Every morning an hour before sunrise, the dawn chorus begins. While it is dark, cardinals, doves, starlings, and wrens raise songs to the new day. Even before Mother Sun appears, she brushes the clouds with pink, yellow, violet, and blue swirls. The heavens declare our belief in God “even when the sun is not shining.” Our Creator wove a deep pattern of resurrection into creation. Winter’s cold embrace releases us into spring. Maple keys whirlybird across fields and push up buds from dried up seeds. On windy April days, golden green pollen falls like a light dusting of snow upon our cars. Redbuds, dogwoods, cherries, and irises summon butterflies and bees. Richard Rohr calls this new birth God’s first incarnation. Our world moves to the rhythm of birth, life, death and resurrection. (The Universal Christ, Rohr)
On that first Easter, no one ironed a new shirt to wear to Easter services. The women came to do grief work, rites delayed a day by church rules. Magdalene comes alone in John’s telling. Matthew names Mary and Magdalene; Luke names three. They carried spices to grieve Christ, their teacher, who provided free healthcare, fed hungry crowds, embraced the brokenhearted, organized protests, spoke truth, verbalized divine forgiveness, and radiated God’s love. Easter makes space for our grieving. In these days of physical distancing and unwelcomed grieving limitations, let us carry our spices. Do not ignore grief, for when hidden it festers. Blurt out your grief! Magdalene blurts out “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know…” The sojourners on the Road to Emmaus blurt out “are you the only one…” (John 20; Luke 24). Jesus asks Magdalene, “Why are you weeping?” Let us walk, write, stack stones, prepare a beloved meal, call a mourner, tell a story, and reach out to a pastor. Let us name our loss, fear, and stress. Magdeline, Mary, and Joanna likely carried anger along with the spices. Christ was wrongly convicted, paraded about, crucified, dead and buried. Seeking to undo a sliver of a cosmic injustice, they came to wash Jesus’ face, pull the thorns from his hair, and enshrine his body with fragrant spices. Come, carry your spices; come carry one another’s griefs.
“Suddenly, there was a great earthquake.” Were these the earth’s birth pain as Christ broke the yokes of hate, hell and death? An angel came from heaven knocking the tomb’s stone door out of its groove, flipping it over on its side, and sitting down to rest on the toppled grave stone. The angel shimmered with light. The soldiers shook in fear, fainting, and falling over. The women did not falter, did not fail, did not fall.
The angel spoke, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. Christ isn’t here. Christ has been raised from the dead, just as Jesus said. Come, see the place where they laid Jesus. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘Christ is raised from the dead and Christ is going on ahead of you. You will see Christ there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
The Christ who goes ahead of us is transformed by Good Friday. Easter transforms Jesus. Easter transforms all who will lay down their old ways. Resurrection changes us. How could it not? How terrible would it be to pass through Good Friday unaffected, untouched, and unchanged? Jesus’ journey through Good Friday, descent into Hell, and rising to new life is a message of transformation. Jesus is not the same old Jesus. The good old days should not return. Christ is risen, filled with healing and wholeness- and yet wounded. The Risen Christ walks through locked doors. Magdeline mistakes Christ for a gardener. Jesus comes alongside two grieving disciples’ and appears in the breaking of bread- only to vanish after setting their hearts on fire! The Risen Christ is going ahead of us- out in front of us. We will meet Jesus along the journey as we forgive, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and establish justice. Easter’s good news awakens new life within us. If anyone is in Christ, they are becoming a new creation, behold we are being made new! (1 Corinthians 5:17) Christ goes in front of us.
The angel declares, “I’ve given the message to you.” Every Easter we must ask to whom did God give the Easter message?” Let us all shout, “Female clergy!” If you believe Christ is risen, then accept the Easter messengers! If the church excludes you, be of good cheer; that is the way church folks generally greet the prophets! But be not dismayed, Jesus gets in front of us leading us to Pentecost, Ethiopia, Damascus, Caesarea, Antioch, Assisia, Guttinburg, Aldersgate, Montgomery…. Maybe someday, we will stop driving through the rearview mirror and start trying to follow Jesus, who goes ahead of us!
How will we go forward? The angel declares, “Be not afraid?” With Jesus crucified, soldiers laid out as if dead, an empty tomb, sleeping bishops, churches locked, disciples fleeing, belief fizzling, the earth shaking, angeling descending, Heaven calls out, “Be not afraid!” That is kind of funny. Be not afraid? Hear the good news. Matthew reports without condemnation or commentary, that our clergy women carry Easter’s message while feeling “great fear and excitement.” Even as angels declare “be not afraid”, faithful people move forward with a sense of “great fear and excitement.” Perhaps, faith is a kind of fearful fearlessness that always keeps moving forward?
Magdalene, Mary, and Joanna know a certain fearful fearlessness. They persist in carrying God’s message to those who reject them as messengers. Today, faith dons a mask to carry healing into the ICU, stock groceries, and work at the foodbank. Easter people sat down on lily-white lunch counters to shine holy light upon the guardians of systemic evil. Easter people keep moving forward, give sacrificially, act generously, forgive easily, vote against their own interests, overcome hate with love, lead protests, reach out to lonely neighbors, offer free healthcare, end hunger, liberate prisons, and forgive easily. Easter people move forward with fear and excitement trusting that Jesus goes ahead of us.
As our clergy heros (Mary, Magdeline, and Joanna) carry the good news to sleeping and scattered disciples, Jesus intercepts them. Matthew’s text says simply that Christ “met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him.” The Easter message is so understated. No liturgy is given. No creed formulated. No song composed. No church building yet! Jesus simply shows up as we get moving. Hold onto those holy moments!
Jesus is going ahead of us. We are not assured that everything will be alright. Indeed, after Easter’s transformation nothing can go back to the way it once was. Easter people move forward with hope and a kind of fearful fearlessness trusting that Christ is out in front of us. Indeed, Paul, who Jesus intercepted along the Damascus Road writes, “nothing can separate us from the Love of God.” We move forward through trouble, distress, harassment, pandemic, nakedness, danger, war, and even death, trusting we will know love goes ahead of us. For I, too, am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death nor life, not angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, not powers or height or depth, or anything else in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ is risen and going before us. Be not afraid! Amen.