That first Easter sunrise service was one for the books. Attendance was low—two Mary’s and an angel. But there was enough ruckus to wake the dead. The women think they’ve come to visit Jesus’ grave – much as we would go to remember, grieve, and pray for our dead loved ones. They arrive. Terror seizes them – the ground trembles. Then the sky lights up, an angel descends and rolls away the huge stone sealing the tomb, then sits atop the rock. The first Easter Acclamation is not: “Alleluia! Christ is risen.” It’s : “Do not be afraid!” That’s a sure sign you probably need to be. The angel continues: “He’s not here; he’s been raised as he said. Come see where he lay. Now go quickly and tell his disciples he’s been raised from the dead, and will meet you in Galilee where you’ll see him. This is my message for you.” So in the spirit of that first Easter, are you here looking to find Jesus this day?Jesus is not where he’s supposed to be. But where’d he go? Dead people don’t get back up and walk away. But when God shakes the foundations, more than just the landscape gets moved around. So off they run in a state of simultaneous fear and joy. The joy – Jesus really might be alive? How can you argue with such an angel? The fear – Jesus could be alive? Can they believe it? And now they are charged with preaching the first Easter sermon. Who’s going to believe a couple of women? A dead man is alive? – Right.
As they run off, a man appears out of nowhere. The earth quakes again. It’s Jesus. Now it is Easter. Jesus is alive, and they know it because the Lord finds them. They grab his feet and worship him. Jesus is no vision, no wispy disembodied energy field, or a spirit that lives on in our hearts. He’s alive and fear changes to joy.
Jesus speaks: “Greetings!” “Well, good morning back at you, Jesus.” No time for them to ask: “Well, where’ve you been?” Jesus moves on: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” No final words – no good byes – he just disappears. Whatever is going on, Jesus won’t be nailed down. He finds us to tell us to go meet him, too.
The church’s experience with Jesus is similar. We may wonder if all this is true. Does God really love this much, and can we count on Jesus’ resurrection? Yes – it is world shaking truth. God’s spirit raises Easter’s joy in us, so that our doubts lose their power. And like the women, we are to go tell what we know to a skeptical world that may reject our stories. That’s scary – and hard. We could be ridiculed and rejected. Maybe we fear getting the story right. It’s a different world out – the dead stay dead, evil is still doing well. You distrust enemies, not pray for them; and if you love and forgive seventy times seven, you’ll never get anywhere in this world.
But then week after week we come back here. Jesus keeps showing up and each Sunday is Easter. Then we get sent out where He waits for us in our Galilees – places where we know a child needs tutoring and a caring adult; where a street person is hungry; an old, poor person shivers because they can’t afford a warm coat. In our Galilee is our next door neighbor, that annoying cousin, the loud co-worker, the person at church who turns away rather than speaks, the one who needs a word of hope – we find Jesus waiting in the most unlikely people and places. We’re in a new place now – a new kingdom, and we can’t go back. Our lives have been broken open with divine love.
Jesus is alive in this world – when he’s risen and alive within us. Others see his life raised up in ours and know he is alive. And though we’ll still suffer and die, and we’ll be spat upon and mocked sometimes, and we won’t always be treated right – we know we’re still going to go on living, even when we die. No matter what this day or the next holds, God holds us. We no longer need to be afraid under God’s reign in Christ. Divine love is raised up in us. We are to go after him, and love as Jesus’ does.
Easter is more than Hallmark cards, brunches, new clothes, chocolate bunnies, and sugary peeps. Easter is more than a free ticket to heaven. Easter is the risen Lord alive and risen in us – spirit and flesh meet – and together, all of us are Christ’s Body on earth. So the message of Easter for us this day: REJOICE! AND DO NOT BE AFRAID.