28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Happy Easter! “Do not be afraid,” said the angel, “I know that you are looking for Jesus. He is not here; he has risen.” In this beautiful reading from the Gospel of Matthew this Easter morning, God certainly gets our attention. The resurrection is God’s way of telling us to look closely, to listen carefully and to live fully in the news that love is stronger than death and that death is not the end of the story. We imagine how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary felt this particular morning, how Jesus’ mother and his friends and followers felt. We all know the feeling of waking up before dawn after a dear loved one has died. It hits us all over again and we feel sick and we feel the grief once again. And so we imagine these two women needing to do something, needing to honor their beloved teacher, needing to move through the rituals of death and mourning just to get through the day…and as they near the tomb, there is a violent earthquake. Let us pray, O Holy One of new beginnings, we rejoice this day in the miracle of Easter. We give thanks for the new life of the resurrection and the hope and promise which comes to us this day. May we know peace; may we not be afraid. May we trust that you go before us always. Amen.
We can’t overlook this detail in the opening of this Gospel passage today; there is a violent earthquake as the women approached the tomb. And the women were likely downcast and caught up in their own grief and thoughts when suddenly, a loud bang occurs and they must look up. They are the witnesses, like us, to this amazing moment…and the angel of the Lord, in dazzling white, speaks to them. The guards who were nearby are so terrified that they shake and pretend to be dead, but the women look up and they listen to his words. “Do not be afraid,” he says, “I know you are looking for Jesus; he has risen, he is not here.” And that is the message of Easter, my friends: Jesus Chris is risen from the dead and is not to be found where the dead are. And the angel continues, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Jesus is going ahead of you, of us; Jesus is showing us the way.
God is still speaking in our world this day and God does get our attention in both grand and subtle ways. As we move through our days, life unfolds and sometimes it feels like an earthquake has happened and we are called to finally listen, to pay attention, to hear God’s message to us. It can happen when we feel that all has been lost in our lives, or we feel we cannot go on, or that our suffering is too deep or too wide. It may be that those moments are exactly when God reaches out and says, ”Do not be afraid. Do not look for him where the dead are. He goes before you always…”
Now I’d like to share a story I recently came across…
A little boy was having nightmares. The kind that require a momma’s reassurance. So, to his parent’s room the boy went, “Momma, momma, I’m having nightmares.”
“It’s okay honey,” she told him, “here’s what I want you to do. Go back to your room, kneel down by your bed, pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it.”
Back to his room, the boy knelt by his bed, prayed to Jesus, hopped back in bed, and… more nightmares. All mommas know this story. All dads know this story. Back and forth to his parent’s room he went, throughout the night.
On the sixth visit, he said, “Momma, Daddy, I know, I know, I’m going to go back to my room. I’m going to kneel down by my bed and pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it. But before I do that, can I just lay in bed with you and have you hold me?”
“Sure honey, why?”
“Because sometimes I just need Jesus with skin on it.”
Sometimes it feels that there are just no words, no carefully crafted prayers, no meditation or inspiration that can take the place of another person’s presence. Because in the touch, we can be present. Now. Even in a world upside down. It is the little things that make a difference.
This is certainly a message that is embraced by an amazing woman in Detroit. Her name is Mama Shu and years ago, she had a vision to create space for the young people in her community to be safe, to learn, to uncover their potential and realize their future possibilities. Shamayim ‘Shu’ Harris, is a mother, a community activist and a former school administrator. She founded Avalon Village in Highland Park, Michigan, a community of hope and healing and yes, of presence, in a community with too little hope and too much violence in Detroit. Her dream of building this urban oasis came after the tragic loss of her son, Jakobi RA, who was killed by a hit and run driver in 2007 at the age of two.
Rather than fall into despair, this courageous woman, Mama Shu, chose to heal and honor Jakobi’s memory by transforming blight to beauty and creating something wonderful for the people of Highland Park. She assembled a team of engineers, futurists, artists, urban farmers, volunteers and donors from around the world who are helping to build Avalon Village, a sustainable eco village in the middle of Detroit. As a reporter shared, “These vacant, blighted lots and structures are being brought back to life as the Homework House (an after school learning and activity center for neighborhood children), the Goddess Marketplace (an economic development initiative for women entrepreneurs), the Healing House (a center for holistic healing), a healthy cafe, activity courts, greenhouses, a micro library and more.
She has worked tirelessly to create a neighborhood in which all young people can be safe, and yet, grief visited her again in early 2021 when her older son was shot and killed while protecting and securing the village and his mom.
“It is hard just to see that, to see his shrine there. What makes me feel the emptiest is both of my sons are gone. I lost my sons to the streets, literally,” says Shu sadly. But Mama Shu, with a broken heart, is still hard at work and even more committed than ever to secure this sacred ground and complete the mission she created for the people of Highland Park and her family. (www.avalonvillage.org)
Mama Shu has fully embraced the idea that we all need Jesus with skin on him. She is the guiding wisdom and the presence that keeps this dream alive, a dream that lives on despite her own brokenness and sorrow.
“He is risen. Do not look for him where the dead are…He goes before you.”
We know that fear can be a terrible thing. It is a universal experience and part of our emotional, psychological makeup. It can be a blessing and a curse…keeping us from getting injured or keeping us awake at night. And many of us fear pain; we fear suffering; we fear loss and yes, we fear death…and more often than our own deaths, we fear the death of one we love. The stories we share during Lent and Holy Week give us a glimpse of the fear that began to overtake the disciples and the fear of Jesus himself as he experienced his own betrayal and death on a cross. And yet, here on Easter morning, the angel says to the women, “Do not be afraid.” You have nothing to fear. As one writer notes, “Freedom from fear is the achievement of the resurrection. Not freedom from death, but freedom from fear.” If we trust in the way of Jesus and truly embrace the promise of Easter; if we trust in the hope of the resurrection, we may find that we may embrace life fully and not let fear prevent us from living life fully, wholeheartedly and openly…for “he has gone before us.” (Rev. Peter Gomes?) Mama Shu has fully appropriated this message. She has risen after the tragic deaths of her sons and continues to be Jesus with skin on her.
On Easter morning, the followers of Jesus awoke to the fear and sorrow which followed the loss of their beloved friend and teacher. As the sun began to rise and the women drew close to the tomb, their lives were forever changed. Jesus has risen; do not look for him where the dead are. This message of hope; their encounter with the living Christ, would be the beginning, not the end of all of their dreams. They set out to share this message of Good News with all who were living in fear. The hope of Easter would be the catalyst for them to open their hearts wide and realize that they, they would need to be the messengers of the Gospel. They would be the ones to bring the Presence of the living Christ into the lives of those who were desperate for hope, desperate for justice, desperate for meaning.
Sometimes, we all need to experience Jesus with skin on him. We need to experience the loving presence of another. We are a people built for community; we are a people who yearn for hope; we are a people who are seeking to transcend the fear and discouragement of these times and our very own lives. We are a people who need to hear again this morning the good news of the Resurrection. Do not look for Jesus among the dead. He is to be found in the land of the living. He goes before you always…
Rev. Richard Rohr writes, “If we are to speak of miracles, the most miraculous thing of all is that God uses the very thing that would normally destroy you—the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust—to transform and enlighten you. Now you are indestructible and there are no absolute dead ends. This is what we mean when we say we are “saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.” This is not a cosmic transaction, but a human transformation to a much higher level of love and consciousness…”In which we all are risen with Jesus. A blessed and joyous Easter to you all.