Christ is risen, alleluia!
Of all the gospel accounts we have about Jesus’ resurrection, Matthew, hands down, has the most drama. Earthquake! An angel descending from heaven, like lightning, dazzling. Soldiers freezing in shock and awe!
Matthew makes it quite clear, this is a huge thing, an earth-shattering event, God uses all means possible to show the world: I am. Jesus isn’t just rising from the dead quietly, he isn’t just stealing himself away from the tomb unnoticed, as in Mark, Luke, and John, with no drama; according to Matthew, the empty tomb is not just a private matter between the angels and the women who come to the grave, but something that shakes up all of creation and just has to be noticed.
And so it’s only fitting that we celebrate Easter with a bang. The Lord is risen, let the whole world notice, let everyone stand in awe of the great deeds of God! Christ rules! Life rules! This is the ultimate good news. Yes, pull all the stops, feast on the amazing goodness of God, anoint your heads with oil, put on festive clothing, shout your alleluias. Share with the world what is happening here. Death has lost its sting. Maybe we should even pick up an ancient Easter custom; sometimes when I talk about it, people think I’m making it up, but no, there were early Christian congregations where people would break into the ritual Easter laughter, laughing death in the face.
Easter is not just a private matter between God and us good followers of Christ – it is a matter which has consequences for the whole world. However, I think we all know how little the world pays attention to what we and many more Christians around the world are doing today. Easter bunny, Easter eggs, ham and chocolate may be of importance to many, but Jesus’ resurrection?
For many, this past week has been just another regular week, with work and school and baseball practice and boy scout meetings. For many, this past week was fraught with tax day looming and was heavy with bad and disconcerting news. Coptic Christians in Egypt slaughtered as they gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday. A shooting at yet another elementary school, this time in San Bernadino, that claimed the lives of 3 people, a child among them. A terror attack on the bus of a German soccer team. More news of death and despair in Syria – just yesterday, more than 100 died when a bus convoy, supposed to transport civilians to safety, was bombed. There are the unprecedented U.S. attack against Syrian and Afghan targets. Millions of people threatened to die of starvation in South Sudan and other African territories. A political situation in this country that upsets and frightens many. Tensions with North Korea rising. And key words like United Airlines and ‘Holocaust Centers’ make us wonder: what kind of world do we live in? I don’t know about you, but I can just call many things that are happening right now bizarre and weirdly surreal.
All this is no laughing matter. And so the joy of Easter, the abundant burst of color and music, the celebration with a bang, is met by many with skepticism. Do you really believe that? Isn’t the story of the resurrection a nice tale from the past, but irrelevant for our time? How can you celebrate when there is so much awry in this world? And so often, words of hope are drowned out by disbelief and cynicism.
But: there are those stories we hear, those things that happen, which make us hold on to this hope we have, our faith in life, our faith in humanity. Pope Francis was making a surprise visit to a housing project in Milan this past week, also dropping in on Muslim families who were visibly excited and honored to receive such a guest. A bearer of good news. The pope also opened a Laundromat for the poor in Rome. Now that’s preaching the gospel not only in word, but in deed! Whenever there is a disaster, there are also those who rush into it to help, and thanks be to God for those people. And we may not always hear about good news in the news, but for those of you who are on Facebook, don’t you enjoy the little videos and snippets that celebrate the good in humanity and creation? I do!
And we cling to those stories. Isn’t it so that we need those stories of good news, in the midst of so much news which is bad or disconcerting? We need those stories. We need to hear that not all is hopeless, not all is lost. Despite the news of death and destruction we hear each and every day, there are also those stories that keep our hope alive, stories that cause us to celebrate life – in spite of everything.
And this is what Easter is all about. Here, we have the ultimate story of hope: the unexpected rise of Jesus from the dead. Too good to be true, we say about events that seem impossibly great. But, because our human nature is prone to cling to hope and life against all odds, we may say about the Easter story, ‘Too good not to be true’. Jesus lives. Death has been cheated.
This is what we believe. And this is what makes the message of Easter so relevant, and not only for us here on this morning. We all need hope. We all need the message that life breaks through, like the weeds stubbornly breaking through the concrete, like the wildflowers that have been blooming here in California after several years of severe drought. Life will always find a way.
We, of all people, should talk about this hope we have, and take the story of Jesus and the resurrection from the shelf where it’s been gathering dust, and take it out into the world, through what we say and what we do.
Living the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and the victory of life over death doesn’t mean that we should ignore the destructive forces of death around us, hoping for eternal life full of bliss in some heaven, far removed from here. Living the good news of Jesus’ resurrection is to live the hope we carry in our hearts, that, despite death and darkness around us, we defiantly cling to the promise of life – and work to bring things to life and keep things alive around us, cheating death, and laughing death in the face. It’s living the hope and protesting all forces of evil and ignorance and callousness and complacency – the forces of death.
And, as Anne Lammot, a Christian writer who happens to live in Marin County, writes: Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.
Dawn will come. The dawn of Easter came and has broken upon us once more on this day. We don’t give up. We know what God has done for us and for all creation. Now it’s up to us to proclaim this good news with a bang! To sing our hearts out, to laugh and smile so the world can hear and see it, to do the right thing in a world that so often goes wrong. For: alleluia, Christ is risen!