Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

Proclaiming Easter in a Good Friday World

Rev. Kathy Donley

04/16/17

 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 28:1-10

 

It was over.  Convicted of sedition and blasphemy, Jesus was nailed to a cross until he slowly suffocated and died.  His best friends had pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem.  What they had feared had come to pass in excruciatingly painful detail.  They warned him, but he had refused to listen to them.   It seemed that this fledging revolutionary movement would quickly disband and fade away, like so many others, snuffed out by brutal power. 

 

The community was traumatized.  They were grieving and angry at Jesus for putting himself at risk.  The injustice of it was crushing.  Crucifixion was the Roman’s best instrument of terror and it was working on them.  They were terrified.  It was awful.  Unless we have lost someone we love to a violent death, we probably cannot begin to understand what it was like.    

 

All of that grief and pain and anger and fear swirled around the women as they went to the tomb on that morning.  It was not yet called Easter, of course.

 

Some years ago, a pastor friend was living through some really difficult times.  Well-meaning friends tried to console her by telling her that it would all work out soon, if she just prayed enough, believed hard enough.  It was near Easter and she knew she wasn’t going to see any light at the end of the tunnel by Easter Sunday.  The first stanza of the poem she wrote in response goes like this:

 

No,

I have not reached Easter

and this might be the year when

there is no resurrection,

when the long darkness of Friday

stretches

without a glimmer

into Sunday morning.

This year you might come to the tomb

and find only a stench.[1]

 

“This might be the year when/there is no resurrection.”  That’s a powerful line.  It might also be how you are feeling just now.  If you are still waiting for Easter to arrive, kudos to you for having the courage to show up today.  You are not the only one who feels that way.  Thank you for giving the rest of us the privilege to be present with you while you wait.

 

The women are not expecting resurrection either.  They go to see the tomb.  Unlike other gospel writers, Matthew does not mention that they might have been bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.  For Matthew, they just go to see the grave, perhaps like any of us might visit a cemetery, particularly close to the time of burial. 

 

And then, an angel opens the tomb and the earth shakes . . . again.  I say “again” because Matthew also tells us that there was an earthquake on Friday when Jesus took his last breath.   A week earlier, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, it says “the whole city quaked.” Something completely astounding has happened.  So much so that the world is literally shaking under our feet.

Matthew likes that word “quake.”  He uses it one more time to say that the guards shook and became like dead men, for fear of the angel. God renders the empire and its terrifying death-dealing machine lifeless.  Then the Roman guards on cemetery detail become like dead men. A little humor at the empire’s expense.

 

Resurrection is really hard to conceive, to imagine, to believe.  Apparently, it requires earthquakes and angels.  The angel rolls away the stone from the mouth of the tomb and says “look” “behold.”  In Matthew’s gospel, seeing is a metaphor for understanding and insight into Jesus’ teachings.

 

The women are to look at the newly opened, empty tomb.  What are they supposed to understand?  One scholar says that Resurrection is “not about human capacities or possibilities.  It is wholly God’s capacity and determination. If goodness and mercy are to withstand the onslaught of religiously based self-righteousness and control, it is not because good people just keep trying hard.  If death as a final conclusion to even the most finely lived life is to be transcended, it is not because such goodness just naturally lives on.  It is, rather, because God acts at that boundary of life we call death, and does something altogether new.”[2]

 

God does something altogether new that still astounds and confounds us.  Jack Pantaleo is a social worker, a musician and author.  He wrote, “Let’s face it. Death had been done before.  Anyone can die.  Jesus revolutionized creation because he had the nerve it took not to remain dead.  Christ went beyond sacrificing his life. He sacrificed his death. He voluntarily let go of the comfort of death and fought to rise above the grave.”[3] 

 

Going all the way to the cross, Jesus sacrificed his life.  In Resurrection, Jesus sacrificed his death, which we know had been earned the hard way.  Refusing the comfort of death, he broke its bonds, to demonstrate the power of God. 

 

In light of that, Jack Pantaleo wrote, “The hardest things we can do is not to die, but to live and to live abundantly in joy.”[4] 

 

Why would life be hard?  Why would he say that the hardest thing we can do is to live abundantly in joy? 

Perhaps it is because, two thousand years on this side of Resurrection, we still seem to live in a Good Friday world.  A world where innocent people die of accidents and cancer and under suspicious circumstances in police custody.  We still live in a Good Friday world which offers little refuge to those running from the hell of war, where some of those who manage to escape drown anyway. A world where mothers are deported away from their children. A world where students die at the hands of classmates with guns, where Egyptian Christians mute their Easter celebrations because they are grieving the murders of 44 people in church on Palm Sunday and they don’t know where the next bomb will explode, a world where a state, in these United States, proposes to execute 8 people in 10 days to use up the lethal injections before they expire.    We still live in a Good Friday world where people are killed by bombs or chemicals and the response, lauded by many, is to drop more bombs, a world that responds to death by dealing out more death.   Jack may be right, the hardest thing to do in a Good Friday world is to live abundantly with joy. 

 

And yet, here we are, on Easter Sunday, proclaiming resurrection, singing alleluia with joy and gusto.  Why?  Because the angel says “Behold” and we do.  We look, we see, we notice, what God has done. Once the world has been shaken by resurrection, there is no going back, even if the powers of death do still try to terrorize us with Good Friday. 

 

Anne Lamott writes for all of us, “I hate it that you can’t prove the beliefs of my faith. If I were God, I’d have the answers at the end of the workbook, so you could check as you went along, to see if you’re on the right track. But noooo—Darkness is our context, Easter’s context; without it you couldn’t see the light. Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak [stuff] anyone can throw at us” [5]

 

Hope is not about proving anything. It is about choosing to believe.  We live in the now of what seems like Good Friday, faithfully resisting the principalities and powers, resisting sin, resisting evil and death, and yet we claim the ultimate victory, the glory of resurrection. 

 

Matthew talked about earthquakes and angels, trying to understand Resurrection.  When I run out of words to convey what I need to say, I look to art and music.  So, I have a video to help me.  This song speaks to me on many levels.  I hope it will speak to you.  It is the song “Glory” from the movie Selma.  Let me be clear that I am not reducing Resurrection to a human movement.  Resurrection is entirely about God’s capacity to do something new. But this song and particularly this video move me to a place where I can behold just a little bit better, a place where I get a glimpse of the glory that is the kingdom of God. 

 

The song says, “Now the war is not over, victory is not won.”  That is true about civil rights, human rights.  It is not true about Resurrection.  We proclaim Easter in a Good Friday world.  The ultimate victory has been won; even if God’s intention of shalom is not yet fully realized.  The reign-of-God movement that Jesus started did not disband and fade away.  It is still at work for love and justice.  One day, when the glory of resurrection fully comes, it will be ours, it will be ours.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9MKXR4gLjQ

 

When Jesus died on that Friday afternoon, it was more than the death of one man.  What also died was his follower’s hopes that in him something new and beautiful had actually come on earth.  Hearing him teach, watching him with the sick and the children, watching him gently restore calmness to a man in the throes of psychosis, watching him lovingly understand and console a desperate father, you could almost imagine a world like that: a world where goodness and kindness and gentleness prevail, not meanness and cruelty and violence. You could almost imagine a world where God wipes the tears from all eyes, a world where people of different races, ethnicities, and religions sit down together at a banquet table. You could almost imagine a world where children are fed and all the sick cared for, a world where there are no concealed firearms and innocent children are not gunned down in the streets and sidewalks, where the elderly are secure, and where precious resources are joyfully invested in life, not weapons systems.”[6]

 

When Jesus died, all those hopes died too.  Now those hopes for shalom, for well-being and wholeness, and many more, are restored . . . to those with eyes to behold resurrection. 

 

Sisters and brothers, one day, when the glory comes, it will be ours.  It will be ours, because Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed.

 

 



[1] The Rev. Anne LeBas, parish priest at St. Peter and St. Paul, Seal, UK

http://annelebas.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Lent%20Holy%20week%20Easter

[2]D. Cameron Murchison, in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2, Lent through Eastertide, David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds.   (Atlanta:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2010), p. 348.

[3] Jack Pantaleo, “The Opened Tomb” The Other Side Vol 28, No 2, March-April 1992.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Anne Lamott, Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith, (New York:  Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 274 

[6] David A. Davis, A Kingdom We Can Taste:  Sermons for the Church Year (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2007).

 

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