St Barbara’s 16.04.17
Rev Tulo Raistrick
I wonder, have you ever experienced something in your life which is so jaw-droppingly amazing, staggering, that you are left speechless, trying to come to terms with what you have just experienced. For each of us it will be something different. Here are some of mine:
The view from the top of Crinkle Crags in the Lakes on one picture-perfect day.
Holding in my arms my children for the first time after they were born.
Experiencing the presence of God during a night of prayer
Experiences of differing intensity, but all enough to leave me speechless, moved to tears, trembling, over-awed by something quite miraculous.
In Matthew’s wonderful account we have the reaction of two different sets of people to an extraordinary, jaw-dropping event that unfolds before them. We have two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus, coming to the tomb as soon after the Sabbath as they possibly can to pay their respects, to express their grief; and we have some hardened soldiers, guards, stood around to ensure nothing strange takes place.
But something strange is exactly what does take place. There is a violent earthquake; an angel comes down from heaven with the appearance of lightening and blindingly bright clothes; and the stone to the tomb is rolled away. Extraordinary events – but how do they respond?
Both the women and the guards are terrified – the guards so much so that they faint. When they come round, the first thing they do is go to tell the chief priests what had happened. Interestingly, they go to the chief priests, not to the Roman Governor. What they have experienced goes way beyond politics; they seek spiritual counsel.
And they are then offered a choice. Keep their heads down, don’t make a fuss, toe the party line, don’t rock the boat, come up with some sort of ruse about falling asleep whilst disciples moved the stone. Or acknowledge what they had experienced and go out and find out more. One choice offered safety, status quo. The other, they knew, would turn their lives upside down forever, would risk them losing their jobs, risk them losing the respect of their cynical peers, risk them experiencing a God of holiness and life who could make them faint again.
The guards choose safety, the status quo. And who can blame them? And yet…
For our world, maybe even for us too, it is so much easier to believe the resurrection didn’t happen, to take the “move on folks, nothing to see here” approach to the Easter story, because the implications of truly believing that Jesus rose from the dead are so extraordinary.
But in doing so our lives, and the lives of those around us, are so much poorer as a result.
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jesus, also trembled with fear at the what they witnessed, though possibly made of sterner stuff, they did not faint like the soldiers.
Like the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem some thirty years earlier, they too were sore afraid at the appearance of the angel. But, unlike the guards, they are willing to hope, to believe, that something beyond all imagining has happened.
In response to the angel’s words, they are afraid, yet filled with joy. It is an unusual mix of emotions. Who wouldn’t be afraid? But there is joy too – the joy, the hope, the wonder, the excitement: could it possibly be true? could Jesus be alive?
It is in that state of openness, of hope, of faith, that Jesus himself appears to them. “Greetings” he says to them, and Mary and Mary fall down at his feet and worship him.
Jesus’ presence changes everything. They can’t quite grasp it, we even now can’t fully grasp it, but Jesus’ presence, alive, risen from the dead, changes everything.
From now on they could be sure that God’s love was stronger, more powerful, than anything else in the world, that God would always forgive them; that all bad things, all evil, would not last forever, but that good would triumph; that death was not the end, but the beginning of eternal life; that they would be with Jesus, the giver of life, for ever.
This morning we ourselves stand before the empty tomb, and the choice is ours too. To turn away and maintain the status quo, to pretend that this life is all that there is, like the guards, or to believe and allow Christ’s risen presence to transform us and change everything, to open the door to life in all its abundance, like with Mary and Mary. On this Easter morn, may God help us all to come and fall at his feet and worship him.