus in the flesh. He greets them with a word that literally means “Rejoice”—for this is the sweetest of reunions.
I love that Matthew says that the women come to him—even in this extraordinary moment, Jesus is approachable. They do not have to hang back. They take hold of his worn and wounded feet and they worship him.
These faithful Jewish women, who know in their bones that only God is to be worshiped, worship Jesus, because to stand in his presence is to experience the limitless power and grace of God. Here is holiness they can touch without fear.
Jesus, then reminds them of their mission, saying “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Almost word for word Jesus repeats the angel’s charge—with one important exception. For the first time, Jesus calls the disciples his brothers.
Matthew has not mentioned the disciples in quite a while. They fled from the story when Jesus was arrested; except for Judas, who betrayed him; and Peter, who denied him. The disciples have not been around to see what the women have seen.
But this word “brothers” adds a new dimension to the women’s mission. Not only are they to communicate the news of Jesus’ resurrection, and the instruction that the disciples are to go to Galilee, but the news is to be couched as an invitation to a family reunion.
We don’t get to watch the next part of the story, but we know that the women completed their task, because six verses later the disciples are gathered in Galilee, where they are met by Jesus—but that’s a story for another day. Today we are only at the dawn of Easter, an Easter whose aftershocks will keep unfolding until the end of time.
How like God, though, to have entrusted the gospel to these two Marys. God always seems to enlist the most unlikely messengers to convey the truth that needs telling. In Jesus’ day women were not considered reliable witnesses—they could not testify in a court of law—yet these two particular women are the ones God chooses. It makes me wonder which particular messengers God might be using in our day—messengers whom we in our settled institution might dismiss as unreliable.
I also hear a more universal word of challenge to the church in this passage: Are we willing to go outside these walls, into classrooms and workplaces and the civic arena—into the world beyond our own, which operates by different assumptions? Will we live out a gospel we cannot fully explain, but the power of which we have witnessed in lives changed, in forgiveness offered and received, in fear that is no more, in the experience of a new kind of family? God doesn’t wait for the women to have everything sorted out before God sends them on their way. The need is too urgent. Rather it is in the act of responding to God’s charge that the women are encountered by the living Christ. Often it is not until the church moves out into the world that the church is equipped for its ministry. Always we are a work in progress.
In the end I don’t think Easter faith is so much a matter of intellectual assent—of making sure all our rational floorboards are nailed down tight. Easter faith is born and lives in relationship. It comes as we worship, as we serve, as we open our lives to a power and a joy beyond our capacity to manufacture.
So hear the words of the angel as they also are addressed to all of us:
- Do not be afraid
- I know you are searching for what is missing in your life.
- Your pain is real, but it is not the end of the story
- I have work for you to do.
I need you to carry a word of hope to people who may have given up.
You need to tell them—you need to show them—that we are family
to each other.
- I will go ahead of you. I will meet you in the places to which I am calling you. You will not be alone.
Beloved of God,
how oddly perfect that Easter falls this year on April Fool’s Day,
for the world reckons that this is an utterly foolish celebration.
So may the way we live give cause to believe otherwise.
May we be fearless in the ways we love.
For Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!