We see political powers taking control again and again down the ages with their soldiers and armies, with their weapons of war,
Yet, this morning we hear a different story. Women came to look at the tomb that had been sealed by the power and authority of the Empire.
Down the ages people do this kind of thing as a hopeful gesture of defiance. People sneak out in the early morning to protest. They form underground movements and lobby groups and when they feel brave or safe enough the go on protest marches.
Last Sunday after church a group of us went to the city out in the rain to the Palm Sunday rally for refugees. With a group of UCA people, reps from other faiths, the greens, socialists, rural action groups and the grandmothers for refugees we stood outside the state library in the rain listening to speakers describe the plight of refugees seeking a new life in Australia …Our Uniting Church moderator Sharon Hollis said she’d heard of a couple of politicians in Canberra complaining about Christians and their protests saying: “the problem with Christians is that they are never satisfied”. On behalf of the Uniting Church, Sharon declared that we will never be satisfied when there are refugee children held in off shore detention. We shall never be satisfied while those fleeing the horrors of war suffer in prison like camps behind barb wire.
On Easter morning the women were not satisfied with leaving Jesus in a tomb they snuck out in the early morning in silent protest –a mark of solidarity – a defiant act against the powers that be. But when they arrived, they watched a greater power had move the stone away. The Status Quo was shaken. The stone that shut away hope was rolled away. The seal that declared things must stay as they are, was broken. The authorities had killed Jesus – he was dead – he was buried and a guard placed outside his tomb to make sure everything stayed that way.
And Yet … this morning we hear Matthew’s version of what happened next. The women arrive and the heavens open – there is an earth quake and the stone rolls away, the guards are like dead men and the angel perches on top of the stone telling the women not to be afraid. The angel tells them that Jesus is not dead, that he has been raised. They are invited to look where the that the body is no longer there and are told to go and tell the disciples that the risen Jesus will meet with them in Galilee. The women run with both fear and great joy. They run right into the risen Jesus who calls out to them ‘greetings’.
It’s almost comical – an earthquake, a glowing angel, and the risen Jesus bumping into the women: ‘greetings’.
They fall at his feet and this time Jesus tells them not to be afraid.
But how could they not be afraid?
How can we not be afraid?
We are so scared, we either laugh or cry.
The people with the guns killed this guy. The soldiers with the weapons strung him up until he was dead. The army came in and dropped the bombs on our town. The people with the machine guns opened fire. We flee for our lives. We leave our homeland and cross the boarders in search of a new life. We walk and run with the sound of bombs echoing in our ears and long for freedom. The protest movement was gunned down.
The women should not be here. We should not be here. The guy who was dead is now living. The alternative king is alive! They fall at his feet. We fall at his feet.
Written about 70 years later, the book of Acts, describes Peter telling everyone that the message of the risen Jesus spread throughout Judea. Beginning in Galilee with the baptism that John announced where God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed, for God was with him… Peter says… they put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
We fall at his feet and wonder – what on earth is this all about?
What does it mean to proclaim that the dead man is risen?
What does it mean to tell a story about the failure of the oppressive powers to maintain the status quo?
What does it mean to celebrate Easter and the rising of the oppressed and the rebirth of hope?
Why do we celebrate this event?
What is Easter about?
Is it something about life after death?
Is it about good overcoming evil?
At it’s core, Easter is about the outcome of a cosmic clash of authorities.
Does the status quo stand or is change possible?
Who has the final say over what happens in our world?
Probably if I asked each of you who has the final say over what happens in our world, you’d answer that those with the most money and the most political power have the final say. That’s the way is seems.
If you live in a white house you can tell an army to bomb a Syrian airfield – and they will do it. If you live in the Kremlin and you want to support the leader of a neighbouring country – even if the rest of the world thinks he is a crazy dictator - you can do it. If you’ve got a product to sell and you can manipulate the media to make people buy it – you can do it. If you have some waist products from your factory and want to get rid of them without too much cost – you can dump it in someone else’s back yard and no one will ask any questions. The stone is rolled in front of the tomb, the soldiers guard and the status quo remains….
Or does it?
I think theologian NT Wright described the resurrection well: “To put it at its most basic: the resurrection of Jesus …is not an absurd event within the old world, but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim of Christianity is that with Jesus…there is not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.”
That’s why the earth shook, the sealed tomb opened and the agents of the status quo were afraid and left for dead. The old “how it has been and must be” was gone – the new had come – how it could be and will be with Jesus, the Risen Lord who loves us. To quote Paul in the book of Romans, the resurrection of Jesus assures us, and the protest movements down the ages, that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do not be afraid says the angel …
Do not be afraid says the risen Christ …
Do not be afraid because there is a completely different reality breaking in and transforming everything.
One of my teachers Graham Griffin puts it like this:
“We are… invited to see… that this man Jesus - who is the representative human - goes into death as the victim of all the distorted powers of life. Arraigned against him is the power of ambition, the power of fear, the power of conquest, the power of corruption, the power of greed, the power of money, the power of politics, the power of religion, the power of hypocrisy and many others. All the powers that twist and distort truth to their own ends, that alienate and divide, that destroy relationships and sour possibilities, they are all there. And these powers with which we are so familiar roll over him and crush him.
In the story of Jesus these powers are given human names: Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, disciple, Peter, soldier. Elsewhere they are simply called the power of sin. The inhuman takes personal form to crush the human. And it is here that our contemporary and very concrete experiences of life and of death are echoed. We have our moments of joy but we also know ourselves to be pushed around in life by powers we cannot control. We see even the good things we try to do get fouled up. We have our regrets and our unfulfilled longings and our fears. And even when things go well for us personally, we are never far away from a sense of meaninglessness and of the tragic in life: famine in Africa, the road toll at home, pointless and bitter strife in Syria, a disabled child, a broken marriage a promise cut short. If the Gospel story ended with that death it would not be good news. It would simply confirm our suspicions that life is finally pointless.
Whatever moves us towards our death, be it old age or disease or accident or violent act, simply robs us of life. The tragic and destructive are the ultimate. But the Gospel story does not end there…. The Gospel writers who were, above all else, people of faith, tell the story of God’s action with this one man, Jesus. He raised him from the dead. They thereby tell the story of God’s action with this human creation: God who did create us to have life can re-create us to new life if we are willing to go through the dying that must come before the new can be born".
The message of Easter concludes with the promise that Jesus goes ahead to Galilee - that is where the disciples would find Jesus – not at the empty tomb – but going ahead of them back to the place where their whole quest began. On the mission field. That is where Easter ends. Not just seeing the light or even rejoicing in the light – but taking the light into the darkness – sharing the news that the Kingdom of Heaven is near – the Christ has risen above the Status Quo – change can happen – people of good will will not be satisfied while our brother and sisters suffer. We will not slink away with tales between our legs, the transformation will not be silenced. We will come out again and again proclaiming new life for all as we bear witness to the risen Christ, and the new creation birthed when the stone rolled away.