Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome arrive at the end of the Sabbath to finished what they started. To anoint the dead body of Jesus. To prepare his body with fragrant oils, flowers, and spices – mostly to offset the horrible stench of a decaying body in the heat of the ancient near east. They know what to expect. They know what they will find. They know how this goes. They saw how Jesus was brutalized and crucified. They stayed and watched him die while all the men ran away in fear. And now, they return to the tomb, still loyal to their Rabbi, and bring him the traditional ritual preparations that they avoided earlier because it was too close to the start of the Sabbath. As they get closer to the tomb, they suddenly realize a problem. They remember the huge stone that sealed the tomb entrance. A stone so huge and heavy that the three of them together doubt that they can move it. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” they ask each other. Again they have failed. Again they have lost the chance to give their Rabbi the proper burial rites. Again they experience the pain of death.
But as they get closer, they see the tomb and the stone is rolled away. Quickly they run into the entrance of the tomb – but instead of a dead Rabbi, they find a young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right side. The sight is amazing. It’s alarming. It’s startling.
The young man in white addresses them like a sassy administrative assistant explaining why they can’t just walk into the boss’ office for a quick word: “You’re here to see Jesus? Yeah…Sorry. Just missed him. But he left a message that anyone who shows up looking for him is to go back home to Galilee. He will meet you there, just like he told you a thousand times before. Now if you’ll please excuse me I’ve got a lot of post-resurrection things to do. Have a blessed day! Buh-bye!”
This is completely and totally unexpected. This is not how things are supposed to go. This is not what their religion taught them. This is not the way they understood how the world works. Dead people don’t just come back to life. Not even a Rabbi like Jesus. Something must be wrong. Jesus’s body should be here. (pause) But if this is true, then everything is different now. If resurrection is real. If Jesus has truly returned from the dead. If Jesus truly is the Son of God that others claimed him to be – then the situation is even more frightening. Because that means that God is lose in the world. That God is no longer trapped within the walls of the temple. That God is literally walking among us. That God is no longer under the control of our rituals, our liturgies, our offerings, and our sacrifices. NO! Instead, God is in control of the world – and that is the most frightening thing of all! Whether Jesus’ body was taken or resurrection is real, either way, no one can know about this. They won’t be able to handle the truth of the situation.
And on top of that, they were instructed to tell the other Disciples to return home. To return to the place they left behind because they were following Jesus. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would Jesus tell them to go back to that little, backwater, redneck area known as Galilee when there was so much left for them to do here in Jerusalem? Besides, do you know what the Disciples left behind in Galilee? They upset a lot of people back there, leaving behind loved ones who needed them. Jobs they needed to survive. It would just be too uncomfortable, too awkward to go back home – especially after they’ve discovered something as dramatic and life-changing as the resurrection. Home would just be too painful. Too risky. Why would Jesus want them to risk going back to that?
And so the three women quickly flee from the empty tomb. Franticly shaking from the frightening reality of the situation, they vow never to tell another living soul what they had seen – because they were absolutely terrified, you see.
For us – on the other side of the resurrection – we prefer to avoid Good Friday and skip right to Easter. Simply because we don’t like death. We’ve learned to be afraid of death. To avoid death. To avoid anything or anyone close to death. We no longer take care of our own dead – like we once did 150 years ago. Instead we send them off to a mortuary so that somebody else takes care of them. Death is associated with feelings of pain, suffering, and sorrow. Feelings that we simply want to avoid or at least numb ourselves to – one way or another.
Meanwhile, we LOVE Easter! We love the idea of resurrection! We think it’s just great that resurrection means that we get to live on forever! That we get to continue on with life right where we left off. That we will move on to a higher plane of existence where we will see all those who died before us, and we will have this great big family reunion! A reunion where we will see our loved ones just as we did before they died. That everything with them will be just like it was before. That we’ll just pick up where we left off. And yet, we could NOT be more wrong.
The women did not run from the tomb because Jesus was dead. The women ran from the tomb because Jesus resurrected. Resurrection is MUCH more frightening than death. Because resurrection is not about picking up where we left off after we die. Resurrection is about something completely different.
The mystery of Easter is that God is always in the business of making things new! Completely new. Not continuing on with the old ways or the old models. But making ALL things new. Our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Event our beliefs. Our religion. Our faith. Our view of the world.
If we pay close enough attention, we will realize that resurrection is not pretty. Resurrection is not easy. Resurrection is messy. Despite all the beautiful art of the resurrection of Jesus in a shimmering white robe, completely free of blood and dirt, with his shining blonde hair flowing in the wind – I imagine that Jesus struggled to free himself from the graveclothes. Emerging like a butterfly from a cocoon – messy and dirty with dried blood in his hair and dirt under his fingernails. That he coughed and choked as his lungs took their first breathes of air again. I imagine that those first few steps he took in the tomb were difficult, that his legs were wobbly, and that he probably stumbled a bit. That he was a frightened at first, as he stood there in the darkness of the tomb, not knowing how he was going to get out. Then, as the stone rolled open, and the first light of Easter morning poured into the tomb, I imagine that he shielded his eyes from the brightness of the light. Once his eyes adjusted, Jesus looked at the holes in his wrists and feet and felt the wound in his side. And once he took his first step out of the tomb, I imagine that Jesus was just as shocked and amazed as the women were. Shocked and amazed that he was back in the real world once again. That he stopped to look around at the beauty of God’s creation. To just take it all in. The trees had never looked so green. The sky had never looked so blue. The air never smelled so fresh. Everything felt so different – and that’s because it was. Everything about the world was completely different – everything about the world was new again because of the messiness of the resurrection.
Understanding the resurrection as messy – as an event that makes all things new over and over again – is much more terrifying than death. Because – let’s be honest – we don’t like new. We don’t like change. We don’t like having to learn how to do things differently. We don’t like it when we discover something new about ourselves and realize that everything about our lives is going to be different whether we like it or not. Just think about when your smart phone or an app on your phone or tablet goes through a major update. Suddenly you have to relearn how all the basic functions work, where to find certain functions you need, etc. It’s frustrating. We get mad! We do anything and everything we can to avoid it. We reject the update reminders – hoping that we can put off the update as long as possible – even avoiding it altogether. But, at some point, if you do NOT update – if you do NOT let your smart phone or app become new again – you will discover that your smart phone or app quickly becomes obsolete. And our lives can become obsolete when we fail to embrace the renewal that comes with the frightening reality of resurrection.
Despite how frightening and messy resurrection is – if we are willing to enter into the mess and receive the renewal that Christ is freely offering us – salvation: a life lived to the fullest – is available to us in the here and now. Not just in heaven after we die. And salvation doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect. Salvation doesn’t mean everything will be nice and neat like a painting of the resurrection. Salvation means that no matter what happens, you can trust in Christ to be with you even in the most difficult moments of life. And while the initial realization of resurrection is sudden and dramatic – the process of salvation, of learning to live life to the fullest, can take a lifetime.
Because messy resurrection and the new life of salvation looks nothing like the prosperity gospel’s lies of wealth, success, and affluence. Resurrection and renewal looks less like a party at the bar with your friends and a lot more like recovering alcoholics at an AA meeting. Less like being forgiven and more like forgiving those who don’t deserve it. Less like acknowledging that you were right and more like admitting you were wrong. Less like getting things your way and more like being thankful for the changes happening. Less like getting to avoid a difficult situation and more like engaging in that awkward and uncomfortable discussion. Less like getting to hold on to the traditions you believed you could not live without and more like realizing that you could live without them all along. Less like getting the things that you want and more like realizing that the thing you never hoped for – that came out of nowhere – was the one thing you always needed your entire life.
Resurrection – being made new – is filled with frightening and awkward moments, especially at the beginning. And so resurrection and renewal feels like: Admitting to others you have an addiction and that you can’t do anything about it on your own. Coming out of the closet later in life, admitting it to both yourself and your spouse, and working together to find a healthy way to move forward for your family’s sake. Hearing “you are cancer free” after undergoing a grueling battle of radiation and chemotherapy. A family embracing a loved one who has returned after years of being gone due to hurt feelings and rejection. A church grasping that its glory days are over and working to change everything about itself in order to serve the mission of Christ for this day and age – because the mission of Christ is more important than its human traditions.
Messy resurrection and renewal means getting a fresh start. Of getting a “do-over” even when it means that those you left behind may only see you the way you were BEFORE your resurrection. And to do that, you’ve got to go back to the place you call home. It will be difficult. It will be painful. But we take comfort in the promise that Jesus is already there waiting for you. But when you return home – post-resurrection – it’s not with the same understanding. Not with the same expectations. Not with the same viewpoint you had before. Because the messiness of resurrection forces you to see the depth and breadth of the world – both the pain and the healing, the suffering and the joy. You finally see the suffering within those who have hurt you. You see the pain within yourself that caused you to hurt other. And you start to understand. To discover what truly matters in this life. And instead of desiring some type of perfection, status, or success, you lovingly embrace the sacred even within the broken and the messy.
And in that act of loving, you experience God. Within that act of loving, you transform your home into a place where you can live fully again – where you can experience salvation in the here and now. Within that act of love, you find place to call home within Christ himself – whose own messy resurrection is making you new day after day after day.
Thanks be to God. AMEN.